Background of the Study
Ads, with a long history, affect our life for decades. Nowadays, as the globaleconomy develops, various media as the carrier of ads, are used to satisfy ourincreasing material needs. Commercial advertisers often seek to generate increasedconsumption of their products or services through “branding”, which involvesassociating a product name or image with certain qualities in consumers’ mind. Inorder to catch consumers’ attention and promote sales, all merchants and producerstransfer their efforts to advertisements. Therefore, after World WarⅡ, economyrecovered and advertisements became popular in commerce. According to statisticfigures applied by studies, each consumer in America contacts up to more than 1600advertisements a day via various approaches (Barry, 1973). Its primary function is to get across key selling points to desired prospects in a manner that attracts attentionand stimulates them to give serious consideration to the product (Wells, Burnett andMoriarty, 1992). Due to the function of advertisements, the content of ads has longbeen considered as the most important part of an advertisement (Ogilvy, 1983).In order to achieve persuasive function and appeal to more audience, variousrhetorical devices as the foregrounding approaches are employed in advertising. Theseforegrounding approaches, as an irregular style arouse scholars’ attention and arestudied by them. However, for a long time, the study of advertising language onlylimited in the sphere of language characterization and language rhetoric. Since 20thcentury, as cognitive linguistics develops, stylistics has both replaced and expandedon the earlier study of the domain of classical rhetoric. This thesis is a link ofcognitive linguistics and classical rhetoric, i.e. using the figure-ground theory ofcognitive linguistics to interpret foregrounding approaches in advertisements. Thisstudy changes the route of classical study of style and continues the line of cognitivelinguistics and concerns with cognitive aspects of information processing which isforegrounding in advertising language.
Significance of the Study
As advertising develops, gradually, designers of advertisements pay growingattention on the adverting language. Lots of foregrounding means are applied inadvertisements, some of which even become the catchwords in social community. Since the time of Aristotle, scholars and researchers began to observe, ponder andanalyze theses language phenomena. However, most of these studies still just payattention to style characteristics itself. With the development of cognitive linguistics,although some studies connect style with cognition, only one aspect of foregroundingor two has been mentioned. This thesis avoids this shortage and tries to cover most offoregrounding approaches of advertising language with the sphere of cognitive frame.This study analyzes these approaches from perspective of figure-ground theoryto interpret the realization of foregrounding. In light of figure-ground theory, thisstudy is devoted to making an analysis of foregrounding from the cognitiveperspective with the aim to find out the identification of figure and ground inforegrounding approaches at the rhyme, lexical, syntactic, semantic levels, withrhetoric meaning of these foregrounding functions as the ground and the intendedmeaning of foregrounding as the figure. Moreover, the study manifests the cognitivecharacteristics of various foregrounding approaches in which man realizes world fromthe known entities to the unknown entities. It is also a new approach of human’scognitive innovation.
Figure-ground is the one of the most important notions in cognitive linguistics.Both jargon— “figure” and “ground” derive from Gestalt psychology. A century ago,Rubin, a Gestalt psychologist from Denmark, initiated this conception and quotedthem in psychology later. This cognitive psychological principle was introduced firstby Talmy(1978) who expounds the application of “figure-ground” in language. Incognitive linguistics, figure-ground is the basic feature of cognitive movement andsemantic constructs. As the well-known face/vase illusion shown in figure 2.1, two possibilities ofperceiving the picture (as two faces or as a vase) are mentioned, however, only onecan be viewed at a time. Still, the viewer can easily switch between the two possibilities, especially after longer inspection. The ability lack of seeing both thevase and the faces at the same time is the phenomenon called figure-groundsegregation. Figure-ground segmentation is a process by which the visual system divides avisual scene into figures and their backgrounds. It is an important visual processbecause distinctions of figure-ground are fundamental to the visual perception ofobjects. Gestalt psychologists, who were the first to recognize the importance offigure-ground segmentation, distinguished figures and grounds in terms of theirphenomenal appearance (Koffka, 1935; Rubin, 1915, 1958). Figures appear to have adefinite shape, so that their bounding contours are assigned as belonging to them.Grounds are shapeless near the contours they share with figures and appear tocontinue behind the figures near those contours.
Foregrounding is one of the most important notions. It derives from the art ofpainting, which refers to the partition of figure and ground through the process ofenjoying the art, and is widely used in literature later. Since the early 20thcentury,Russian formalists have tried to describe the technique and function of the style. Later,many linguists, such as Mukarovsky, Jacobson, Leech and Halliday, all have donedetailed research to foregrounding. Foregrounding is a popular term in stylistics. It is quoted by Garvin to translatethe Prague School term ACTUALIZATION whose literal meaning is reflection. Thenotion of foregrounding comes from Russian formalist Shklovskij and his supporters.With the statement by Mukarovsky and Prague scholars involving Jakobson and thedevelopment by Leech and Halliday, the notion of foregrounding is shaped.
Analysis of Foregrounding in Advertising English Based on Figure-Ground Theory
The Means Employed in Advertising English to Realize Foregrounding
Based on the classification of foregrounding approaches discussed in Chapter 2,further discussion about these approaches is provided with definitions and examples.First, deviation is mostly embodied in graphological, phonological, lexical andsemantic levels. As the following table shows: This section deals with the application of figure-ground theory and answers thesecond research question in which way the figure-ground theory interpretforegrounding. First, the author explains how the deviation is achieved in terms offigure-ground theory. Then, the author discusses the other foregroundingapproach—overregularity. The interpretation of both deviation and overregularity areall based on Talmy’s definition and characterization of figure and ground, and theprominence principle of figure-ground theory. Deviation refers to a selection of a linguistic item outside the range of normallyallowed selections. Four linguistic levels of deviation are analyzed in the scheme offigure-ground theory, i.e. graphological, lexical, syntactic, semantic levels.According to Figure-Ground theory, the core part of information is coded as thefigure by the advertising designers. Referring to the definitive and characteristics ofFigure and Ground proposed by Talmy and Pragnanz Principle proposed by gestaltlinguists, the figure is prominent compared with the ground which can be seen as theReference substance that is “Cognitive Refereence Point” in mental world. Theprominent parts in advertisements disperse in different levels of linguistics, such asgraphological level, phonological level, lexical level, syntactic level and semanticlevel.
The thesis studies foregrounding approaches in adverting language from theperspective of figure-ground theory. In this thesis, this study lists thirty-threefrequently used foregrounding approaches by analyzing 2000 advertisements. Besidesthat, Based on the frequency and characteristics of each foregrounding, the authorinterpret these approaches from different linguistic levels.In advertising language, semantic deviation and phonological overregularity aremore popular among these approaches. These approaches are foregrounded bydeviating from the normal way that the society provides. According to figure - groundtheory, the foregrounded texts which are more salient are supposed as the figure. Whatis foregrounded is striking, unexpected, surprising, unusual, etc. From the foundationof the theory it has been stressed that foregrounding may be characterized by itsstrikingness: what is in the foreground, what is de-familiarized or de-automatized,what is made strange, etc. will generally strike the reader.