Role of Translation in Advertising: A Semio-Semantic Study

Dr. Madhu Bala*

Translation is transfer of thoughts and ideas from one language (source) to another (target) whether the languages are in written or oral forms, or whether the languages have established orthographies or do not have such standardization (Brislin 1976). Translation means inter -lingual communication. It establishes relationship between two languages and cultures. The translator makes possible an exchange of information between the users of different target languages by translating it from the source language. The source language is not fully identical with the target language due to functional, structural and semantic differences. The functional status of a translation identifies its structural and semantic differences with the original text. Translation is aimed at understanding the nature of components of both the texts i.e SL and TL and to find out the degree of equivalence of their meanings. The translator tries to produce the closest possible equivalence to the ST. Thus the translation is not just an attempt to transfer forms and structures of one language into another, it is an  important medium of transferring meaning from one language into another language. The degree of semantic similarity between the two texts in the translation may vary It may be based on reproduction of the SL content .However; a certain degree of loss of meaning can’t be avoided in the act of translation. The present study explores the role of translation in Hindi -English advertising from semio-semantic point of view.

Semiotic Approaches and Translation

Semiotics is a science that studies sign, sign systems, sign processes and sign functions (1983, Hawker). A sign refers to an object. Language is only one of many systems of signs. Humans use language in verbal communication, and signs and symbols, sound or paralinguistic means to communicate a message.

De Saussure has used the term semiology, whereas Pierce used the term semiotics. Pierce has defined sign as: ‘A sign is anything which determines something else (its interpretant) to refer to as object to which itself refers (its object) in the same way the interpretant becoming in turn a sign (Peirce 1931-1935;228).To Peirce every thing can be a sign ,that is perceptible, knowable or imaginable. But for it to act as a sign, it must enter into a relationship with its object and thus produce a new sign, its interpretant.

Pierce sees the sign in terms of triangle. Each element is dependent on other and can only be understood in relation to others. Sign refers to an object, which is understood by somebody. It has an effect in the mind of the user i.e. interpretant. The primary function of signs is to generate meaning. A sign can create multiple meanings depending on the culture in which it takes place. De Saussure claimed that language is a system, a coherent semiotic structure. This system of signs has meaning by virtue of the signs relationships to one another. All texts can be analyzed semiotically. Each sign comprises a signifier and a signified and has its meaning by virtue of its place in the system. His view excludes the referential context and the communication situation of the language user, and meaning is thus seen as an invariant aspect of the source text, entirely determined by the structure of a homogeneous source language system.

For the purpose of translation, the communication situation is important because it creates the context and thus meaning. Peircean semiotics offers a wider scope with in which translation can be discussed .His approach can be used to address Jakobson’s three types of translation viz; Intra-lingual, Inter-lingual and Inter-semiotic are relevant. De Saussure approach was language – oriented thereby subordinating the non-verbal to the verbal; whereas Pierce gave equal epistemological status to verbal and non -verbal signs and sign systems. The model of the sign includes verbal and non-verbal signs that generate meaning, which is significant for translator.

The translator would have to identify the meaning of each sign and to find out equivalent meaning in the target language text. The various signs in the target language would create its own chain of interpretation; though not identical to those of the source text should achieve the same effect as it did in the source text. The translated text contains the same general notions as the original text and basic structure of the messages remains intact.

Semantics and translation

The semantics is the soul of language. Basically there are two types of meanings in the language- Denotation and Connotation. It is essential for the translator to understand not only the denotative meaning, but connotative meaning too. This understanding comes from the cultural experience. The translator follows the concept of dynamic equivalence i.e. the relationship between TL receiver and the message should aim at being the same as that between the original receiver and the SL message. This is important because the invariant core of the text should remain the same. A word may have different meanings and varies from context to context and register to register. The translator’s endeavor is to render the sense of the text, not merely the words which compose it. In the process of decoding the text, a translator has also to be meticulous about the cultural significance. The cultural significance refers to both conceptual and associative meanings of language. The images both verbal and visual have geographical, social and cultural back ground. The translator has to understand the impact of these images in the SL and translate them according to their relevance in the TL culture. So, the meaning does not depend on the linguistic aspects, but on the cultural factors too.

Translation of the Advertising Message: Interlingual/Intersemiotic Translation

The translation process in the advertisement includes translation of verbal signs into non-verbal signs. In the translation of advertisement the language used is simple and intelligible to the receptor of the message. A translator must have knowledge of social context and objective. The translator has to make various choices regarding the choice of words, word functions, style, register, tone etc all of which must fit into the context of the advertisement.

The inter-lingual translation increases the communicative efficiency of the advertisement. The people not knowing English would like to read advertisement either in Hindi or in their mother tongue. One advertisement is translated with similar photograph, but symbols of SL language are translated into TL language. The interpretation of a verbal sign by means of the non-verbal sign system is the important type of translation in advertising since visual image is perhaps the more powerful semiotic system. According to Jakobson ‘inter-semiotic translation is not only the result of the translation of a verbal language to a non-verbal one, but is also the reversed and in addition the translation of a non-verbal language using another non-verbal language.’ For the purpose of translating persuasive advertisements, the various signs, the meaning’s significance as well as their inter-textual relationship have to be examined in order to establish their significance and their role when they are translated into another language and culture. For example; in the following advertisement of washing powder the slogan: Rin strikes whitest in just one wash is accompanied by verbal and non -verbal behaviour and is translated into Hindi as ‘सफेदी की चमकार, केवल एक धुलाई में’ with rhyme and rhythm. The iconic sign shows the whiteness of a shirt. The picture of a product carries the logo. Other qualities of product are also projected like it is good in quality but cheaper in cost as compared to other brands of the same product.

Advertisement discourse can be presented on two axis i.e. text and context. In semiotics, the context is chosen first and thereafter the text. The text is created by the choice of vocabulary. For example; Look and feel young at any age -[ लीजिए, दिखिए, जवां किसी भी उम्र में ].The words chosen here fit in the context of the text of advertisement.

The advertising message ‘Thumps up: Taste the Thunder’ is translated inter semiotically and inter- linguistically. The verb ‘taste’ in the utterance ‘Taste the Thunder’ is translated into action, and the verbal sign ‘Thumps Up’ is translated by an iconic sign of thumps up of a hand on a bottle because it is part of advertising connotation. The understanding of the message concerning the thumps up needs to take into consideration the logo Thumps Up: Taste the Thunder ‘थम्स अपः तूफानी ठंडा’. Here the translated message in Hindi is not word to word translation but literal translation that gives the feeling of a cold drink.

The translator may adopt other strategies of neologism, adaptation and literal translation or explanation of the concept, whichever works in his favour to bring out the meaning of the message of the text. What is important is the retention of the meaning of the SL message, but the cultural context and reference of the TL have to be newly created in order to make advertisement interesting and effective. The literal translation of an advertisement You just can’t beat Bajaj is ‘बजाज का मुकाबला नहीं/ बजाज का जवाब नहीं’ but in metaphorical sense it can be translated as ‘हर दौड़ में बेजोड़ बजाज’. Translation cannot be done just by transferring the signs from the SL text to the TL text. The translator will have to experience it at the surface level, and then he will have to translate it into the TL. The translator will have to be sensitive to the losses and gains of cultural elements in source text while translating them into the target text and bring about the same effect as in the source text, e.g. a slogan of oil advertisement Add good taste give good health is translated as – स्वाद भी और स्वास्थय भीwhich contains necessary semantic information.

Poetic devices such as rhyme and rhythm are used for entertainment. In advertisement communicative function is important and a translator can enjoy the creative liberty, which can be at the subjective level. In case of advertisements the translation is generally free, idiomatic and communicative. On the one hand there are semantic content and the formal contour of the original and on the other hand the entire system of aesthetic features bound up with the language of the translation. The images both verbal and visual have geographical, social and cultural background. The translator has to understand the impact of these images in the SL and translate them according to their relevance in the TL culture. Dubbing plays a significant role in advertising. One advertisement reaches a large number of people of different languages through dubbing. To achieve the desired effect, the original text is condensed by deleting certain portions. While doing so the translator may disturb the meaning of the inherent text. The adaptor may change everything except the main idea.

To sum up, the transfer situation involves certain relationships- the signs translated in the target text must be acceptable to the users in that culture. The translation can never say the same thing but can say almost the same thing. Steeconi opines: ‘Translating means controlling all the means of expression of a text in the target environment, verbal and non-verbal alike. The meaning generated must have an equivalent effect on the receivers as on the source text receivers.


  1. Firth , J.R. (1957) The Semantics of Linguistic Science. Papers in Linguistics 1934 -1951. London Oxford University.
  2. Halliday ,M.A.K (2004) An Introduction to Functional Grammar. London: Arnold Publishers, Hodder Headline Group.
  3. Nida ,Eugene (1998) Language , Culture and Translation . Huhehaote: Inner Mangolia University Press, 113-316.
  4. Brislin, Richard W. (ed) (1976) Translation :Application and Research, New York: Gadner Press.
  5. Stecconi, Ubaldo (2004) Five Reasons Why Semiotics is Good for Translation Studies. In Y.Gambier, M Shlesinger and R Stolze (ed)Doubts and Directions in Translation Studies, Amsterdam/ Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 15-26.
  6. Catford , J.C. (1965). A Linguistic Theory of Translation . London: OUP.

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