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The marketing discourse. A semantic perspective.

1. Some glimpses into the marketing discourse

Marketing began to emerge as a subject of interest at the beginning of the twentieth century. Ever since, the specialized field of marketing has known a rapid development, reflecting the evolution of the global socio-economic context. Thus, the marketing orientation evolved from the initial production and product orientation toward the selling orientation and the contemporary customer and societal orientation. Regarded as a social and/or managerial process, an art, a philosophy, marketing has gradually become established as a discipline in its own right.

Currently it is considered that marketing plays an essential role in the success of businesses, individuals and society alike. Its emergence as a specific field of activity within the wider frame of functional economic sciences--alongside with management, finances and credit, etc., has been accompanied by the birth of the corresponding discourse.

Certainly, the economic discourse as a whole represents a golden mine exploited by many specialized discourse theorists, researchers and linguists such as: Charteris-Black (2000, 2001, 2003), Dudley-Evans & Henderson (1990), Herrera & White (2000a, 2000b), Henderson (1982, 1994, 2000), McCloskey (1985, 1990), Semino (2002), Smith (1995), White (1993, 1994, 1997,1999, 2001, 2003), etc. On the other hand, due to its relatively recent establishment as a type of specialized discourse, the marketing discourse has been studied by a relatively small number of linguists and theorists among whom Viot (2006) and O'Malley, Patterson and Kelly-Holmes (2008) and Kitchen (2008).

Being a distinctive type of specialized discourse, the marketing discourse features a series of characteristics that differentiate it from the ordinary discourse, on the one hand, and from the other sub-types of economic discourse, on the other hand.

The most prominent characteristics of the marketing discourse are undoubtedly related to the terminological system it employs, but also to its semantic and pragmatic peculiarities.

2. Objectives of the article

In this context, the present paper represents an endeavor to reveal some specific traits of the discourse under analysis from a semantic perspective. More precisely, we shall explore some aspects related to the synonymy phenomena as they occur into the marketing discourse in English and French.

From a semantic perspective, the marketing discourse, like most specialized discourses, is traditionally characterized by monosemy, mono-referentiality, semantic precision, conciseness and impersonality.

The restricted context of a given scientific discipline, as well as the highly specialized content of scientific texts are likely to impose restrictions related to avoiding ambiguity and misunderstanding; this is why, traditionally, synonymy and polysemy tend to be rejected and would rather be considered as "accidental". Nevertheless, the more recent approaches to specialized discourses have highlighted the presence, in practice, of various phenomena related to polysemy and to synonymy. Thus, one may come across similar denominations used to refer essentially to one and the same concept within the same specialized domain of activity (for instance, in the legal terminology, the terms exemption, exoneration, discharge, absolution, allowance)

3. A few remarks about synonymy

Broadly speaking, synonymy is understood in terms of linguistic units of different form and the same/similar meaning:

<<L'idee de synonymie repose sur au moins deux criteres, a savoir l'identite de contenu et la co-substituabilite dans certains contexts.>> (Gentilhomme, 1994: 391)

In the same line of thought, Dubois argues:

<<Sont synonymes des mots de meme sens, ou approximativement de meme sens, et de formes differentes ... La synonymie peut avoir deux acceptions differentes: ou bien deux termes sont dits synonymes quand ils ont la possibilite de se substituer l'un a l'autre, dans un seul enonce isole [...];ou bien deux termes sont dits synonymes (synonymie absolue) quand ils sont interchangeables dans tous les contextes.>> (Dubois, 1994 : 465)

Modern linguists and theorists (Bloomfield, 1933, Lyons, 1977, etc.) claim that there is no perfect or total synonymy: we cannot identify two linguistic units that share exactly the same set of semantic features--descriptive, social and stylistic register and emotional overtone, and therefore are interchangeable in all possible contexts; such perfect synonymy occurs very rarely, if at all. Thus, modern linguistics favors the existence of the so-called quasi (partial) synonyms--synonyms to a certain degree, that include those linguistic units that are strongly similar in meaning, linked to the same conceptual categories, used to indicate the same/similar referents and that can be mutually substituted in some (though not all) contexts.

According to Dubois,

<<On parlera de quasi-synonymes de niveau pour des couples comme maux d'estomac/gastralgie pour autant que c'est le niveau de competence qui determine le choix du mot; de quasisynonymie dialectale ou geographique pour les couples debarbouillette (Quebec)/gant de toilette (France); de quasisynonymie de concurrence quand il n'y a pas standardisation et que des interets techniques ou commerciaux sont en jeu: pompe a chaleur/pompe thermique/thermopompe.>> (Dubois, 1994: 393)

Durieux (1996-1997) remarks that in specialized discourse it would be more convenient to talk about pseudo-synonyms (Gr. pseudos--false, counterfeit, deceptively similar to). Just like quasi-synonyms, pseudo-synonyms can be substituted in certain contexts of use, with the mention that the slightly perceivable difference in meaning becomes apparent only when getting to a higher level of specialization of the language. Thus, terms which may appear to be synonyms for the translator (who is not an expert in the respective specialized field in the proper sense of the word), may well bear a slightly different meaning for the real expert. We share Durieux's opinion that a great number of errors occur in the translation process of specialized texts because of the inappropriate use of pseudo-synonyms or quasisynonyms.

To the difference of literary translations, which are open to interpretability and subjectivity and allow for a greater freedom as to the choice of equivalent terms and expressions and of paraphrasing possibilities, specialized, especially technical texts make no room but for precision and objective translations. One argument in favor of the monoreferentiality of specialized discourse is precisely the fact that it serves to unambiguously communicate specialized knowledge.

In her 1998 study entitled Terminology: Theory, methods and applications [La terminologie: theorie, methodes et applications], Cabre remarks that, broadly speaking, two linguistic units that designate the same concepts are synonyms. In the light of this broad definition, the author identifies five various levels of synonymy that may appear in specialized discourses, namely:

* Synonymy between a denomination and its dictionary definition

e.g. software--the entire set of programs, procedures and related documentation associated with a system and especially a computer system alternating current--electric current that reverses direction in a circuit at regular intervals

* Synonymy between a denomination and the same concept's iconic representation

* Synonymy between equivalent terms in different languages e.g. en. design--fr. dessin--sp. diseno

en. building--fr. batiment--it. edificio

* Synonymy between different functional languages or registers denominations, like, for instance, the popular denomination and the scientific Latin denominations in biology and medicine: daffodil Narcissus pseudonarcissus, tiger--Panthera tigris, aspirin--acetylsalicylic acid, heart /vs/ cardiac, liver /vs/ hepatic, lung /vs/ pulmonary, rib /vs/ costal; correctional center/penitentiary/prison/jail

* Synonymy between alternative denominations of the same historical language

e.g. tocology-obstetrics, computed tomography--computed axial tomography--computerized axial tomography--computerized tomography, guerrilla-guerilla, archaeology--archeology.

Some theorists also argue that sometimes there is synonymy between two semantically equivalent linguistic units, in which one form is derived from the other. This is the case with:

* Acronyms and their full form:

e.g. Laser--light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation AIDS--acquired immunodeficiency syndrome

* Abbreviations and clippings and their full form: e.g. metro--metropolitan railway

Finally, another case of synonymy in specialized discourse is that between two linguistic units pertaining to two different sub-codes: this is mainly the case with the symbols of the various chemical elements:

e.g. Ca = calcium

Na = sodium

4. Synonymy in the marketing discourse

In order to identify the cases of synonymy in the marketing discourse into English and French, we relied on a corpus formed of several notable marketing books--Baker's The Marketing Book (2002), Kotler's Principles of Marketing (2008), Clair & Pihier's Le Marketing (2008) and Kotler's Marketing Management (2009), as well as on a number of specialized marketing glossaries and dictionaries (mono and bilingual).

As expected, the marketing discourse features a few cases of what may be called perfect synonymy. The study of our corpus has revealed the occurrence of several instances of synonymic pairs, with a mention that in the marketing discourse synonymy is established not at the level of the isolated single term, but rather at the syntagmatic level:

* Synonymic couples (perfect synonyms):

In English:

[check] affiliate marketing--associate marketing (1)

[check] family branding (2)--umbrella branding

[check] green marketings (3)--environmental marketing--ecological marketing--eco marketing

[check] house-to-house selling (4)--door-to-door selling

[check] industrial advertising (5)--business-to-business advertising

[check] institutional advertising--corporate advertising

[check] mass marketing--undifferentiated marketing

[check] permission marketing--opt-in marketing (6)

[check] person-to-person sales--personal selling

[check] personalized marketing--one-to-one marketing--customized marketing--individual marketing

[check] segmented marketing (7) = differentiated marketing = multisegment marketing

In French:

[check] creneau--niche

[check] discrimination tarifaire--discrimination par les prix

[check] marche induit--marche conditionne

[check] marche fragmente--marche atomise

[check] marketing industriel--marketing inter-entreprises

[check] marketing indifferencie--marketing de masse--marketing de grande consommation

[check] marketing differencie--marketing segmente

[check] marketing vert--marketing ecologique

[check] marketing viral--marketing de propagation--bouche-a-oreille electronique

[check] vente complementaire--vente additionnelle--vente croisee

* Pseudo-synonyms

As far as pseudo-synonyms are concerned, an illustrative example is that of the notions of concentrated marketing, niche marketing and differentiated marketing. Despite their widespread use as synonyms, at a closer look one may detect subtle differences in their meanings, as shown below:

concentrated            niche marketing         differentiated
marketing                                       marketing

a market segmentation   marketing strategy      market coverage
and market coverage     whereby marketers       strategy whereby a
strategy whereby a      devote 100% of their    company attempts to
product is developed    efforts toward a        appeal to two or more
and marketed for a      small segment of a      clearly defined
very well-defined,      market instead of the   market segments with
specific segment of     whole market            a specific product
the consumer                                    and unique marketing
population                                      strategy tailored to
                                                each separate segment

Similarly, the notions of viral marketing and word-of-mouth marketing may be mistaken for synonyms. Viral marketing is broadly defined as a marketing technique used by companies to spread the news about a product or a service through contacts which people have. To begin with, a company would create a viral email campaign by sending an email containing a marketing message to a few known people. The content of such viral emails would encourage the receivers to forward the email to people they know. This way the advertisement spreads exponentially. Word-of-mouth marketing uses the same principle of spreading the marketing message but, to the difference of viral marketing, it is not restricted or necessarily linked to the Internet. We could say that word-of-mouth marketing is some sort of an umbrella category, hosting a wide variety of sub-categories: buzz, blog, viral marketing.

Also, in French, terms such as sponsoring, parrainage, mecenat may appear as synonym; however, the real marketing professionals do make the difference between them: both parrainage and mecenat are forms of sponsoring, the difference consisting in the nature of the sponsored activities: while mecenat (~ patronage, ~ arts sponsorship) refers to financial or material support offered by a business organization or private person to a general interest action/activity of the type cultural, research or humanitarian project, parrainage entails (generally) financial or service support for the organization of an event, in return for advertising space at the event or as part of the publicity for the event or other advertising benefits.

In the course of our research, we could not help noticing the danger of looking a specialized term into a dictionary of common language.

Take for instance the term merchandising. In a dictionary of business terms, merchandising is followed by detailed explanations allowing even the non-specialists to understand its complex semantic configuration: Merchandising =

1. "The planning involved in marketing the right merchandise or service at the right place, at the right time, in the right quantities, and at the right price." (American Marketing Association)

2. promotional sales activities of an advertiser's sales force, retailers, wholesalers, or dealers, including advertising, point-of purchase displays, guarantee seals, special sales, and in-store promotions, designed to show a product or service in a favorable light so that it will be purchased by the business community and/or the consuming public.

3. retail selling effort that is the principal task of in-store sales personnel through the use of promotions designed by a manufacturer, such as unique displays, giveaways, or discount and premium offers. In this case, merchandising is the act of managing and arranging the merchandise on display in a store so as to promote its sale. (Source:

It is worth mentioning that the business terms dictionary specifically acknowledges that the term merchandising does not have any synonym.

If we look the verb to merchandise in a dictionary of common language, much to our surprise, we find it defined by a plethora of so-called "synonyms" which, instead of making the meaning of the term clear, contribute to increasing the confusion in the non-expert's mind. Thus, merchandise appears as synonym to advertise, buy and sell, deal in, distribute, do business in, market, promote, publicize, retail, trade, traffic in, vend, wholesale Source: (Source:

5. Other types of synonymy in the marketing discourse

In observance to Cabre's classification, the marketing discourse (in English and in French) features the following types of synonymy:

* Synonymy between a denomination and its dictionary definition

e.g. prospect = potential purchaser of a given product (goods and services) (8) market segmentation = the process of subdividing a market into distinct subsets of users that behave in the same way or have similar needs (9)

* Synonymy between a denomination and the same concept's iconic representation

* Synonymy between equivalent terms in different languages: the case of the marketing discourse in French

It is worth mentioning that one should be aware of the fact that, to the difference of English, French is open to the possibility of allowing the alternative circulation of Anglo-Saxon borrowings and of their French equivalents.

The current predominance of English in science and technology in general is rooted into historical and cultural facts: the 18th century industrial revolution that took place in Britain, the 20th century American leadership in scientific and technological research during and after the Second World War, as well as the invention of the computer. As far as the marketing discourse is concerned, the alternative circulation of French of English denominations is due to the very fact that marketing actually originated in America, alongside with the concepts that came to accompany its theory and practice.

The table below resumes some of the marketing notions that can be found in English and French synonymic couples:

English borrowing              French equivalent

benchmarking               etalonnage concurrentiel
blind test                     test a l'aveugle
brand equity                   capital de marque
brand manager                   chef de marque
brand stretching              extension de marque
Business to               marketing entre entreprises
  Business marketing
call center                     centre d'appel
churn                              attrition
copywriter                   concepteur redacteur
couponing                         couponnage
cross-selling                  ventes croisees/
discount                           discompte
focus group                    reunion de groupe
label                  etiquette/signe d'identification
leader de marche               meneur de marche
marketing                         mercatique
marketing B to B             marketing industriel
marketing B to C            marketing grand public
marketing mix                  plan de marcheage
marketing one-to-one        marketing individualise
merchandising                   -marchandisage
packaging                 Emballage/ conditionnement
sponsoring                        parrainage
Street Marketing             Marketing dans la Rue
trendsetter                   faiseur de tendance

* Synonymy between alternative denominations of the same historical language:

e.g. guerilla marketing (10)--synonym alternately spelled guerrilla marketing customer acquisition cost (11)--often shortened to acquisition cost

* Synonymy between abbreviations and clippings and their full form:

[check] B to B marketing (Business to Business marketing),

[check] B to C marketing (Business to Consumer marketing)

[check] Netiquette (12)--short for network etiquette

[check] Sales rep--sales representative

[check] Ad--advert--advertisement

* Synonymy between acronyms and their full form:

AIDA(S) (13)   Attention, Interest, Desire, Action (Satisfaction)
B2B (14)       Business-to-Business
B2C (15)       Business-to-Consumer
CLV (16)       Customer Lifetime Value
CRM (17)       Customer Relationship Management
DINKY (18)     Double Income No Kids Yet
DMU (19)       Decision Making Unit
DRA (20)       Direct Response Advertising
ECR (21)       Efficient Consumer Response
FMA            First-Mover Advantage
FMCG (22)      Fast Moving Consumer Goods
IMC            Integrated Marketing Communications
NILKIE (23)    No Income, Lots of Kids
NPD            New Product Development
OINK (24)      One income, no kids
OPAL (25)      Older People with Active Lifestyles
PLC            Product Life Cycle
POS            Point Of Sale
RAPPIES (26)   Retired Affluent Professionals
ROI (27)       Return On Investment
RD             Research and Development
SINBAD (28)    Single Income, No Boyfriend and Absolutely Desperate
SINDI (29)     Single Independent and Divorced
TINKIE (30)    Two Incomes, Nanny and Kids
YAPPIES (31)   Young Affluent Parents
YUPPIE (32)    Young Urban Professional
USP (33)       Unique Selling Proposition

Thus, based on the results of our incursion into the semantic dimension of the marketing discourse, we may conclude that a more permissive approach to synonymy would certainly allow specialized discourse researchers to identify numerous cases of synonymy in the marketing discourse, as well as in other types of specialized discourse.


Baker, Michael J. (Editor). (2002), The Marketing Book, Fifth Edition, Burlington, MA: Butterworth Heinemann.

Beacco, Jean-Claude. Moirand, Sophie. (dir.), (1995), Les enjeux des discours specialises, Les Carnets du Cediscor, no. 3,

Cabre, Maria Teresa. (1998), La Terminologie. Theorie, methode et applications, Ottawa/Paris: Les Presses universitaires de l'Universite d'Ottawa/Armand Colin.

Cabre, Maria Teresa. (2000), Elements for a theory of terminology. Towards an alternative paradigm, Terminology. International Journal of Theoretical and Applied Issues In Specialized Communication, (6)1: 35-57.

Clair, Joel. Pihier, Stephane. (2008), Le Marketing, Paris: Nathan.

Dubois, Jean. et coll. (1994), Dictionnaire de linguistique et des

sciences du langage, Larousse: Paris.

Durieux, Christine. (1996-1997), Pseudo-synonymes en langue de specialite, Cahier du CIEL 1996-1997, Universite de Paris, 7: 89-114.

Gentilhomme, Yves. (1994), Termes et symboles discours heterogenes. Quelques hypotheses semiologiques, TA-TAO : Recherches de pointe et applications immediates, Clas, Andre. Pierrette, Bouillon. (eds.), Beyrouth, FMA et AUPELFUREF.

Kotler, Philip. Armstrong, Gary. Wong, Veronica. Saunders, John. (2008), Principles of Marketing, Fifth European Edition, London: Pearson Educational Limited, Prentice Hall.

Kotler, Philip. Keller, Kevin. Manceau, Delphine. Dubois, Bernard. (2009), Marketing Management,13e edition, Paris: Pearson Education France. of_marketing_terms.aspx


Spiru Haret University


(1.) affiliate marketing or associate marketing implies revenue sharing between online advertisers/merchants and online

publishers/salespeople, whereby compensation is based on performance measures, typically in the form of sales, clicks, registrations, or a hybrid model.

(2.) family branding or umbrella branding is a marketing strategy that involves selling several related products under one brand name.

(3.) green marketing involves the promotion of environmentally safe or beneficial products.

(4.) house-to-house selling or door-to-door selling is direct sale made by calling upon prospective customers at their homes with or without an appointment.

(5.) industrial advertising or business-to-business advertising is the field of advertising directed at commercial business customers, the advertised products being raw materials, components, or equipment needed in the production or distribution of other goods and services.

(6.) permission marketing or opt-in marketing is the marketing centered around obtaining customer consent to receive information from a company.

(7.) segmented marketing or differentiated marketing or multisegment marketing refers to the market coverage strategy whereby a company attempts to appeal to two or more clearly defined market segments with a specific product and unique marketing strategy tailored to each separate segment.

(8.) Source: jZS6ngCVPug

(9.) Source:

(10.) Unconventional marketing intended to get maximum results from minimal resources.

(11.) The cost associated with acquiring a new customer.

(12.) the code of conduct regarding acceptable online behavior.

(13.) Attention, Interest, Desire, Action: a model describing the process that advertising or promotion is intended to initiate in the mind of a prospective customer.

(14.) Business that sells products or provides services to other businesses.

(15.) Business that sells products or provides services to the end-user consumers.

(16.) The profitability of customers during the lifetime of the relationship, as opposed to profitability on one transaction.

(17.) Improving interaction with customers through better understanding, with the aim of increasing customer satisfaction and loyalty (thus increasing profits).

(18.) Double Income No Kids Yet--a demographic grouping.

(19.) The team of people in an organisation who make the final buying decision.

(20.) Advertising incorporating a contact method such as a phone number, address and enquiry form, web site identifier or e-mail address, with the intention of encouraging the recipient to respond directly to the advertiser by requesting more information, placing an order and so on.

(21.) Having the right product in the right place at the right price with the right promotions.

(22.) such as packaged food, beverages, toiletries, and tobacco

(23.) No Income, Lots of Kids--a demographic grouping

(24.) One income, no kids--a demographic grouping

(25.) Older People with Active Lifestyles--a demographic grouping.

(26.) Retired Affluent Professionals--a demographic grouping.

(27.) How much profit is made after advertising and other costs have been subtracted. A measure of how successful a marketing campaign is in terms of the returns on money spent.

(28.) Single Income, No Boyfriend and Absolutely Desperate--a demographic grouping.

(29.) Single Independent and Divorced (only applies to women)--a demographic grouping.

(30.) Two Incomes, Nanny and Kids--a demographic grouping.

(31.) Young Affluent Parents--a demographic grouping.

(32.) Young Urban Professional-a demographic grouping.

(33.) The reason why somebody should buy from you and not your competition. The unique benefits that your products or services offer consumers. What it is that makes you special, different.
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Author:Burcea, Raluca Gabriela
Publication:Linguistic and Philosophical Investigations
Article Type:Report
Date:Jan 1, 2014
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