Linguistic Limitations

Language is one of the major barriers to effective communication through advertising. The problem involves different languages of different countries different languages or dialects within one country, and the subtler problems of linguistic nuance, vernacular and even accent, Indeed recently an Irish accent was voted sexiest in Britain and Ireland, beating the competition form the Scots, Welsh Geordies, Brummies, West Country, and posh English contenders. For many countries language is a matter of cultural pride and preservation France is the best example of course.

Incautious handling of language has created problems in all countries. Some examples suffice. Chrysler Corporation was nearly laughed out of Spain when it translated its US theme that advertised Dart Is power. To the Spanish the phrase implied that buyers sought but lacked sexual vigor. The Bacardi Company concocted fruity bitters with made up name, Pavane suggestive of French chic. Bacardi wanted to sell the drink in Germany but Pavane is perilously close to pavian which means baboon. A company marketing tomato paste in the Middle East found that in Arabic the phrase tomato paste translates as tomato glue. In Spanish speaking countries you have to be careful of words that have different meanings in the different countries. The word ball translates in Spanish as bola, which means ball in one country, revolution in another, a lie or fabrication in another and is an obscenity in yet another.

Tropicana brand orange juice was advertised as Jugo de China in Puerto Rico, but when transported to Miami’s Cuban community it failed. To the Peurto Rican, China translated into orange but to the Cuban it was China the country and the Cubans were not in the market for Chinese juice. One Middle East advertisement featured an automobile’s new suspension systems which, in translation said the car was suspended from the ceiling. Since there are at least 30 dialects among Arab countries, there is ample room for error, what may appear as the most obvious translation can come out wrong. For example a whole new range of products in a German advertisement came out as whole new stove of products.

Language raises innumerable barriers that impede effective, idiomatic translation and thereby hamper communication. This is especially apparent in advertising materials and on the Internet. Abstraction terse writing and word economy, the most effective tools of the advertiser pose problems for translators Communication is impeded by the great diversity of cultural heritage and education that exists within countries and which causes varying interpretations of even single sentences and simple concepts. Some companies have tried to solve the translation problem by hiring foreign translators who live in the United States. This often is not satisfactory because both the language and the translator change, so the expatriate in the United States is out of touch after a few years. Everyday words have different meanings in different cultures. Even pronunciation causes problems: Wrigley had trouble selling its Spearmint gum in Germany until it changed the spelling to Speermint.

In addition to translation challenges low literacy in many countries seriously impedes communications and calls for greater creativity and use of verbal media. Multiple languages within a country or advertising area pose another problem for the advertiser. Even a tiny country such as Switzerland has four separate languages. The melting pot character of the Israeli population accounts for some 50 languages. A Jerusalem commentator says that even though Hebrew has become a negotiable instrument of daily speech, this has yet to be converted into advertising idiom. Advertising communications must be perfect and linguistic differences at all levels cause problems. In country testing with the target consumer group is the only way to avoid such problem.