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

Translating the Culture, Translating the Discourse


In this chapter the proposed theory for translating persuasive advertisements with their specific cultural elements will be applied. A selection of radio, print and television advertisements will be put to the test to see how well the theory can be applied and how successful it is. The advertisements chosen fall into two categories, those with strong South African cultural elements and those without. Some of the advertisements are in English and are then translated into Afrikaans, and vice versa.


Signs and symbols form the cornerstones of a culture. Due to the fragmented cultural situation in South Africa, many advertisers still use foreign or universal signs to convey their messages. However, this trend is changing and shared signs and symbols are increasingly used in advertisements (in all languages) to capture the essence of a shared/multifaceted culture, namely South African. A company that has succeeded in using local situations, people and controversial news to sell their products, is Nando’s, a Portuguese-style chicken fast-food chain. The company originated in South Africa.


Beggar in street

This advertisement appeared on television, and only in English. However, the signs are clear and generate the same meaning in the South African context, irrespective of the language or culture. The text could be translated literally into Afrikaans and the message and effect on the receivers would be the same as in the source text (original English).

The scene is a busy street with a lot of traffic. A beggar approaches a car with a hand-written cardboard poster that reads "Hungry? No food all day? The next moment his demeanour changes and he flips the board to reveal Nando’s special offer: "half chicken and chips only R18,50 at Nando’s".

The advertisement is based on the increasing number of beggars approaching cars at traffic lights to ask for money. The surprise element in the narrative turns a serious socio-economic problem into a humorous situation. This advertisement cuts across cultural and language barriers because the signs can be understood by all South Africans. Instead of getting irritated, the receivers (the people in the cars) are surprised and amused by the situation. The signs are a beggar, a cardboard poster, and cars waiting for the traffic lights to turn green. The translator would only have to translate the text and not any of the signs.

Analysis and proposed translation

The advertisement could be translated literally and would not lose any of its effect. Its success lies in the surprise element when the beggar turns the cardboard poster around to show Nando’s special prices.

The advertisement could read as follows:

Honger? Dae laas geŽet? Halwe hoender en tjips net R18,50 by Nando’s.

The signs in this advertisement, namely the beggar and his placard seemingly begging for money at a traffic light, are well-known sights in South African society. These signs transcend cultural barriers.

The word "hungry" was translated to "honger", and the question mark was kept. "No food all day" was translated to "Dae laas geŽet?" which has the added implication that the hunger has lasted for more than a day; it is also more idiomatic to put the question that way. "Chips" were translated to "tjips", which is the word used by Afrikaans speakers rather than the "correct" term "skyfies". The word "tjips" is more commonly used than "skyfies" because it sounds like the English term, but the spelling has been changed to conform to Afrikaans spelling rules.

Breakfast menu

Ms: (Light reverb) Liewe Baas en Mies. Dis ek anneries, djulle tuinboy wat hier skryf. Ek job al lankal by djulle. Ons het nog nooit die moeilikgeit gehad nie. Behalwe maybe die slag toe Yster, djulle boerbul my girlfriend Gladys gemistake het vir ’n tsotsi. Maar Baas en Mies, ek is nou op strike. Dis nou oor die deng met die pap. Ek mind nie die pap in die smirrae nie, maar vir brekfis ok is too much. Kyk die nuwe Nando’s brekfisse. Die eier, die beesspek, die hoenderwors, die chicken, die prego steak en die toast. Check mooi. Neks pap. Ek vra mooi, ek demand die Nando’s brekfis plaas van pap. Amdandla! Viva Nando’s, viva. Gesign. Anneries Happy Makakoeloe.

MSO: Die nuwe Nando’s Ontbytspyskaart. Sit aan vir ete tot 11vm. By deelnemende Nando’s-takke. Nando’s. Die smaak van Portugal.


This advertisement was originally created in Afrikaans. Once again, the black-white polarisation in the South African society is used to send a message to the receivers (consumers). The success of this advertisement is due to the fact that a typical, politically incorrect observation and comment regarding the behaviour of white (Afrikaans?) South Africans are used to sell the product.

The medium used is radio and the genre that of a letter which the gardener writes to his employees. He comments on the fact that they give him pap (porridge) for breakfast and lunch, and that he is dissatisfied with the situation because he wants the Nando’s breakfast menu instead of porridge. He announces that he will be on strike until his demands are met; he ends his letter with a freedom slogan.

The sub-text of this advertisement points out the attitudes and perceptions of whites regarding their fellow black citizens. The white employee assumes that the gardener only wants to eat porridge and nothing else. An alarming situation in the South African economy is that workers strike whenever their demands are not met. The gardener takes the same action to get the attention of his employers.

In order to translate the advertisement, the various cultural elements have to be isolated and identified. The form of address, "Liewe Baas en Mies", where the employers are not called by their names or surnames but as the boss and missus; the gardener refers himself as the "tuinboy", a slang word used by Afrikaans speakers; the employers’ dog is a "boerboel", with a name like Yster, suggesting power and strength, a play on "boer", a derogative term for a white Afrikaner; the girlfriend Gladys, a common name amongst black women and probably not her real name; and "tsotsi", hooligan and criminal (the word originated from "flaaitaal" spoken on the Cape Flats). The next set of signs involves references to social and political issues in the country. They are: the strike, the "pap", which is the stereotypical food of black people (in white minds), and then political utterances such as "Amdandla" and "Viva". The gardener’s name is also interesting. His Afrikaans name is Anneries, his English name is Happy, and his surname seems to be contrived and made up.

Proposed translation

To Abe and Shirlee

It’s Johnboy writing here, your garden manager. You see me working on the fork for many years in your flowers. You never worry me only that time your friend Brenda from Sandton said ubuntu and then my girlfriend, Posterity, took the nice ring for to wear, and then your friend screamed and screamed and you called the Boere. But you, I strike now. I cannot empower the grassmower when you give me little breads with funny things on top to eat. OK I eat this for lunch but aikona for breakfast. I think the Nando’s breakfast. It’s the egg, beef bacon, the chicken sausage, the chicken, the prego steak (like Posterity) and toast. You check no pig meat, no funny breads. I ask you beautiful, it’s my right to eat Nando’s breakfast. Amandla! Viva Nando’s viva.

Signed. From Johnboy Justice Hamba

The new Nando’s Breakfast menu. Enjoy breakfast till 11 am at participating Nando’s branches. Nando’s. The taste of Portugal.

(Use a strong African accent.)

Translation analysis

The cultural setting was changed to that of an upper-middle class area within a Jewish environment: the friend Brenda from Sandton ("kugel" mecca). The employers are addressed by their first names, Abe and Shirlee. The idea was to keep the humour of the original advertisement, by implying social behaviour of the characters involved, just as in the case of the behaviour of the employers in the original advertisement. The gardener becomes a garden manager, an elevated status. His name, Johnboy, is a combination of John, a common English name, and Boy, a play on garden boy (a derogatory term). The second name, Justice, ties in with his demands, and adds humour. His surname means to walk or to go. This is a comment on white people who use words from black languages to impress or show brotherhood, but do not know the meaning of these words. Misunderstanding is created (in the original the dog mistook the girlfriend for a criminal) when the Brenda bandies the concept "ubuntu" but does not understand it, with ensuing consequences. The "Boere" (slang for the police) are then called.

The identified signs were thus translated or recreated to have to same effect on the receivers in English, irrespective of their culture. The stereotypes used are known to South Africans across the board and need no explanation.


Every year the organisers of the Pendoring Awards launch an advertising campaign in Afrikaans and English. Although this is a competition for Afrikaans advertising, the awareness is created in the predominantly English advertising industry by addressing them in a mixture of English and Afrikaans. The Pendoring campaigns are of a very high standard, celebrating the versatility of the language and the cultures in which it is used. Some radio and print advertisements will be discussed. The theoretical guidelines discussed in previous chapters will be put to the test and the outcomes examined according to these guidelines.


This advertisement appeared in various English family and youth magazines. It spans the length of four A4 pages next to each other, and is 12 centimetres wide. It unfolds to reveal a long word. The sign is in this case is a symbol: the long, composite word: "gewapendebetonbrugkonstruksiemaatskappytender".

The medium is print. The genre is that of a headword, in a dictionary of definitions. The connotation is that a definition and the meaning of the word will follow, as well as other relevant information. Thus the receiver/reader expects an explanation for the use of the word as a heading. This does not happen; only a comment appears on the tenacity and determination of Afrikaans (as a language) and the users of that language.

The message is that Afrikaans is versatile and a good vehicle for selling your products. The product being advertised is the Pendoring Awards. The name of the Pendoring Awards is an intertextual reference to Ampie van Straaten’s Afrikaans radio dramas called the "Pendoring Trilogie".

The intended market includes all potential advertisers (English and Afrikaans speakers), and the broad public. The aim is to create awareness of the power of Afrikaans advertising. The source text message is to advertise and support Afrikaans advertising. The assumed effect is that the business will realise the power of Afrikaans advertising and react positively.

The style used in this advertisement is informal and colloquial. The register is at the conversational level, which makes the tone friendly and inviting. This is also evident in the humorous approach in the choice of the heading: a word that is very seldom used in Afrikaans but usually serves as an example of some sort. (The type of word that will appear in crossword puzzles!)

The sentences vary in length and use simple language to convey the message. The expressions "can do a hell of a selling job" and "will go to ridiculous lengths" cannot be literally translated and would have to be translated with equivalent expressions.

The code at work is that of advertisement discourse: the advertisement wants to persuade the receivers to support Afrikaans advertising. The medium and form, and choice of heading work together the catch the attention of those people who read the magazines in which it appeared. Another code is that of the Afrikaans culture (including all people who are mother tongue speakers) and the language it uses to communicate within that culture.

The socio-political context in which this advertisement appears influences the content (text). Afrikaans, as one of 11 languages, has to compete with English and black languages to be used as a marketing and advertising tool. The ideological assumption is that Afrikaans will not be oppressed: it will be spoken and used in commerce, and not ignored despite political marginalisation. The binary oppositions are Afrikaans/English, and language sympathy/business sense.

On the cover of the fold-out a teaser sentence appears. It says: "Not even Zulu can say a bekvol like this". This could refer to the fact that Zulu is a descriptive and colourful language.

Proposed translation

Nie eens valstande sit jou mond sů vol nie.


Afrikaans is lank nie meer ’n saamgeflanste kiesknoper nie. Dis pittig, bytend, skerp en roerend, en dans, spring en jol sodat jou besigheid in geld kan rol.

Kom vier Afrikaanse reklame by Pendoring en wen indrukwekkende kontantpryse, of selfs ’n oorsese reis. Skakel Giep van Zyl (011) 726 4345 of Wilna de Bruin (011) 678 9152.


The cover sentence could have been literally translated, but instead the cultural and political reference was dropped in favour of a humorous comment.

The long word as a heading was kept to be able to keep the fold-out concept in a magazine. The well-known word refers to the song of the same name in the film Mary Poppins. A pun appears in the first sentence of the original text on the length of the word (heading). In the translation this pun is extended by commenting on the difficulty of pronouncing the word and the fact that it does not mean anything. A new cultural code is created by placing the advertisement in the context of a well-known story and later film, Mary Poppins.

The second sentence is a dynamic equivalent of the original. It would sound contrived if the sentence was translated word for word, and thus words had to be chosen that carry the same emotional value as those in the source text. The last sentence is a literal translation of the original.

So ’n bekkie moet jÍm kry.

This advertisement forms part of the Pendoring Awards, promoting the competition. It appeared in De Kat, an up-market Afrikaans magazine. The intended audience would thus be all their readers. The part played by the text is more important than that of the visual sign, a red female mouth. The heading draws attention the mouth. The heading is a truly Afrikaans expression meaning "well said". The use of "bekkie" could sound crude, but in this context the diminutive use of the word connotes loving and positive attitudes. Only a person with a very good knowledge of the language and the culture would understand the meaning of the expression.

The intertextual reference evoked by the visual sign is that of a lipstick advertisement. But the text anchors the meaning of the visual sign. The message is that some things can be said in Afrikaans and that a translation thereof would not have the same impact. There are no neologisms or references to national symbols. The implied social and ideological values are that Afrikaans borrows from other languages and cultures, it takes from others but it also gives of itself to other cultures and languages.

The two main signs are the heading and the mouth that support each other to generate meaning. Semiotically, this advertisement is similar to the previous advertisement discussed. Paradigmatically, it differs in that it looks like an advertisement for cosmetic product. On the side of the visual an explanation in English appears of the expression.

Proposed translation

Ja, nogal baie lekker…

Try to say that in English. Afrikaans has a way to steal, beg and borrow but also to give – such as words that never existed in English before.

Come and celebrate the power of Afrikaans advertising at Pendoring and win impressive cash prizes or even an overseas trip. Phone Giep van Zyl (011) 726 4345 or Wilna de Bruin (011) 678 9152.

(Ek sÍ, sies, it’s not what you think!)

Translational analysis

It is not possible to translate the heading literally; the English equivalent is bland and does not connote any meaning. Thus the code was changed to give a sexual connotation to the advertisement. The visual does suggest a degree of sexual innuendo that was not used in the original advertisement.

The theme used in both the original and the translation is that some things can only be said in Afrikaans and that there are not equivalents for them in English. Taking this into account, the heading is a sentence consisting of only Afrikaans words. However, these words have been incorporated into the South African English vocabulary due to their popularity and usage.

In the second sentence an English idiom was used. Paradigmatically, this creates an opposition. This idiom cannot be translated into Afrikaans; an equivalent does not exist in Afrikaans. The use of this idiom provides a link with the idea that follows: that Afrikaans enriches other languages and cultures.

The comment in brackets anchors the connotations generated in the heading, by denying the sexual nature of the comment. Again Afrikaans words are used to emphasise the points already made in the text. Diesel Denims

This print advertisement appeared in the Afrikaans lifestyle magazine, DE KAT of August 1998, in English. No effort was made to translate it. The advertisement is a collage of two photos on the same page. The main photo shows two elderly people, a man and a woman sitting on a couch in a dimly lit room. The man is nodding off, while the woman is pinching him near his genitals. She has a lascivious look: licking her lips. Both of them are wearing Diesel denims. The second photo shows denim clothes. This is an American product, depicting a certain way of life. The setting is that of a typical lounge. The man was having whisky or probably bourbon and fell asleep after having drunk it.

The binary oppositions include perceptions about of age/youth, sex/abstinence and males/females. The woman is dressed up in jeans, pearls and fur. The basic premise in the text is that the antique dirty type of denim can be compared to your grandmother. It has an old, vintage appearance but that does not mean that it is old. By the same token, old age does not imply sexual abstinence or a lack of interest in behaviour associated with the young. The same goes for denim, not only young people can wear it; it is timeless and can be worn by all.

Proposed translation

Oupa en Ouma sit op die bank.

Ouma gryp Oupa aan die flank.

Oupa dink: Ek voel ’n veer.

Ouma sÍ: Ek kan jou ietsie leer.

Oupa dink: Sies! Sies! Sies!

Ouma sÍ: Nou’s ek wragtig vies!

Diesel jeans word van die beste denim gemaak wat oorgekleur, gewas en dan verweer word. Diesel antieke, verweerde denims. Vir mense wat die broek in die huis dra – soos ouma.

Translational analysis

This is a difficult advertisement to translate. The cultural symbols (in terms of the context) cannot be changed, therefore the text must carry the burden of creating dynamically equivalent signs in the target language and culture, namely Afrikaans.

The translation is much longer than the original, and does not resemble the text at all. The rhyme is based on a children’s rhyme (albeit naughty) which refers to a grandmother and grandfather sitting on the porch. The grandfather suffers from flatulence and the grandmother advises him to eat a pear to solve the problem. The charm of the rhyme is that it uses an uncouth word for flatulence. This subject matter of this advertisement is rather uncouth and crass. Therefore, a diluted and recreated version (with sexual innuendoes) of the original rhyme was used. By using humour, the shock of the visual material is countered.