Mass Communication

Pragmatic Analysis of Congratulatory Messages as a Form of Advertisement in Selected Nigerian Newspapers

Pragmatic Analysis of Congratulatory Messages as a Form of Advertisement in Selected Nigerian Newspapers


This work is a pragmatic analysis of congratulatory messages in selected Nigerian newspapers. It looked at how Pragmatics as a field of study, clarified written texts, that is congratulatory messages. It also analyzed the language and pragmatic features of newspaper congratulatory messages. The data for the study came from three different Nigerian newspapers: Daily Trust, Nigerian Tribune, and Vanguard. The data was collected from a media house and libraries in Kaduna and Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria respectively. Congratulatory messages are literarily meant to express compliments but senders have used the avenue to achieve two motives; advertise and compliment. An eclectic use of Bach and Harnish’s Mutual Contextual Belief (MCB), Austin‟s (1962) and Searle’s (1965) Speech Acts Theory, and inference were used to analyze and explain how readers understood the hidden intentions contained in the messages and how the intentions were inferred through MCBs. Since the intentions and well wishes that the messages conveyed were tied to the illocutionary acts that were performed, the work adopted Austin and Searle’s classification of speech or illocutionary acts to name the acts that were performed and how the acts conveyed the senders‟ intentions to the intended recipients and the general readership. The study reveals that context, inference alongside Mutual Contextual Beliefs play crucial roles in understanding senders‟ intentions and in interpreting the acts performed in the congratulatory messages. The study also revealed that the written congratulatory messages are to a great extent, a form of advertisement because of the features they possess such as; the language of flattery and exaggeration, full addresses of the senders, photographs of both senders and intended recipients, senders‟ phone numbers and the adjectives used in describing the intended recipient(s). In addition, the study revealed that the messages were not just mere statements but conveyed several acts and mutual beliefs in them based on the sender‟s choice of expression. They contain a lot of MCBs as revealed by the analysis because senders and readers of the messages share certain cultural, political, religious, and social beliefs alongside a world view, language usage, and communication. It is also revealed that the texts reflect the world view and value system of both the sender(s) and the recipient(s).



1.0 Background to the Study

The English language is the language that cuts across all regional boundaries throughout Nigeria and the world at large. It is the language of administration, education, mass media, and literary communication. Nigerian society is kept abreast of events due to the continuous flow of relevant information among its components. That is the vital role the English language plays through the print media, newspapers precisely.

A congratulatory message sent through the newspaper can be considered as a strand of advertisement. To this end, advertising is a form of communication that is used to encourage, create awareness or persuade an audience (viewers, readers, and listeners). Advertising messages are usually paid for by sponsors and viewed through various traditional media including mass media such as newspapers, magazines, television, radio, outdoor advertising, or through direct media such as blogs, websites, and text messages. Press advertising describes advertising in a printed medium such as newspapers, magazines, or trade journals. This encompasses everything from the media with a very broad readership base, from major national newspapers to local newspapers. A form of press advertisement allows private individuals or companies to purchase a small, narrowly targeted advert for a low fee to advertise a product or service. Advertising is one of the activities that a company undertakes to boost sales. The language of the advertisement has triggered off the need to examine its role, operation, and effect on the target audience. The print media, especially the newspapers, have been used as a good medium to place different kinds of advertisement, including congratulatory messages, and have become a huge success today because many advertisers have adopted the newspapers as their preferred means of communication. Usually, the acts of congratulation are written or spoken to express one‟s good intentions over another‟s success, achievement, and the like. In the print media, the newspapers precisely, a page is bought and personalized, where these statements are usually written, accompanied by the receiver‟s picture and profile, and in some cases, the sender‟s picture and profile too.

The Linguistic Encyclopaedia states that the act of congratulating at the level of the media is associated with the European tradition. Historically speaking, the act can be traced to ancient times for instance during marriage, childbirth and related ceremonies, family members and friends gather together to orally congratulate the celebrant. Today in Nigeria, newspapers have been adopted to a large extent as a traditional means of sending congratulatory messages. It also serves as a means of advertising both the senders and the receivers of these messages. These messages are usually written in the newspapers to create an impression in the minds of both the intended receiver and the general readership. The language usually use in writing these messages varies. While in some cases the language is simple, in others it is high-sounding and not straightforward. The sentence structure is simple in some cases while in others it is complex. Most of these messages are lengthy and are designed to capture the interest of both the intended receiver and the other readers and create an impression of cheer in their minds. The style of writing these messages is usually meant to suit the occasion being celebrated that is birthdays, political achievements, and so on. Well-wishers send congratulatory messages through the newspapers because they want to express themselves as well as communicate with the receiver of the message and other newspaper readers. These messages create a feeling of acknowledgment of the receiver‟s celebrated occasion. They also create a feeling of cheer in the minds of the intended receivers and the popularity of both the receiver and the sender(s). These messages are written in different ways and sound differently. While some sound poetic, others sound proverbial or religious; in some cases, it is a combination of all. All of these depend on the choice of words of the sender or senders as the case may be.

In Nigeria today, many people have adopted the newspapers as a medium of sending different types of messages. In cases where people achieve or accomplish goals, well-wishers usually celebrate with them either verbally or in writing. Congratulatory messages are a medium of communication allowing well-wishers from far and near, all over the country to convey well wishes to a celebrated person or persons. The senders‟ names and profiles, and to some extent photographs, usually accompany the message(s) probably for personal reasons. Every advertisement, especially, that of congratulatory messages in newspapers, involves the use of language. Sometimes, if not all the time, when congratulatory messages are advertised, the aesthetic features of the contents capture the interest of the readers while the sender or advertiser may have a different motive behind placing the advert. It is the pragmatic features of these congratulatory messages, the obvious and hidden intentions of the senders of the messages, the beliefs that both the senders and the receivers of the messages share, and the inference drawn from the messages that this research will examine.

Pragmatic analyses have been carried out on language in sermons, cartoons, newspaper headlines, text messages, and several other contexts such as; Bahago (1999), Gusau (2009), Barkindo (2013), and others. The present study takes a pragmatic approach to the study of the language used in selected congratulatory messages. It also analyzes the pragmatic features contained in congratulatory messages, the acts which the senders perform in these messages, the beliefs they share, and the intentions of the senders or advertisers of these messages in newspapers.

1.1 Statement of the Research Problem

Advertisement has become part of human life; this is because as individuals go around performing their daily routine, they encounter different forms of adverts on the roads, on billboards, on vehicles, or via the electronic/print media. The aim of these adverts is solely to persuade and effectively communicate to the populace about goods and services using language and visual content. Effective communication can be achieved only when language is used effectively to convey messages whether written or spoken. Yule (1997:127) states that “when we read or hear pieces of language, we normally try to understand not only what the words mean, but also what the writer or speaker of those words intended to convey”.

Senders of newspaper congratulatory messages sent to their well-wishes based on their intentions and relations. The messages in this form of advertisement might not be fully and rightly understood if readers are oblivious of the context and if both the senders and the readers of the messages do not share mutual belief yet they go-ahead to use the newspaper as a medium instead of a medium that will personally and confidentially deliver the messages to the intended receivers. Why send the messages through the newspapers if not to advertise to an extent?

Any piece of information conveyed through the newspaper medium is directed towards giving information and creating awareness to the readership which is subsumed under advertisement. That does not live congratulatory messages out. Congratulatory messages are supposed to be personal messages, but senders chose the newspaper as a medium to convey these messages to their recipients. When these messages are written in newspapers, other readers get to read them because the messages contain a lot of information about their recipients, senders, and to a very large extent, political issues at the federal, state, and local government levels. The senders of the messages aside from expressing their goodwill over their recipient’s‟ achievement(s) go ahead to perform several speeches acts under the guise of a congratulatory message. Most readers probably do not have one on one relations with the sender(s) of the messages but could infer both the implicit and explicit meanings and intentions conveyed in the messages simply because certain mutual beliefs hold in the messages which project world views and cosmology of the senders and readers in the context that the messages are sent. On that note, the need to examine the language, context, speech act, mutual beliefs, and the features of advertisements in the newspaper congratulatory messages arises.

Pragmatic studies have been attempted in various areas of language use. However, to the best knowledge of the researcher, in the aspect of congratulatory messages, in particular, little or nothing has been done. Therefore this work builds on Amodu (2003) who did a pragmatic analysis on the language of advertisement. This work focuses on a pragmatic analysis of newspaper congratulatory messages. The work sets out to see the speech acts that feature in them, the inferences that can be drawn from them, the kind of context they appear in, the mutual beliefs, and the level to which the messages are a form of advertisement. The reason is to see if the findings will be similar or will differ, to cover the possible existing gap.

1.2 Research Questions

To this end, this research aims at providing answers to the following research questions:

i. What types of pragmatic acts occur in congratulatory messages?

ii. To what extent are the congratulatory messages a form of advertisement?

iii. To what extent do senders of congratulatory messages achieve their desires?

iv. To what extent do both the senders and the readers share similar mutual beliefs?

1.3 Aim and Objectives

This study aims to carry out a pragmatic analysis of congratulatory messages in Nigerian newspapers to show how language is used to express intentions, that is, the way the intentions of the senders are expressed to bring to bear the meaning within the context of the Nigerian socio-cultural milieu through the application of pragmatic concepts. To achieve this, the objectives of the study include to:

i. identify the types of pragmatic acts that occur in congratulatory messages;

ii. analyze the extent to which the messages are a form of advertisement:

iii. explore the extent to which the senders of congratulatory messages achieve their desires; and

iv. examine the extent to which both the senders and the readers share similar mutual beliefs.

1.4 Significance of the Study

The study of Speech Acts (which is the core of Pragmatics) has grown appreciably, but from a theoretical perspective in particular. In this study, an attempt has been made to extend the theoretical base of the Speech Acts study, to practical climes using textual samples that are probably different from those analyzed in previous studies of language use in advertisements.

The study is, therefore, the writer‟s attempt to analyze congratulatory messages in three selected Nigerian dailies. It explores new areas that previous studies on Pragmatics may not have covered. Thus, the study is intended to add to existing knowledge in the area and also serve as reference material for other researchers. Herein lies the justification of the study.

1.5 Scope and Delimitation of the Study

Congratulatory messages are communicated in print and electronic media. The study focuses on the pragmatic analysis of the language of congratulatory messages in the print media, the newspaper precisely. The print media has been adopted because the congratulatory messages sent through that medium contain pragmatic elements suitable for the study. Secondly, due to time and space, the print media seemed easy to access and make reference to, compared to the electronic media. The three newspapers adopted for the study are Daily Trust, Nigerian Tribune, and Vanguard. The reason for the choice of newspapers is that they reflect different spheres and values of life ranging from political, social, cultural, and religious endeavors of the Nigerian people therefore, are suitable for the study. However, only issues that relate to the study are addressed. Efforts have also been made to analyze contemporary congratulatory messages in the selected Nigerian dailies. The period spans from January 2013 to June 2013 because within this period there are a lot of celebrations ranging from Birthdays, Coronations, Children‟s‟ Day, and Democracy Day to Office Anniversaries that prompt good wishes from good wishers. Therefore newspaper congratulatory messages produced within this period as regards those celebrations contain pragmatic elements suitable for the research. The method of Pragmatics adopted for this work is Bach and Hanishs’ theory of Mutual Conceptual Beliefs (MCBs) and Searle’s classification of Speech Acts.


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