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


Practical application

The American Marketing Association defines advertising as any paid form of non-personal presentation and promotion of ideas, goods, or services by an identified sponsor (Bolen 1984: 4). Advertisements are the tools used in this process "to inform and persuade the selected market" (Bolen 1984: 6).

In the broad domain of advertising, the most basic function of advertisements is to communicate; the communication must inform, persuade or do both (overlap occurs in some advertisements). A persuasive advertisement can be defined as an advertisement whose main function is to persuade the potential customer (receiver) that s/he needs to buy a product, use a service, support a cause or take specific action.

This type of advertisement is the most widely used form, because its main function is to persuade receivers (consumers) to change, or modify their buying behaviour in favour of the product or service advertised. Informative advertisements inform the consumer (receiver) about goods, services or ideas and then tell them how to get them by means of the identified sponsor.

Some advertisers classify advertisements as being either image/prestige or commercial advertisements. In both cases, however, the informative or persuasive function is at work. For the purposes of this dissertation, the functionality of the message in the advertisement is of the utmost importance. The means used to construct the message will be analysed by means of discursive-semiotic instruments to provide solutions when dealing with cultural aspects in the translation of persuasive advertisements.

Persuasive advertisements appear in all media forms: radio, television, cinema, print (newspapers, magazines, billboards, outdoor hoardings), and on the Internet. It is not limited to any medium and can therefore appear anywhere in any situation. In this dissertation English and Afrikaans radio, print and television advertisements will be analysed.

Scientific application

Persuasive advertisements present the translator with problems and challenges specific to the discourse and the medium in which they appear. Because the text is driven and often dominated by the context, the translator needs a theory of translation to deal with matters pertaining to the context, such as cultural aspects. The medium in which the advertisement appears can limit the translation of text in terms of choice of words and extent (length), which could impact on the context.

Eugene Nida’s (1964) theory of equivalence (formal, cognitive and dynamic) gives valuable insights into dealing with persuasive advertisement discourse by leaning strongly towards semiotics and signs within a text. The most suitable form for these purposes is dynamic equivalence, because it focuses on the function of the source text, and how to achieve an equivalent effect in the target text. Nida offers guidelines that can be used when translating cultural aspects (language, customs, habits, beliefs, etc.) in the text and the context.

Cultural aspects manifest themselves in the form of signs that generate meaning individually or in conjunction with other signs. It is argued that translation is a semiotic practice in that it also deals with the use, interpretation and manipulation of messages (Gorlée 1994: 11).


Cultural aspects inherent in most persuasive advertisements demand special attention. They are embedded in the text (language) and context and are not always obvious at first sight. Newmark (1988: 10) points out that translation is not only the transmission of knowledge and the creation of understanding, but also the transmission of culture. The translator has to address these aspects with sensitivity and great care, the reason being that the cultural identity evident in the persuasive advertisement encompasses issues such as ideology, and the frame of reference of the receivers (their view of the world and themselves).

By giving attention to cultural aspects in an advertisement, the translator bestows a certain value on the discourse by addressing the receivers in that culture on their own terms. The advertisement will appear in the target language as an original creation and not merely a translation of the original. Thus the language is awarded credibility and a right to existence. The strengthening of the own culture fends off dominance of foreign cultures and influences. Furthermore, if cultural aspects are not appropriately translated, the text will read like a translation. However, sometimes it seems that certain cultural aspects (words, concepts, idioms) are untranslatable. By applying the discursive-semiotic approach, these obstacles can be addressed more adequately.