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The linguistics of consumerism



This module investigates the design of advertising, the naming of products, and the marketing of products, with a focus on magazine advertisements and product packaging, using concepts of analysis from linguistics. Almost all research on advertising has been conducted without such a linguistic foundation and/or is entirely quantitative social science research. This module applies knowledge of linguistics (in particular pragmatics, but also phonetics and sound symbolism, syntax and ellipsis) and concepts in linguistics (e.g., signifier and signified, given and new information, presupposition, relevance) to the study of advertising design and advertising language, and of naming and marketing.

By the end of the module, you will:

  • have a good understanding of how knowledge of linguistics and concepts in linguistics can inform the study of advertising, in terms of advertising and marketing materials, advertising images, and the relations between them;
  • be able to critically evaluate non-specialist writing on a cultural topic (advertising) and consider its value from an informed perspective;
  • have an understanding of the principles of product naming and marketing, and of design (text, images) of magazine advertising, and be able to apply these to novel cases;
  • have further developed expository writing skills.

This module will be capped at 35.



Students should have successfully completed:

  • L09C Introduction to phonetics and phonology
  • L11C Introduction to syntax
  • L12C Introduction to semantics

Further study in these areas is desirable.



Contact hours

One 2-hour lecture and one 1-hour seminar per week.

Teaching programme

The format of the module will be a combination of lectures and seminars. Lectures will deliver the core linguistic, analytical, and historical content. The main themes will be: pragmatics, the design of advertising, the intent of advertising, the history of advertising, product naming, and product marketing. In seminars, students will work on the practical details of analysis. As part of the seminar work, we will deconstruct and reconstruct advertisements or product packaging, based on particular main themes of the module.

Teaching materials

Key texts:

  • Leech, G.N. (1966) English in Advertising: A Linguistic Study of Advertising in Great Britain. London: Longmans.
  • Vestergaard, T. and Schrøder, K. (1986) The Language of Advertising. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Important additional texts:

  • Colapinto, J. 2011. Famous Names. New Yorker, 3/10/11.
  • Coleman, L. 1990. The language of advertising. Journal of Pragmatics, 14: 137-45.
  • Freedman, J. and D. Jurafsky. 2012. Authenticity in America: Class Distinctions in Potato Chip Advertising. Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 11, 46-54.
  • Geis, M. 1982. The Language of Television Advertising. New York: Academic Press.
  • Goddard, A. 2002. The Language of Advertising: Written Texts, 2nd ed. London: Routledge.
  • Gray, John. 2010. The Construction of English: Culture, Consumerism and Promotion in the ELT Global Coursebook. Palgrave.
  • Grice, H.P. 1975 Logic and conversation. In P. Cole & J. Morgan (eds) Syntax and Semantics 3: Speech Acts. New York: Academic Press.
  • Klink, R. 2009. Gender differences in new brand name response. Marketing Letters 20, 313–326.
  • Koteyko, I. 2015. The Language of Press Advertising in the UK: A Multi-dimensional Study. Journal of English Linguistics 43, 259-283.
  • Leiss, W. et al. 2005. Social Communication in Advertising. Nelson.
  • Lowrey, L.J. and T. Shrum. 2007. Phonetic Symbolism and Brand Name Preference. Journal of Consumer Research 34, 406-414.
  • Phillips, B. and E. McQuarrie. 2002. The Development, Change, and Transformation of Rhetorical Style in Magazine Advertisements 1954-1999. Journal of Advertising 31, 1-13.
  • Schroeder, J. 2002. Visual Communication. Routledge.
  • Scott, L. 1994. Images in Advertising: The Need for a Theory of Visual Rhetoric. Journal of Consumer Research 21, 252-273.
  • Scott, L. and P. Vargas. 2007. Writing with Pictures: Toward a Unifying Theory of Consumer Response to Images. Journal of Consumer Research 34, 341-356.
  • Sperber, D. and Wilson, D. 1986. Relevance: Communication and Cognition. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
  • Tanaka, K. 1994. Advertising Language: A Pragmatic Approach to Advertising in Britain and Japan. London and New York: Routledge.
  • Van Leeuwen, T. 2005. Introducing Social Semiotics. Routledge.

Assessment and feedback

Assessment and feedback

Formative work and feedback

Comments on formative work will be provided throughout the term.

Summative assessment and feedback

  • 2 core concept essays
    • Due in weeks 5 and 9 of Autumn Term
    • Weight: 40%
    • Length: 1000 words each

Written feedback on the first two assignments will be provided before the next assignment is due.

  • 2 thematic application essays
    • Due in week 1 of Spring Term
    • Weight: 60%
    • Length: 1500 words each


Transferable skills developed in this module

All modules provide an opportunity to work on general oral/written communication skills (in class and in assessments) and general self management (organising your studies), alongside the specific skills in language or linguistics that the module teaches.

This is a very practical module, which will involve understanding and development of several additional skills in:

  • social and intercultural awareness, through an analysis of the values implicit in advertisements
  • application of data collection and analysis, through collection of advertisements for analysis, and the application of different linguistic methods of analysis
  • problem solving, creativity and innovation, through working on the large practical project, and also developing a presentation for the final presentation
  • team work, as much of the practical work during the teaching weeks will be in small groups

Follow this link to hear how past students use transferable skills from their degree in their current jobs.

About this module

  • Module name
    The linguistics of consumerism
  • Course code
    E/L49H (LAN00049H)
  • Teacher
    Peter Sells
  • Term(s) taught
  • Credits