A Pragmatic Study on the Functions of Vague Language in Commercial Advertising

Article excerpt

Abstract

Vagueness is one of the basic attributes of natural language. This is the same to advertising language. Vague language is a subject of increasing interest, and both foreign and domestic studies have attained success in it. Nevertheless, the study on the application of vague language in the context of English commercial advertising is relatively sparse. Since the effectiveness of communication of commercial advertisements is one of the greatest concerns of advertisers, this paper is to demonstrate the functions of vague language in commercial advertising, which is a communicative factor in the effectiveness of advertisements, through analysis of vagueness in advertisements under the guidance of pragmatics, Grice's Cooperative Principle and Conversational Implicature in particular. The paper shows that vague language in commercial advertising plays both positive and negative roles. Its positive functions include improving the flexibility of communication, enhancing the persuasiveness of communication and ensuring the accuracy of information whereas its negative functions cover misleading readers and making them subject to false understanding.

Keywords: vague language, commercial advertising, Cooperative Principle, Conversational Implicature, pragmatic functions

1. Introduction

1.1 Rationale and Significance of the Study

In the information age, speed and efficiency are highly valued. Advertising, as a means to convey information to the public, is capable of spreading information through mass media to a large number of people within a very limited period. Therefore, advertising is omnipresent in today's society. Language, as one of the essential elements which include images, colours, sound, etc. to express an advertisement, is of great significance to the effectiveness of communication of the advertisements.

Vagueness is one of the basic properties of natural language (Cao & Gao, 2007). So is it with advertising language. Vague language is a common linguistic phenomenon in advertising, and it is gaining increasing attention in academic research. Study of vague language in the context of commercial advertising is relatively sparse, and this paper will focus on vague language in English commercial advertising. Through introduction of relevant theories on vague language and explication of the application of vagueness in English commercial advertisements from the perspective of a pragmatic theory, i.e. Grice's Cooperative Principle and Conversational Implicature, the functions of vague language in commercial advertising and the copywriters' motives to apply vague language will be revealed.

As globalization is a current trend in the business field, English, a language enjoying international popularity, is widely used in commercial advertising by international corporations. The success of advertisements can be a crucial factor for the success of the corporations' business. Hence, the study on the functions of vague language in English commercial advertising is of referential value to the corporations as it sheds some light on the design of a successful advertisement in terms of vague language. Furthermore, the study may offer the readers certain knowledge about vague language to assist them in realizing why and how it is applied, so as to help them safeguard themselves against an advertiser's ill purpose in the case that the advertiser deliberately exploits vague language to mislead or even deceive the readers for the sake of commercial interests.

1.2 Research Questions

This paper is to focus on vague language and its application in the context of English commercial advertising.

Thus, the following questions will be involved.

1. What is vague language?

2. Why is it applied in English commercial advertising?

3. What pragmatic functions does it cause in English commercial advertising?

1.3 Research Methodology

The present study is a qualitative one. …