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Code-switching, tokenism and consumerism in print advertising

Code-switching, linguistic tokenism and modern consumerism in contemporary South African print advertising. This is the current research focus of two lecturers from the Faculty of the Humanities at the UFS, Prof Angelique van Niekerk and Dr Thinus Conradie.

The act of switching between two or more languages is replete with socio-cultural meaning, and can be deployed to advance numerous communicative strategies, including attempts at signalling cultural familiarity and group affiliation (Chung 2006).

For advertising purposes, Fairclough’s (1989) seminal work on the ideological functions of language remark on the usefulness of code-switching as a means of fostering an advertiser-audience relationship that is conducive to persuasion. In advertising, code-switching is a valuable means with which a brand may be invested with a range of positive associations. In English-dominated media, these associations derive from pre-existing connotations that target audiences already hold for a particular (non-English) language. Where exclusivity and taste, for example, are associated with a particular European language (such as French), advertising may use this languages to invest the advertised brand with a sense of exclusivity and taste.

In addition, empirical experiments with sample audiences (in the field of consumer research) suggest that switching from English to the first language of the target audience, is liable to yield positive results in terms of purchase intentions (Bishop and Peterson 2011). This effect is enhanced under the influence of modern consumerism, in which consumption is linked to the performance of identity and ‘[b]rands are more than just products; they are statements of affiliation and belonging’ (Ngwenya 2011, 2; cf. Nuttall 2004; Jones 2013).

In South African print magazines, where the hegemony of English remains largely uncontested, incorporating components of indigenous languages and Afrikaans may similarly be exploited for commercial ends. Our analysis suggests that the most prevalent form of code-switching from English to indigenous South African languages represents what we have coded as linguistic tokenism. That is, in comparison with the more expansive use of both Afrikaans and foreign languages (such as French), code-switching is used in a more limited manner, and mainly to presuppose community and solidarity with first-language speakers of indigenous languages. In cases of English-to-Afrikaans code-switching, our findings echo the trends observed for languages such as French and German. That is, the language is exploited for pre-existing associations. However, in contrast with French (often associated with prestige) and German (often associated with technical precision), Afrikaans is used to invoke cultural stereotypes, notably a self-satirical celebration of Afrikaner backwardness and/or lack of refinement that is often interpolated with hyper-masculinity.