A Discursive-Semiotic Approach to Translating Cultural Aspects in Persuasive Advertisements
ilze bezuidenhout


The objective of this dissertation is to investigate whether a discursive-semiotic approach in the translation of persuasive advertisements will enable translators to
(1) identify and describe cultural aspects in persuasive advertisements and,
(2) by using translation theory, present translators with an instrument that will assist them in transferring cultural aspects in the translation process.


The two main aspects of this approach involve discourse analysis and semiotics, and the respective roles they play within the translation of persuasive advertisements.

Semiotics is derived from the Latin word "semios" which means sign, and studies signs and their derived sign systems and generated meanings. In a communicative event such as a persuasive advertisement, meanings are created, interpreted and transmitted to receivers, who belong to a cultural community and have a specific cultural identity. Patrick Vyncke (1996: 2) describes man (in other words all receivers) as "een wezen dat bij uitstek zijn handelen baseert op betekenissen, en dus op communicatie- en cultuurprocessen".

These processes create a semiotic world, or a symbolic reality, which exists independently from the physical world (Vyncke 1996: 16). Man constructs social meaning by using the signs and sign systems known to him which he also uses to define himself, his reality and the world around him. Culture provides the signs and mechanisms to accomplish this.

By using semiotic analysis, the translator is empowered to isolate signs and their meanings within a culture for purposes of transfer in a persuasive advertisement. An overview of classical insights from the semiotic pioneers, Ferdinand de Saussure and Charles Peirce, is given to describe concepts and models. Their insights and theories contribute to isolating and defining cultural aspects within a given discourse and communication event such as persuasive advertisements. In this communication event meanings are created and exchanged (sender to receiver) that have to be transferred to a new communication event (the target text) in the translation process. The codes and levels of meaning into which signs are organised form the basis of semiotic analysis and act as pointers towards a pragmatic application in the translation process.

Discourse analysis is an ambiguous term and thus means different things to different people. Brown and Yule (1987: 1) state that "the analysis of discourse, is necessarily, the analysis of language in use. As such, it cannot be restricted to the description of linguistic forms independent of the purposes or functions which these forms are designed to serve in human affairs".

Discourse is thus described as language actively functioning within a social context. In terms of persuasive advertisements, the linguistic elements form the text and all non-linguistic elements form the context.

In this dissertation discourse is defined as the text occurring within a context. Text is viewed as any stretch of spoken language or written language within one specific context, in other words, linguistic signs used in a spoken or written form within one communicative event. This definition enables the translator to deal with linguistic signs in terms of the properties and functions of written and spoken language as they occur in advertisements in different media. Text is embedded in its contexts whether these are social, cultural or cognitive (Schiffrin 1987: 3).

The (poetic) function of language in a persuasive advertisement is to communicate a message to a receiver (immediate or eventual). Because of the various factors playing a role in this discourse, a translation method is needed that can deal with the requirements of the source text and context. Translation theory as proposed by Nida, the dynamic equivalent method, seems to meet the demands and provide a framework within which semiotics also plays an important role in the translation process.