Has the Syntax of Advertising changed? A Syntactic Analysis of Slogans on the basis of Leech’s Concept of Standard Advertising Language

Term Paper, 2014

21 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Establishing a Syntactic Framework
2.1 Sentence Force
2.2 Grammatical Simplicity
2.3 Verbal Groups
2.4 Nominal Groups
2.5 Coordination

3. Research part
3.1 Hypotheses
3.2 Methods and Material
3.3 Results

4. Discussion

5. Bibliography

1. Introduction

Since academic research on advertising started in the second half of the nineteenth century, “…a great variety of different aspects of advertisements have been investigated.” (Gieszinger, 2001: 5) However, only a small amount of researchers have taken on a linguistic perspective on the topic of advertisement. Leech is one of them and the first to systematically analyze the language of advertising. (Gieszinger, 2011: 10) Since especially the syntax of advertising language has been a much-neglected field of study up until today, this term paper focuses on the syntactic analysis of advertising language, specifically of advertising slogans (Janich & Runkehl, 2010: 181). In particular, it investigates whether the syntactic features of current advertising slogans are still congruent with Leech’s concept of Standard Advertising Language established in his publication English in advertising: a linguistic study of advertising in Great Britain in 1966. This study solely utilizes the previously mentioned book as a reference for the syntactic analysis to be conducted because it has been much-quoted and is still widely accepted among scholars (Gieszinger, 2011: 10). But more important, because it can provide an answer to a more far-reaching question lying behind the issue of the applicability of Leech’s claims to advertising slogans today: in the course of almost half a century, has advertising language changed and does a new syntactic framework need to be established?

In the following sections of this paper, first, a theoretical framework is established that summarizes the syntactic features Leech considers typical for advertising language. Subsequently, hypotheses regarding the composition of typical advertising slogans are presented that have been developed on the basis of his claims. By conducting a syntactic analysis of the advertising slogans in the sample, the correctness of these hypotheses is examined and presented in the section Results. The Discussion outlines unexpected findings that have arisen as a result of the syntactic analysis and different features that Leech did not consider. In addition, it provides recommendations for further research.

2. Establishing a Syntactic Framework

In his book English in Advertising: A Linguistic Study of Advertising in Great Britain, Leech (1966: 5) utilizes a sample of 617 advertisements first broadcast between December 1960 and May 1961 for his linguistic analysis of advertising language. The sample originally included advertisements from television commercials and was complemented by advertising copies in other media. Leech (1966: 67) records which linguistic choices are made more frequently in advertising language in comparison to other varieties of English and how much more frequently these choices are made. His concept of Standard Advertising Language can therefore be regarded as a “relative concept” (Leech, 1966: 105f). Based on generalizations, he determines “…what is distinctive about it: that is, how it differs from other ‘Englishes’.“ (Leech, 1966: 67) The following paragraphs describe the syntactic features of advertisings Leech considers to be salient.

2.1 Sentence Force

In Linguistics, four different types of sentence force can be distinguished, denoted as “mood” by Leech (1966: 110): declarative, imperative, interrogative and exclamative. The one occurring most frequently in Leech’s sample is the imperative force: in his sample, “…over one in four major independent clauses were imperative.” (Leech, 1966: 110) However, only very few imperative clauses are accompanied by a negative form since advertising aims at inciting actions instead of prohibiting them. The infrequency of negative forms, thus, represents a general principle of advertising language. (Leech, 1966: 31, 111) Likewise, interrogative clauses are a common feature of advertising, but with only one in thirty major independent clauses being interrogative (Leech, 1966: 110). As Leech does not mention declarative and exclamative clauses, they will not be treated as salient features of advertising language in this paper.

2.2 Grammatical Simplicity

Advertising English contains very little grammatical complexity (Leech, 1966: 120). This aspect is attributable to its tendency to employ disjunctive grammar, “…an abbreviated mode of discourse…” (Leech, 1966: 173). Since, in the disjunctive mode of English, there are no restrictions on the simplicity of a grammatical unit, the relation between the different parts of a discourse must be concluded from the context (Leech, 1966: 90). Turning to Leech’s study, the sample includes predominantly independent instead of dependent clauses. If, however, a clause should be dependent, it commonly begins either with when, if or because. Out of the independent clauses, one in five was a minor clause. (Leech, 1966: 116, 120) A minor clause, in comparison to a major clause, is an irregular type of clause lacking a finite verb (Manser, 2006: 374). In particular, discursive grammar has an integral implication on advertising language: almost all minor and non-finite clauses are independent, the exception being embedded non-finite clauses and certain minor clauses headed by a conjunction (Leech, 1966: p.93). Likewise, the infrequency of adjuncts in Leech’s sample – one clause containing on average less than one adjunct – confirms the grammatical simplicity of advertisings. Especially prepositional phrases introduced by for are typically used adjuncts. (Leech, 1966: 115)

2.3 Verbal Groups

Correspondingly, according to Leech (1966: 120f) verbal groups are as little complex as the grammar of advertising language. In his study, he disregards non-finite verbal groups and focuses his attention on finite verbal groups: his findings show that most verbal groups are either simple present forms or simple imperatives. On the basis of this observation, he concludes that “…in every system the copywriter shows a strong preference for unmarked terms.” (Leech, 1966: 122f) This is why, auxiliary verbs are seldom used in advertisings barring the auxiliaries will and can. For the same reason, active groups are much more frequent than passive groups. (Leech, 1966: 122, 125)

2.4 Nominal Groups

In contradistinction to its simplicity in grammar and verbal groups, nominal groups in Standard Advertising Language are mostly complex. Leech (1966: 129) states that complexity is primarily found in the pre-modification of a noun group – a group characterized by having a noun as its head. Noun groups often enclose clusters of adjectives, commonly an amount of two but occasionally also three. Another reason for the complexity of nominal groups is the frequent mentioning of the advertised product (Leech, 1966: 129f).

2.5 Coordination

In respect of the co-ordination of clauses and groups, Leech (1966: 143) reports two tendencies of copywriters. First, they prefer co-ordination to subordination. This inclination can be ascribed to the infrequency of dependent clauses in advertising language. Second, they prefer non-linking co-ordination to linking co-ordination. The former type of co-ordination includes apposition and parataxis. An apposition is “…a construction consisting of two or more adjacent units that have identical referents.” (Loos, 2004a); parataxis denotes the enumeration of syntactic units not using any conjunctions (Loos, 2004b). By contrast, linking co-ordination refers to the usage of the conjunctions and and or (Leech 1966: 143).

3. Research part

Since a framework of reference identifying the syntactic features of advertisings has been established in the previous paragraphs, hypotheses can now be developed on the basis of this summary.

3.1 Hypotheses

Hypotheses regarding Sentence Force

1. The most frequent type of sentence force will be the imperative force.
2. There will be a certain number of interrogative clauses. Hypotheses regarding Grammatical Complexity
3. Most clauses will be independent.
4. Most dependent clauses will either begin with when, if, or because.
5. There will be a certain number of minor clauses.
6. On average, there will not be more than one adjunct per clause.
7. There will be no or very few negative constructions. Hypotheses regarding Verbal Groups
8. Most verbs will be finite.
9. Most finite verbal groups will either be simple present forms or simple imperatives.
10. There will be no or very few passive verbal groups.
11. There will be very few auxiliary verbs except will and can. Hypotheses regarding Nominal Groups
12. Most nominal groups will be headed by pre-modifiers.
13. Most nominal groups will contain two adjectives. Hypotheses regarding Co-ordination
14. Co-ordination will be preferred to subordination.
15. Non-linking co-ordination will be preferred to linking co-ordination.

3.2 Methods and Material

The sample consists of 30 advertising slogans composed in 2013 with the goal to keep it as current as possible. It covers various industries as a particular industry might evoke specific syntactic features and because it is aimed at being similar to the sample used by Leech. To further ensure similarity, all slogans have been broadcast only in the UK and have been chosen from television as well as from print advertisings. Table 1 gives an overview of the advertising slogans in the sample listed in alphabetical order and categorized by brand and product category.

Table 1 Categorization of advertising slogans used in the sample (AdSlogans, 2014)

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After collecting the slogans, each of the 15 hypotheses was investigated by defining the syntactic feature and the related possible values that they comprise, as illustrated in Table 2.

Table 2 Syntactic features of Hypothesis 1-15 and their values

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A quantitative analysis for each syntactic feature was then conducted: for each clause in the sample, its value per syntactic feature was determined. The results are presented in pie charts showing the frequency of occurrence of each value per syntactic category.

3.3 Results

The 30 advertising slogans in this sample account for a number of 39 clauses. Since minor clauses do not have force, they have been subtracted from this number (Eggins 2004: 166). The types of force of the remaining total of 24 clauses have been determined to provide an answer to Hypothesis 1 and 2. Table 3 presents the distribution of sentence force among the 24 clauses in percentage.

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Table 3 Distribution of sentence force in percentage

Both Hypotheses have been proven right: with 13 out of 24 clauses (54 %), the imperative force is the most frequent one, followed by the declarative force with 8 out of 24 clauses (33%). As it has been assumed, there are a certain number of interrogative clauses among the sample, namely 3 out of 24 clauses (13%). No exclamative clauses have been found.

Turning to the hypotheses regarding grammatical complexity, an analysis of the sample also confirms Hypothesis 3: independent clauses are much more frequent than dependent clauses. Table 4 visualizes the proportions of these two types of clauses of the total number of clauses.

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Table 4 Distribution of dependent and independent clauses in percentage

While 32 out of 39 clauses are independent (82%), only 7 clauses are dependent (18%). Out of these 7 dependent clauses, however, only one example was found beginning with when, as Hypothesis 4 assumes incorrectly:

(1) Where's your Kleenex when you need it?

By contrast, Hypothesis 5 has rightly predicted that the sample includes a certain number of minor clauses. Table 5 depicts the distribution of those and the remaining major clauses in percentage.

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Table 5 Distribution of major and minor clauses in percentage

Major clauses with 24 out of 39 clauses represent 62% of the total number of clauses whereas 15 out of 39 clauses are minor clauses equaling 38 %. What is striking is that most of the minor clauses are Noun Phrases (11 out of 15 clauses); the remaining 4 minor clauses are each made up of a non-finite verb. The following slogan combines both types of minor clauses:

(2) Inspiration. Engineered.

In (2), the first clause consists of a Noun Phrase, the second clause of a non-finite verb.

Similarly, there is evidence suggesting the validity of Hypothesis 6. The number of adjuncts in the sample is 16. Dividing this figure by the total of clauses amounts to the average number of adjuncts per clause: approximately 0.41. As hypothesized, on average, there is not more than one adjunct per clause. Among the adjuncts found in the sample, most are Prepositional Phrases (9 out of 16) as in the following example:

(3) Time for you.

The phrase set in italics is a Prepositional Phrase functioning as an adjunct to the Noun Phrase Time. As mentioned before, a Prepositional Phrase headed by for like the one in the previous example has been identified by Leech as an especially frequently used adjunct. In this sample, however, it only occurs once. Other phrases functioning as adjuncts occurring in the sample are Noun Phrases such as Lidl and Christmas and Adverbial Phrases such as lovingly in the subsequent examples:

(4) A Lidl Christmas Magic.

(5) Lovingly crafted.

In addition, Hypothesis 7 can be proven right since there is only one negative construction in 39 clauses (3%):

(6) Do n' t forget your Sellotape.

Hypotheses 8-11 are concerned with verbal groups. Table 6 provides evidence that confirms Hypothesis 8: it shows the proportions of finite and non-finite verbs of the total number of verbs.

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Table 6 Distribution of finite and non-finite verbs in percentage

As expected, the majority of verbs are finite (24 out of 32) equaling 75 %. Conversely, non-finite verbs represent a much smaller proportion with 8 out of 32 verbs being non-finite (25%).

Pursuing this further, out of the established 24 finite verbal groups Hypothesis 9 presumes most of them to either be simple present forms or simple imperatives. Table 7 confirms this assumption and provides a visualization of the distribution of tense in combination with aspect forms among the number of finite verbal groups.

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Table 7 Distribution of tense and aspect forms in percentage

In fact, simple imperatives and simple present forms account for the majority of finite verbal groups. With 13 out of 24 finite verbal groups (54%), simple imperatives are slightly more frequent than simple present forms (9 out of 24, 38%). The remaining 2 finite verbal groups are present progressive forms (8%). Consequently, the only tense utilized is the present excluding past and future tense. Concerning aspect, primarily simple forms, i.e. non-durative and non-perfective forms, have been detected (Leech, 1966: 121).

Correspondingly, Hypothesis 10 can be verified: with regard to voice, merely 4 (14%) out of the 28 identified verbal groups are passive constructions leaving a majority of 24 (86%) to be active constructions. Table 8 displays the proportional distribution of voice among the total number of verbal groups.

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Table 8 Distribution of active and passive verbal groups in percentage

Finally, the first part of the last hypothesis concerning verbal groups, namely Hypothesis 11, turned out to be correct as Table 9 confirms by depicting the distribution of full verbs and auxiliary verbs.

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Table 9 Distribution of full verbs and auxiliary verbs in percentage

With 30 out of 32 verbs (94%), the majority of verbs are full verbs. Auxiliaries, with 2 out of 32 verbs (6%), account for a very small fraction. However, the second part of Hypothesis 11 cannot be substantiated: there are no occurrences of the exceptional auxiliaries will and can. Instead, other auxiliaries are used. Consider the following examples:

(7) Is it me you' re looking for?

(8) Do n't forget your Sellotape.

The cliticized form of are in (7) and do in (8) function as auxiliaries.

So far, all of the hypotheses developed on the basis of Leech’s concept of Standard Advertising English have fundamentally been proven right except for Hypothesis 4. However, the hypotheses regarding nominal groups can be falsified. Hypothesis 12 claims that most nominal groups, 37 in total, are headed by pre-modifiers. Table 10 refutes this claim by presenting the percentage of nominal groups without any modification, with pre-modifiers and with post-modifiers. The last group has not been mentioned by Leech but turned out to occur quite frequently in the sample and has therefore been established as its own category.

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Table 10 Distribution of modification in nominal groups in percentage

When contemplating Table 9, it becomes apparent that nominal groups with pre-modifiers are only the second most frequent groups of nominals, with a number of 10 out of 37 nominal groups (24%). The most widely used pre-modifier in the sample is the determiner the (4 out of 10) followed by the pronoun your (3 out of 10). Slightly less frequent than pre-modified nominal groups are post-modified nominal groups with 8 out of 37 nominal groups (20%). Interestingly, out of the modified nominal groups, two include both pre- and post-modifier. (9) illustrates one of them:

(9) The Taste that Unites.

In this example, the Noun Phrase Taste is modified by the pre-modifier the and the post-modifying relative clause that Unites. Contrary to expectations, the most frequent groups of nominals are those without any modification (23 out of 37, 58%).

Accordingly, Hypothesis 13 is incorrect as well. Instead of mostly containing two adjectives, only one of the 37 nominal groups contains an adjective. All others include no adjectives at all.

In the same fashion as Hypotheses 12 and 13, the final hypotheses regarding co-ordination can be disconfirmed. The total of advertising slogans utilizing either co-ordination or subordination adds up to 11. Table 11 illustrates the distribution of slogans using subordination and slogans using co-ordination in percentage.

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Table 11 Distribution of slogans using subordination and slogans using co-ordination in percentage

Hypothesis 14 is proven wrong since subordination occurs more often than co-ordination. In total, subordination is applied 7 out of 11 times (64%) whereas co-ordination is only made use of 4 out of 11 times (36%). Most of the subordinating clauses are relative clauses (5 out 7, 71%).

Finally, evidence provided by analyzing the sample suggests the inaccuracy of Hypothesis 15. Instead of preferring non-linking to linking co-ordination, copywriters seem to be indifferent to a choice between the two. In the sample, 2 out of 4 slogans utilize non-linking co-ordination while an equal number uses linking co-ordination. Consider (10) and (11):

(10) Inspiration. Engineered.

(10) demonstrates one case of non-linking co-ordination, the enumeration of two clauses called parataxis.

(11) Innovation and you.

Example (11) illustrates the use of the linking co-ordination and to connect the two Noun Phrases Innovation and you.

4. Discussion

In summary, Hypotheses 1-3 and 5-11 have been proven right with one exception: Hypothesis 11 may assume correctly that the majority of verbs are full verbs and not auxiliaries but it can be falsified in terms of one aspect: will and can do not occur at all in the sample and are, therefore, no exceptions to the infrequency of auxiliaries in advertising language. On the contrary, Hypotheses 4 and 12-15 have been proven wrong. In total, the correctness of 10 out of 15 hypotheses has been confirmed. To sum up, the salient features of advertising slogans detected in this study are the following:

The most frequent type of sentence force is the imperative force (54%).

Most clauses are independent (82%).

Minor clauses account for 38% of the clauses.

On average, there are 0.41 adjuncts per clause.

Most clauses are positive constructions (97%).

Most verbs are finite (75%) and simple imperative forms (54%).

Most verbal groups are active (86%).

Most verbs are full verbs (94%).

Most nominal groups are unmodified (58%) and contain no adjectives.

Subordination is preferred to co-ordination (64%).

Non-linking co-ordination is used as often as linking co-ordination.

Most of the features listed above are covered by Leech’s concept of Standard Advertising English. Accordingly, with regard to the research question, a general positive answer can be provided: the majority of the syntactic features of current advertising slogans are still congruent with Leech’s findings. As a result, the applicability of Standard Advertising English can be extended to current advertising slogans. However, certain deviations from Leech’s concept have been detected in the sample and they suggest a significant development: advertising slogans have changed in certain respects since the 1960s. Instead of complex nominal groups, copywriters are utilizing simpler nominal groups without heavy pre- or post-modifiers. In addition, another preference has changed: subordination is now preferred to co-ordination, and within the field of co-ordination, non-linking co-ordination is applied more frequently than before. Still, with only four occurrences of co-ordination in the sample, the evidence at hand might not be sufficient to refute Hypothesis 15 entirely. Generally speaking, as a recommendation for further research on this topic, a higher number of slogans should be collected and analyzed to obtain a more unequivocal picture. Moreover, since Leech does not merely focus on advertising slogans, studies should be extended to whole copies of advertisements. To further investigate how the syntax of advertisings has changed in the course of time, a suggestion would be to compare and contrast older and newer advertisements. Beyond that, another idea could be to employ different linguistic concepts on one’s sample to broaden the perspective and establish new syntactic features. This has been implemented in the following paragraph.

By applying Chomsky’s minimalist program to the sample, one interesting observation has emerged from the syntactic analysis: advertising slogans generally contain a variety of null constituents. This term refers to constituents which are not overtly spelled out, also denoted as “empty categories” (Radford, 2009: 92). One type of null constituents are null subjects.

As the Results section indicates, most clauses in the sample are imperative in force. According to Radford (2009: 93), imperative clauses can either include an overt or a null subject. In the sample, all imperative clauses have a null subject except the following example:


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Has the Syntax of Advertising changed? A Syntactic Analysis of Slogans on the basis of Leech’s Concept of Standard Advertising Language
University of Mannheim  (Anglistische Linguistik (A1))
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syntax, syntactic analysis, advertising, slogans, language, leech, standard
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Marie-Kristin Hofmann (Author), 2014, Has the Syntax of Advertising changed? A Syntactic Analysis of Slogans on the basis of Leech’s Concept of Standard Advertising Language, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/373247


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