The Eccles Centre Visiting European Postgraduate Award 2015 allowed me to delve into the Library’s collection on American print culture, which proved invaluable for my study on the textual evolution of advertisements, writes Sonja Molnar. Accessing the Library’s rich periodical collections and wealth of advertising literature enabled me to expand and complete my corpus of primary sources on the early years of American advertising.
Determined to make the most of my generously funded research trip, I set out early on Monday morning to ensure I would arrive at the British Library well in advance before its doors opened. To my great surprise I was already greeted by a long line of students, researchers and scholars, who were eager to enter this repository of knowledge. With excitement I realized that for the following two weeks of May 2016 I would join this information-seeking flock – an opportunity for which I am extremely grateful.
The Eccles Centre Visiting European Postgraduate Award 2015 allowed me to delve into the Library’s collection on American print culture, which proved invaluable for the progress of my paper.
Being a PhD student of English linguistics at the University of Salzburg (Department of English and American Studies), I am currently writing my doctoral thesis on the textual evolution of advertisements. The aim of my empirical project is to outline the thematic, structural and stylistic changes that have shaped this particular genre from the late seventeenth century to date. As I intend to correlate these linguistic transformations with the economic and sociological conditions of their occurrence, my results will present a novel perspective on the motivations for such genre modifications. Thanks to the Eccles Award I was granted access to an abundance of key material, which would have otherwise been unobtainable. Following the framework of Hallidayan functional grammar (Halliday 1994, Halliday/Matthiessen 2014 and Thompson 2014), an approach which has hardly been applied to investigate highly persuasive texts, my interdisciplinary dissertation project examines the interpersonal as well as experiential meanings conveyed in consumer goods advertisements. Despite the wealth of advertising research, especially in regard to history, social and communication/media studies, the diachronic systemic functional development of ad copies remains largely unexplored. The majority of linguistic research has so far concentrated on the most overt textual metamorphoses such as sentence length, integration of humor, or use of adjectives within a specific newspaper or period e.g. Leech (1966), Gieszinger (2001), Görlach (2002). Due to the financial support of BAAS, BACS and Eccles I am now one step closer to filling this gap apparent in the current research situation.
Dedicating the first half of my research stay to the study of text linguistic and sociohistorical sources, I browsed through various handbooks on systemic functional linguistics and multimodality – both of which are academic disciplines that have been studied more extensively in the United Kingdom and in particular in London than in Austria. The theoretical insights gained from these works helped deepen my methodological understanding in several aspects. Still more beneficial was the input provided by the Library’s holdings on the printing history of the United States. Contrasting the rhetorical strategies used in American, British and Australian print ads, my research traces the visual-verbal development of promotional discourse across continents and cultures. Its assessment of the preferred tactics of each region will thus not only advance current knowledge on the variation in argumentative techniques, but further allow reflections on societal norms and values. The great extent of information on American advertising practices as well as its rapid availability propelled my writing immensely. The most exciting finds, however, were those unplanned and completely unexpected treasures that landed on my reading desk simply because I had the time and resources to follow bibliographic references. Having recently presented some of my preliminary findings on sweets advertisements, I was ecstatic to stumble upon several compendia on the history of chocolate and cocoa. These documentations will be a perfect complement to my chapter.
During the second half of my research period, I focused on expanding the basis of my textual analysis: my corpus data. Compiled from a variety of historical newspaper and advertising archives, public and private collections as well as advertising anthologies e.g. Heimann (2001), my US sample had thus far contained a number of gaps, particularly for the early years of American advertising. Access to the Library’s electronic archives as well as its Newsroom, providing a substantial collection of microfilm, digital and print newspapers, enabled me to complete my corpus – an accomplishment which would not have been possible without the Library’s rich periodical collections and wealth of advertising literature.
Words can hardly express how grateful I am for the opportunity to pursue research as one of the ten recipients of The Eccles Centre Visiting European Postgraduate Award 2015. The generosity of BAAS, BACS and the Eccles Centre, the amazing support of the Library’s staff as well as the excellence of its resources deserve utmost praise. And as if that was not enough, the Eccles Centre brings a wide range of marvelous events and lectures for everyone to enjoy – including me.
Gieszinger, Sabine (2001) The history of advertising language: the advertisements in The Times from 1788 to 1996. Frankfurt: Peter Lang.
Görlach, Manfred (2002) A linguistic history of advertising, 1700-1890, in: Fanego, Teresa; Méndez-Naya, Belén and Seoane, Elena (eds.) Sounds, words, texts and change. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 83-104.
Halliday, M.A.K. (1994) An introduction to functional grammar (2nd ed.) London: Arnold.
Halliday, M.A.K. and Matthiessen, Christian (2014) Halliday’s introduction to functional grammar (4th ed.) London: Routledge.
Heimann, Jim (ed.) (2001) 40s – all American-ads. Köln: Taschen.
Leech, Geoffrey (1966) English in advertising: a linguistic study of advertising in Great Britain. London: Longman.
Purba, Jasawitten B. (2013) Thematic realization of car advertisements in Kompas newspapers [unpubl. MA thesis] Medan: University of Medan [WWW document].
<http://jurnal.unimed.ac.id/2012/index.php/LTBI/article/download/1185/948> [6 Aug. 2014].
Stöckl, Hartmut (2014) “He begs to inform every person interested” – a diachronic study of address and interaction in print advertising, Anglistik: International Journal of English Studies 25.2, 81–106.
Thompson, Geoff (2014) Introducing functional grammar (3rd ed.) London: Routledge.
 Only Purba (2013) and Stöckl (2014) have yet used a systemic functional framework to analyse advertisements.
Sonja Molnar is a PhD student of English linguistics in the Department of English and American Studies at the University of Salzburg.