Brand Names and English Puns in Romanian Virtual Advertising Space

By Bughesiu, Alina | British and American Studies, January 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

Brand Names and English Puns in Romanian Virtual Advertising Space


Bughesiu, Alina, British and American Studies


1. Introduction

The present study examines the use of brand names as bases for English puns employed in print advertisements collected from the Romanian virtual environment. Taking into consideration a selection of advertising texts built in the manner of slogans, the paper analyses the use of brand names as markers (conveyors) of ambiguity-related word play, meant to obtain a primarily humorous and satirical effect. While highlighting the semantic shifts that proper names undergo as a result of their peculiar (nonprototypical) employment, the study sets to identify the linguistic and pragmatic mechanisms which underlie the aforementioned transformations. In order to explain these aspects, the analysis relies on theoretical principles taken from semantics, pragmatics, semiotics, psycholinguistics and literary theory. Moreover, some sociolinguistic factors and precepts are also invoked, especially with reference to the globalisation of advertising space. The trend of onomastic play analysed in this paper is widespread, but its conspicuousness tends to be peculiar to the English language, perhaps as an unsurprising effect of the still unquestionable status of English as a lingua franca. In this context, the occurrence of English onomastic puns in Romanian advertising space does not appear to be discordant. Nevertheless, to illustrate the extent of their use in Romanian, some examples will be provided in this language as well.

The texts that constitute the working material of this investigation were selected from the Romanian virtual space. They were created by Andrei (Deiu) Stanciu, a Romanian copywriter, as part of one of his collections of print advertisements, Brandom Humor, and can be accessed freely on his Facebook page (signed Deiu Stanciu) or on various specialised websites, such as Suburban Magazine (see Chirila 2014).

2. Advertising discourse and punning

In contemporary marketing communication, advertising discourse is a complex, multimodal composition (see Cmeciu 2010: 34 and Sjöblom 2008: 351), usually designed as a paratextual (cf. Genette 2001: 1-2) extension of the brand identity (Corbu 2009: 64) of a product, business (establishment) or institution. The main function of an advertisement is to convey a specific message, which consists of several positive associations related to the object advertised and which the sender (the individual or group behind the commercialised object) wishes the receiver (the target audience of the ad) to grasp, believe and accept (Alrasheedi 2014: 71). Put differently, the aim of most advertisements is commercial, i.e. to persuade prospective customers of the benefits that are sure to be derived from coming into contact with a certain product, business or institution.

Sometimes, in order to transmit information, the persuasive rhetorical devices used in advertisements rely to a great extent on humour and irony (even sarcasm). In these instances, ambiguity, polarity (positive or negative semantic oppositions) and unexpectedness ("contextual imbalances among the semantic meanings of the words") (Reyes, Rosso and Buscaldi 2012: 5) are often employed/sought (either together or independently) as pragmatic stimuli. As such, when decoded properly, these features may facilitate the production of a precise, desired response on the part of potential customers. This behaviour is elicited by means of the advertising utterance not through the advertising text per se, but essentially through how this text is built (Abass 2007: 48).

A way of devising pragmatically efficient advertising texts consists of punning, by which one understands, in agreement with Partington (2009: 1794), "the bisociative play between two sound sequences", a play on words, as well as on ideas. Puns are frequent occurrences in advertisements, often - but not necessarily - as a part of humorous language (Crawford and Gregory 2015: 571). Like other kinds of word games, puns are illustrative of the "ludic uses of language, where the aim is not primarily to communicate meaning but to draw attention to the way the normal rules of language can be bent or broken to convey novel effects" (Crystal 2007: 464, italics in the original). …

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Brand Names and English Puns in Romanian Virtual Advertising Space
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