the noun phrase in ads english

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j01trl~lffELSEVIER Journal of Pragmatics 29 (1998) 155-171

The noun phrase in advertising English*Susan RushFonds Gustave Guillaume, Ddpartement de langues et linguistique, Facult~ des Lettres, Pavillon Charles-de Koni.~ck, Universit~ Laval, Quebec G1K 7P4, CanadaReceived 17 August 1995; revised version 7 April 1997

AbstractThe purpose of this paper is to give a formal description of two unusual features of the noun phrase in English print advertising: its ability to operate as an independent clause in all areas of an ad - headline, subhead, signature line and text - and its complex premodifying structures. Premodification in the noun phrase is characterized by the abundant use of comparative and superlative adjectives and of colourful compounds, and by the tendency to place the product (or trade) name in first or early position in lengthy designations. This last, unusual feature disrupts the traditional word-order of premodifying adjectives in the noun phrase. Examples selected for analysis are chiefly from current (1993-1996) Canadian and American newspapers and magazines.

1. IntroductionThis paper examines various features of the noun phrase in English print advertising, more specifically, the noun phrase's ability to operate as an independent construction in the headline, signature line and body copy (i.e. text) of an ad, and its complex and often bizarre premodification structures. I am primarily interested in presenting a formal description of advertising language, rather than a semantic description, although an overlap of the two is somewhat unavoidable at times. I will first investigate the noun phrase'!; status as an independent clause in advertising English, and will then analyse its unusual structural features - more specifically, the complexity of the pre-modifying part. Though some theories on the word-order of adjectives are touched upon, the aim of the present paper is not to incorporate my observations in the framework of a specific or general linguistic theory. This study attempts chiefly to bring to ligh,E specific 'disjunctive '~ uses of the noun phrase in* I am grateful to Walter Hirtle, Patr:ick Duffley and two anonymous reviewers for the Journal of Pragmatics for their ideas and insightful comments. Any errors are my own responsibility. The terms 'disjunctive' and 'discursive' are from Leech (1966). 'Discursive style' designates the type of English prescribed by traditional grammars, and 'disjunctive style' is characterized as one displaying the unusual features typical to contemporary advertising English, e.g. the use of phrases as independent clauses. 0378-2166/98/$19.00 1998 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved PH S037 8 - 2 1 6 6 ( 9 7 ) 0 0 0 5 3-2


s. Rush / Journal of Pragmatics 29 (1998) 155-171

Canadian and American print advertising. Thus the main purpose of the syntactic analyses in the present paper is to highlight peculiarities of structure encountered in advertising English. Examples selected for analysis are mainly from current (1993-1996) Canadian and American newspapers and magazines. I have also supplemented my data, when necessary, with examples listed in Advertising slogans of America (Sharp, 1984). Finally, though the focus of Leech's 1966 study, English in advertising, is mainly British television advertising, it has nonetheless proved to be an invaluable source for my research.

2. The noun phrase with independent statusA major difference observed between traditional English grammar and advertising English is the frequent use of the noun phrase as an independent clause in advertising English. This grammatical divergence is particularly noticeable when used in advertising headlines 2 (though it is not restricted to headlines as we shall see below) as the following examples illustrate: (1) The Art of Writing. (Mont Blanc pens) (2) The after dinner Bar-Be-Que. (Cool Whip whipping cream) (3) Every face. Every day. (Clinique cosmetics) By traditional standards, none of the above noun phrases are considered a grammatically complete sentence, yet in context they clearly express a complete thought. What constitutes, then, a 'grammatically complete sentence'? Webster (s.v. sentence) defines the sentence as a "conventional unit of connected speech or writing, usually [my emphasis] containing a subject and predicate, beginning with a capital letter and ending with an end mark". Moore et al. (1989: 22) specify that "a sentence is made complete either by its grammatical form and meaning or - in special circumstances [my emphasis] by the context in which it appears". 3 These definitions indicate that the noun phrase can function as an independent clause in standard English, although its use (in texts) is infrequent. Advertising English, on the other hand, makes such frequent use of this construction that it has become one of its most distinguishing characteristics: Ghadessy (1988: 57) states, in effect, that advertising English exhibits "pervasive trends", one of them being the "frequent use of 'disjunctive' syntax and incomplete sentences, with noun phrases ... represented orthographically as independent sentences". Like-

2 The use of independentnoun phrases in headlines is not a feature unique to advertising English. Disjunctiveness in headlines is a feature typical of other print media, like newspaper and magazine headlines, book titles, and public notices. I shall limit this investigationsolely to advertising headlines, since an analysis of these other genres goes beyond the scope of the present paper. For an analysis of sentence structure in newspaper headlines, cf. Brisau (1969); Straumann (1935). I do not intend to solve the thorny issue of what constitutes a 'complete grammatical sentence'; I merely wish to point out the problem since it bears upon the issue discussed here.

S. Rush / Journal o f Pragmatics 29 (1998) 155-171


wise, Cook (1992: 109) describes these constructions as "orthographic sentences" and Leech calls this independent use of the noun phrase a "minor clause",4 pointing out (1966: 16) that it constitutes a "break with traditional grammar," being equivalent to a clause in "function and meaning". Leech further notes that the minor clause displays the phonological and orthographic signs of complete sentence status, and that it is essentially equivalent in function and meaning to a complete sentence (and so to a complete thought). Indeed, stress patterns (like a rise-fall pattern) and the predominance of punctuation marks, such as periods, dashes and sequences of dots, point to the noun phrase's independent status in advertising English. The following examples bear this out: (4) The art of being unique. (CaJtier jewellers) (5) Escudo - a marvellous tobacco blended from just two kinds of leaf. (Leech, 1966:114) (6) Masters of detail ... (Sedgefield Furniture) Leech (ibid.: 17 lff.) claims that this distinct use of the noun phrase as an independent clause originates in part in the "block language" of outdoor display advertising and in the desire on the part of ;advertisers to save space and money. On the other hand, the noun phrase with independent status in standard English (i.e. in texts) has an entirely different motivation: Moore et al. (1988: 34) state that it is generally used to create a special effect, like emphasis and informality, as the following excerpt from Grahame Greene's The Shipwrecked illustrates:"And so on to Bangkok. Spit and hiss of water, the gramophone quiet. The lights out along the deck, nobody about."

Advertising English makes frequent use of the brand (or trade) name in a noun phrase acting as an independent clause within the headline: (7) Crown Jewel of the Far East The Hyperion Asian Trust. (Hyperion CIBC Securites) (8) The Art Shoppe A World Without Boundarie:~ (The Art Shoppe furniture store) (9) Zino. The Fragrance of Desire. (Zino Davidoff eau de toilette for men)

4 In addition to the two clause systems, independent/dependent and finite/non-finite, Leech distinguishes a third clause system, major/minor. A major clause has a finite verb, or "predicator", whereas a minor clause does not. The use of the term "minor clause" thus includes independent constructions like When still warm; Once a thief, always a thief (1966: 15). Prepositional phrases and nominal phrases used independently also form part of the minor system.


S. Rush / Journal of Pragmatics 29 (1998) 155-171

Thus in (7) the company name Hyperion Asian Trust, a noun phrase with independent status, relates to the preceding noun phrase Crown Jewel of the Far East as a subject to a 'subject predicative') We find the reverse relationship in (8) and (9): the company names the Art Shoppe and Zino relate to the following noun phrases A Worm Without Boundaries and The Fragrance of Desire as a subject to a subject predicative. One has only to add the linking verb in these examples 6 to form the traditional subject/predicate sentence typical of discursive style: The Hyperion Asian Trust is the crown jewel of the Far East; The Art Shoppe is a worm without boundaries; Zino is the fragrance of desire. Leech (1963: 262) specifies though that "the correspondence of referential meaning on which this 'translation' is based should not be equated in any sense with grammatical equivalence". That is to say, in disjunctive style Zino and The Fragrance of Desire constitute different sentences since they are not grammatically related (but they are semantically related); they are therefore separated by a period. In (8) there are no periods to delimit the two noun phrases, but the capital letters at the beginning of each phrase (The and A) and the graphic disposition (on two separate lines) indicate that we are dealing with two separate sentences. The frequent use of the independent noun phrase in advertising English is not restricted solely to the headl