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Abstract Kerz

The interaction between register and constructional meaning: A case study of the use of constructions in the language of advertising

Constructionist approaches adopt a broader notion of meaning, i.e. they strive to account for precise usage aspects of structural configurations. Despite this striving for integration of various dimensions such as ‘register’ into linguistic investigation, relatively little attention has been paid to the role of these dimensions in constructionist analyses of linguistic configurations. These analyses have hitherto focused on semantic aspects of constructional meaning, thereby failing to consider pragmatic aspects such as register variation in the use of construction.

This paper investigates the use of specific constructions within a prominent register of text, viz. the language of advertising. The advertisements selected for discussion here are from three magazines: Time, Glamour and Cosmopolitan. In general it can be noted that advertisements operate within certain limitations (cf. the communicative situation, space and time limitations) with the major objective being to make the product desirable in the eyes of the consumer. For this purpose, advertisers employ a limited range of constructions among which we frequently encounter the following:

  • the NP1 V NP2 AP resultative construction, whereby the V slot is most commonly filled by the verb make as in: Pantene Pro-V’s formula makes your hair more resilient against breakage (Glamour, May 2005)
  • imperative construction involving certain groups of verbal items, i.e. items which have to do with the acquisition of the product (e.g. get, buy or choose), items which have to do with the consumption or use of the product (e.g. have, try, use or enjoy) or items which act as appeals for notice (e.g. look, see, watch, remember, or see)
  • elliptical comparatives (e.g. New Garniers Fructis Long & Strong: for beautifully longer, shinier hair (Garnier hair product, Glamour, August 2004))
  • superlatives (e.g. the highest quality teas in the world (Twinnings, Glamour, September 2004)
  • constructions emphasizing the uniqueness of the advertised product (e.g. the world’s most advanced inflight entertainment system (Singapore Airlines, Time, 29th November 2004))

The constructions above have the effect of highlighting a contextually important property of the advertised product or service. For instance, partially lexically filled NP makes NP AP construction is suggestive of the effectiveness of the product/service in question.

Within constructional approaches, a construction is regarded as a symbolic form-function pairing of varying complexity and schematicity ranging from a word, complex word, phrase, or clause, to a complete sentence. Nevertheless, the major focus of various studies of constructions has hitherto been on the sentential level. The English language of advertising, however, primarily makes use of constructions at the level of independent phrases which are briefer than complete sentences and clauses, and hence can be used for effective and economical presentation of products and services in print advertising.

To summarize, despite the fact that constructionist approaches stress the importance of considering communicative purposes when describing grammatical constructions, little work has been done in this direction. This paper underlines the importance of context in linguistic approaches that examine language in use, and explores how contextual features can be described within the constructionist approaches, i.e. what contextual factors are relevant and how they can be represented in grammatical construction, by discussing examples of frequently used constructions in the language of advertising.