Scholarly article on topic 'The Interplay of Literal and Metaphorical Meanings in Printed Advertisement'

The Interplay of Literal and Metaphorical Meanings in Printed Advertisement Academic research paper on "Languages and literature"

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{"Literal meaning" / "metaphorical meaning" / "literal scene" / "conceptual metaphor" / advertisement.}

Abstract of research paper on Languages and literature, author of scientific article — Ilze Oļehnoviča, Zaiga Ikere, Solveiga Liepa

Abstract The interplay of literal and metaphorical meanings is often employed as the means of image creation in advertising. Both literal and metaphorical meanings of a linguistic unit are given referential value; it is to be considered both at the metaphorical level and the lexical or literal level simultaneously. The effect of double reading is created by the help of a phenomenon visualized in an advertisement. The study proves that the interplay of literal and metaphorical meanings in advertising is employed to enhance that the viewer grasps the whole semantic space implied in the linguistic unit and its visualization.

Academic research paper on topic "The Interplay of Literal and Metaphorical Meanings in Printed Advertisement"

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Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 231 (2016) 25 - 31

International Conference; Meaning in Translation: Illusion of Precision, MTIP2016, 11-13 May

2016, Riga, Latvia

The interplay of literal and metaphorical meanings in printed


Ilze OJehnovicaa, Zaiga Ikereb, Solveiga Liepac*

a-cDaugavpils University, Vienibas 13, Daugavpils, LV—5401, Latvia


The interplay of literal and metaphorical meanings is often employed as the means of image creation in advertising. Both literal and metaphorical meanings of a linguistic unit are given referential value; it is to be considered both at the metaphorical level and the lexical or literal level simultaneously. The effect of double reading is created by the help of a phenomenon visualized in an advertisement. The study proves that the interplay of literal and metaphorical meanings in advertising is employed to enhance that the viewer grasps the whole semantic space implied in the linguistic unit and its visualization.

© 2016 The Authors.PublishedbyElsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

Peer-review under responsibility of the organizing committee of MTIP2016

Keywords: Literal meaning; metaphorical meaning; literal scene; conceptual metaphor; advertisement.

1. Introduction

The concept of linguistic meaning is diverse and hence it is rather problematic to define it precisely. This problem becomes apparent when one attempts to consider all the varied approaches to the definition, analysis of meaning, and the interpretation of findings. Linguistic meaning has been studied in various ways, e.g., as sense and reference, an imagined concept in human mind, truth-value proposition or as communicative use (see Kempson, 1977), all approaches having their strengths and drawbacks.

Meaning is essential and inseparable component of any message sent and received within communication and therefore it is important to understand and appreciate its nature. Throughout the present study we will mostly rely on

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +37165422994. E-mail address:

1877-0428 © 2016 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (

Peer-review under responsibility of the organizing committee of MTIP2016 doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2016.09.067

the meaning as use approach (see Caron, 1992) as this is the approach that takes into account various forms of linguistic function and the flexibility of meaning determined by textual and situational contexts.

2. Meaning as use

Meaning as use refers to speaker's meaning, i.e. to his intention or the communicative effect intended. This understanding of meaning is based on the assumption that any event of language use is aimed at achieving some particular purpose; using a language speakers/writers choose appropriate linguistic forms that comply with the communicative setting and situational context, i.e., language is used as a symbolic tool to achieve certain communicative aims and any utterance conveys some message and is purposeful. Thus meaning is to be viewed as a pragmatic phenomenon, and meaning-making - as a system governed by rules and principles that are to be followed in communication. The choice of language in a particular instance of usage always depends on the communicative setting, social relationships, situational and cultural contexts. An utterance conveys a mental representation which is encoded in the message with a particular communicative function which further has to be decoded and interpreted by the hearer/reader (see Fig. 1.)

Fig. 1. The process of encoding and decoding an utterance: M=message to be encoded/decoded, U=utterance (adapted from Olehnovica, 2012).

Focusing on language use it is possible to distinguish seven types of meaning (see Leech, 1981, p. 23): conceptual, connotative, collocative, social / stylistic, affective, reflected and thematic. Primarily, however, three broad types are delineated: conceptual meaning, associative meaning, associative meaning being used as an umbrella term for other five types of meaning (connotative, social, affective, reflective, collocative), and thematic meaning. At the same time the above-mentioned seven types of meaning are discussed as representing three levels of meaning (see Kastovsky, 1981, p. 123): 1) the conceptual or denotative meaning being the first and most significant level in which lexical items are described according to their semantic features and in terms of larger structures, such as lexical fields; 2) associative meaning, i.e., "associations produced by the extra linguistic objects referred to, the situation in which it is uttered and its form (i.e., stylistic or sociolinguistic peculiarities)"; 3) the level of thematic meaning that refers to the way a speaker or a writer organizes his/her message. This type of meaning is involved in the categories of "topicalization", "focusing", and "presupposition" (ibid).

The perspective of meaning as use pertains to the view of linguistic meaning, that takes into account both semantics and pragmatics. The research into conceptual meaning is focused on the linguistic system, but the study considering associative and thematic meaning, i.e., other types of meaning, considers socio-psychological, situations and contextual constraints. In the present case, when the interplay of literal and metaphorical meaning will be analyzed in the discourse of advertising, it is necessary to take into account and analyze the use of language from the viewpoint of all three types of meaning (conceptual, associative, and thematic), since it will be illustrated that situational and textual contexts are indispensable factors in the analysis of meaning communicated in an advertisement.



3. Literal vs metaphorical meaning

On discussing the production and perception of meaning, one encounters many various and often divergent understandings of the very essence of the notion literal meaning. Is literal meaning really literal? Or is it the conventional meaning? Is that the literal meaning that lies in the basis of the metaphorical / figurative one? And is it the case of idioms (often still viewed as dead metaphors) that are of particular interest in the present study?

Within the framework of cognitive linguistics, metaphor is understood and regarded as a conceptual rather than a linguistic phenomenon. It follows that metaphorical expressions, including idioms, encountered in language merely reflect metaphors that exist at the conceptual level (Lakoff, Johnson, 1980). Lakoff (1993: 202-251), dealing within cognitive linguistics and generative semantics in particular, presents a detailed account of a theory of mental representation based on the idea that metaphor plays central role in the way in which we think, speak and perceive the world. He distinguishes between a conceptual metaphor mapped from the source domain to the target domain, and linguistic metaphors being individual linguistic expressions that represent the concepts mapped. Thus, metaphor in its essence is a cognitive phenomenon (Lakoff, 1993, p. 209). The idea that metaphoric meanings are motivated by people's conceptual knowledge, which includes metaphorical and metonymic schemes of thought, is supported also by Zoltan Kovecses (2002). Gibbs (1994) views metaphor not as a distorted literal thought, but rather considers it being a basic scheme by which human experience and the outside world are conceptualized. Idioms are considered to be products of human conceptual system; the process of their development involves domains of experience rather than individual words. Therefore, it follows that we make sense of idioms and figurative language in general by using our embodied knowledge of the surrounding world (Kovecses, 2002, p. 201; Kovecses and Szabó, 1996, p. 330), rather than by associating them with arbitrary meanings.

As to perception of figurative language and idioms in particular, there are generally two distinctive viewpoints: according to the first one (see, for instance, Ortony et al, 1978; Gibbs, 1980; Hillert, Swinney, 2001), figurative meanings are accessed independently of the literal reading. The supporters of the other one (see Cacciari and Glucksberg, 1991, 1995; Configuration Hypothesis in Cacciari and Tabossi, 1988) hold that idioms are understood word by word as any other strings of literally used words until the reader has sufficient amount of information to identify the idiom and thus recall its figurative meaning, i.e. the idiomatic meanings are associated with configurations formed by the same words activated during the comprehension of literal sentences. Also the Graded Salience Hypothesis proposed by Giora (1997) basically states the same: initially, when interpreting, both literal as well as non-literal/figurative utterances are treated in the same way. The salience of meaning is a function of its conventionality, familiarity, frequency, or givenness in a certain context (Giora, 1997). The familiarity and/or degree of figurativeness of an utterance may significantly influence the interplay of literal and figurative meanings during the interpretation of a figurative utterance. In this respect it is possible to conclude that both literal, as well as potential non-literal / metaphorical meanings of an utterance result from the pragmatic processes applied in interpretation and therefore the assumption that literal meaning interpretation is always prior to the interpretation of non-literal meaning can hardly be considered reasonable.

It is often considered that literal meaning is what the words actually mean, but this statement immediately triggers the comment that for words to mean something they must be interpreted taking into account the textual and the situational contexts: depending on the situation, one and the same utterance may be used to communicate different ideas.

4. Idioms in advertising

To catch the attention of the target audience, advertisements should be made attractive and memorable. Largely, advertising is so powerful because of the language used; advertisers are the ones whose linguistic creativity and ability to select the most appropriate words is exceptional. Figurative language and idioms in particular have proven to be productive means in the development of persuasive advertising. They are catchy, institutionalized linguistic expressions and thus familiar to most of the representatives of the target group. Due to their multiword character, idioms easily lend themselves to different variations that may be applied in advertising to produce various semantic effects and enhance the ties between the idiom and the product advertised. Idioms that are used in advertising are usually well-known, frequently used linguistic units, therefore, by inferring both strong and weak implicatures (for more on implicatures in usage events of idioms, see Olehnovica, 2012, p. 54-55), consumers easily interpret the

message intended. If the advertiser chooses to use a less familiar idiom, the message of the ad may not reach the consumers and consequently undermine the effectiveness of the advertisement.

Notwithstanding the fact that a lot of idioms are universal, a lot of them reflect national cultures, a certain nation's traditions and beliefs. When considering advertisements (especially in reference to translation of advertisements), it is necessary to take into account the specific cultural context since often exactly the cultural context proves to be essential in disambiguation of the subtle intended meanings conveyed by the creative use of language used by advertisers.

5. The analysis of literal and metaphorical meanings in advertisements

The interplay of literal and metaphorical meanings is often employed as the means of image creation in advertising in general and in printed advertisements in particular. Often both literal and metaphorical meanings of a linguistic unit are given referential value; it is to be considered both at the metaphorical level and the lexical or compositional (literal) level simultaneously. Though one could argue about simultaneous emergences (and thus - comprehension) of both possible readings of a linguistic unit as there are cases that these meanings are conceptualized on following the other. The effect of double reading can and often is created by the help of phenomenon visualized in an advertisement.

Let us consider some examples of printed advertisements randomly selected from advertisement websites. The first one (see Fig. 2.), presented below, is the TESCO ad of soap, in which the idiom you scratch my back and I'll scratch vows is varied to make the viewer think on both literal and figurative levels.

Fig. 2. TESCO ad of soap (Retrieved from

The idiom has been subjected to an instantial variation, namely, the substitution of the verb scratch with the verb phrase gently exfoliate, which is based on the principle of literal scene manipulation (for more on idiom variation principles see Langlotz, 2006, p. 205-224), and that makes the viewer switch from figurative to literal reading, the literalization of the idiomatic meaning is enhanced by means of the visualized piece of soap. This particular advertisement might cause certain complexities for the translator, because in different languages there exist metaphorical expressions based on the same conceptual metaphors but not always they are equal in connotations. Thus, the counterparts of the idiom you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours ('if you do me a favour, I'll return it'), which in Latvian might at first seem to be roka roku mazgä, or Russian рука руку моет, or German Eine Hand wäscht die andere (which also exists in English: one hand washes the other) that originates from Latin Manus manum lava! possess negative evaluative connotation.

The next advertisement (Fig. 3.) is the creative multimodal exploitation of the idiom spill the beans in the sentence Last chance to spill the beans in the advertisement of the National Student Survey (annual student survey held since 2005 gathers students' opinions on the quality of their courses across the United Kingdom). The idiom spill the beans is the reflection of the underlying conceptual metaphors THE MIND IS A CONTAINER and IDEAS ARE

PHYSICAL ENTITIES, the former being represented in the advertisement both visually (literalizing it) and verbally, thus enhancing the figurative meaning by means of the can itself and its label, which reads: "YOUR VOICE filled with strong opinions and rich thoughts"; the latter is represented by beans and the verb spill. Apart from theses metaphors, the constituent parts of the idiom function as metaphors themselves: spill - release, beans - opinions and thoughts.

The idiom originates from a method of voting in secret societies in ancient Greece, where white or black beans were used to express one's positive or negative opinion. Then container was upturned and everyone could see how many negative votes (black beans) it contained (Linda and Roger Flavell, 2004, p. 175-176). The present advertisement will pose difficulties for rendering the verbal-visual message into Latvian, Russian or German due to the fact that idiom is presented both verbally and visually but in the languages mentioned there are no idioms meaning 'reveal secrets' based on the image of beans and spilling them.

The conceptual knowledge about disguise and deception is inherent in the conceptual metaphor YOU ARE WHAT YOU WEAR which is applied in the advertisement of "The new Fiat 132". The interplay of the metaphorical and the literal meanings of the idiom a wolf in sheep's clothing is featured in the next advertisement (Fig. 4.). The idiom a wolf in sheep's clothing is literalized visually, but what is implied metaphorically is that the automobile that looks very inconspicuous, plain and 'innocent' in reality has a powerful engine and is not at all 'innocent'. The conventional figurative meaning of the idiom is 'hidden danger' but in the ad it is used to conceptualize the power of a stronger animal. The idiom being of Biblical origin, it exists, has the same meaning and is based on the same images in most of the Christian cultures.

The last advertisements to discuss, which is aimed at promoting the Tanqueray gin (Fig. 5.), features the instantiation of the vulgar idiom get someone by the balls - 'to gain complete control or dominance over someone' (Farflex 2015), where the verb get is substituted with grab, the noun someone - with night and the noun balls - with Junipers (metonymic reference to the drink). The synonym-based verb substitution based on literal scene manipulation (for more see Langlotz, 2006, p. 205-224) intensifies the meaning, while the noun substitution is based on the principle of topic indication, Juniper berries being the key ingredient in gin. The conceptual metaphor underlying the idiom is A PROBLEM IS AN ANIMATE OPPONENT, but in the context of night life that involves the consumption of

Fig. 3. The National Student Survey ad (Retrieved from

Fig. 4. "The new Fiat 132" (Retrieved from

alcoholic drinks, Tanqueray represented by Junipers is the most important element and night is an opponent that has to be tamed with the help of that drink. The name of the drink, namely, Tanqueray, is used as the verb in the other sentence present in the advertisement: Tonight we Tanqueray - 'we'll spend night drinking Tanqueray'. The use of this particular idiom in this advertisement might pass unnoticed by many viewers, though for translation it should not cause much trouble since similar vulgar idioms exist in the languages considered.

Fig. 5. Tanqueray gin ad (Retrieved from

6. Conclusion

Within the framework of cognitive linguistics metaphors through conceptual mapping serve to explain how human beings project their experiences with physical objects in the world onto non-physical experiences, for instance, various activities, ideas, emotions, feelings, etc. This enables one to refer, quantify and identify one's non-physical experiences (for more, see, for instance, Lakoff and Johnson, 1980; Lakoff, 1987; Lakoff and Turner, 1989).

In different languages, one can find a lot of idioms and other metaphorical expressions that are based on the same conceptual metaphors. The implication for translating advertisements containing them is that depending on the culture, these expressions may often reveal semantic differences that can hardly be explained by referring to rather abstract models of metaphorization, i.e. belonging to the same conceptual metaphor they render specific semantic features. What may be different are the connotations, therefore the cross-linguistic specifics of figurative language should be taken into account. It is often the case that in source and target languages there exist idioms or metaphorical expressions based on the same conceptual metaphor and with identical metaphorical meaning but the words -components of the expressions - that constitute the literal scene and thus the image basis belong to different semantic fields.

The study proves that the interplay of literal and metaphorical meanings in advertising is employed to enhance that the viewer grasps the whole semantic space implied in the linguistic unit and its visualization.


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