The language of marketing

  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. Methods and materials
  • 3. Historical development of marketing terminology
  • 4. The most important trends in marketing language
  • 5. Conclusion


Marketing has become an established field within business administration research and practice in no more than a century. From its origins in the US-American culture, it has been transferred to the whole world, especially to countries with a market economy (Holden 1998: 86; Usunier 1992: 26). Today, marketing is a key issue of business administration, which is defined by the American Marketing Association (AMA) as “the activity, set of institutions and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large”. From this broad definition, it becomes evident why marketing plays such an important role within business research and why it is considered to be of crucial importance for the success or failure of an enterprise.

Against this background, the language used in marketing represents for at least two main reasons a very attractive field of investigation for researchers on languages for specific purposes and marketers interested in linguistic issues. First, as marketing is a young and fast-paced discipline which is highly determined by the societal and economic developments of the 20th century, it is an attractive field for corpus- based diachronic studies on terminology. It offers the opportunity to follow the terminological evolution from the beginning until today on the basis of a complete, uninterrupted corpus of texts. Second, marketing language seems to distinguish itself by a number of linguistic peculiarities which are worth investigating more closely. For example, a closer look at marketing terminologies in different languages shows that the majority of the terms used are based on English. Thus, English remains worldwide the principal language of mediation within this field. Additionally, among marketing terms there appear to be a relatively high number of cases of creative term-coinages, which are worth investigating (e.g., acronyms, blends, or metaphors). Finally, it can be observed that the same marketing terms do not carry the same meaning in different contexts. There seems to be an increasing number of marketers deploring ambiguities within and across firms and languages. Despite all these remarkable specificities, little attention has been paid so far to the

DOI 10.1515/9781614514862-020

language of marketing. The present contribution departs from the few existing studies by giving an overview of the state of the art of linguistic research on marketing language and its desiderata.

In this chapter, the term language of marketing is understood as the technical language used by marketing experts when communicating with each other for the purposes of their scientific interests, and especially the terminology used within this field. Consequently, the linguistic and rhetoric means of expression employed, for example, in advertisements or other textual outcomes serving marketing purposes, which are sometimes treated under the heading “language of marketing”, are not dealt with here.

Based on the above, the aim of the present chapter is threefold: to provide a summary of the main historical developments of marketing and its specialized language; to describe the growth and dynamics of marketing terminology over time, and to give an impression of the terminological peculiarities and main trends of term formation in marketing. The languages under scrutiny are English, French, German and, to a very small extent, Russian.

In the following Section 2, the underlying materials are enumerated, and the methods used to attain the aforementioned objectives are explained. Section 3.1 briefly describes the evolution of the discipline while keeping the attention focused on terminological developments that accompany it. Section 3.2 deals with the quantitative development of marketing terminology and exemplarily derives the “lifecycle” of a typical marketing term from corpus data about French marketing terminology. Section 4.1 gives insight into how marketers themselves think about their own language, and Section 4.2 attempts to illustrate the most important patterns of marketing term formation. Finally, Section 5 briefly summarizes the results.

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