The Felicity and Discursive Structure of Warnings on Tobacco Advertisement in Nigeria.

AuthorAyodele, Ayotunde


Language is a means of communication through which interlocutors can achieve certain goals by sending and receiving messages. Much of the communicative acts produced and comprehended in interactional exchanges such as requesting, apologizing, warning, thanking, greeting, advising and criticizing are a product of negotiation between speaker and hearer based entirely on both the linguistic code and the socio-cultural practice that produced it (Fairclough 1992). In other words, linguistic meaning is produced within the context of interactional negotiation and cooperation between speaker and hearer. Indeed Bourdieu (1999:503) describes a linguistic exchange as "an economic exchange which is established within a particular symbolic relation of power between a producer, endowed with a certain linguistic capital and a consumer (or market)".

The meaning-producing relationship between the speaker and the hearer is often mediated by tacitly agreed regulative conversational principles based on observable conventional linguistic practices. It is such conventional semiotic practices, particularly as encapsulated in felicity conditions (FC) (Austin 1962, Searle 1969, 1979) that form the interest of this paper. There is a need to characterize the discursive format of the warning act and test the applicability of the FC to the warnings carried by tobacco adverts in Nigeria.

This warning message on tobacco adverts in Nigeria is part of the global effort to draw attention to the dangers of exposure to tobacco smoke. Located essentially in the public domain as an awareness effort, its social significance lies in educating the public about the dangers of tobacco consumption to human health and societal wellbeing. The analytical framework adopted is hinged on the insights gleaned from pragmatics, speech acts and, particularly critical discourse analysis which pays attention to the ideological foundations of social practices. Warning against tobacco consumption is indeed a socially determined linguistic event whose communicative value depends largely on the ideological orientation of the participating public with regards to the social practice. Ideology here refers to "a shared framework of social beliefs that organize and coordinate the social interpretations and practices of groups and their members, and in particular also power and other relations between groups" (van Dijk, 1998: 8). Thus, the theoretical orientation of this paper is the socio-cognitive approach situated within Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA).

Theoretical Framework

Following Austin's seminal work (1962) on speech acts, Searle (1969: 16) defines speech acts as "the basic or minimal units of linguistic communication". He suggests that by speaking a language, one performs speech acts, such as giving commands or asking questions, which are performed in accordance with certain linguistic rules. In characterizing the warning act, Austin (1962: 118) classifies it under exercitives in which one exercises the power, right and influence over another. Searle (1969: 67), from an Aristotelian practical argument standpoint, suggests that most warnings are essentially hypothetical 'if -then' statements: "If you do not do X, then Y will happen." This is based on the assumption that the real premise of the argument is of the form "If X then Y" where X is the negation of the propositional content of the conclusion and Y is some as yet unspecified harm to H. It should be stated though that the illocutionary force of a warning of this nature is sometimes implied, as such its interpretation would require contextual information. Warning in this category may serve as an indirect speech act. Alternatively, the perlocutionary effect of warning can be expressed by making the addressee aware of the negative consequences of his/her action (causing him/ her to be warned).

A warning can serve two functions, directive or assertive (warning the hearer to do or not to do something), depending on the presupposed interests of both hearer and speaker. Searle (1979: 28-29) maintains that warning is a speech act which belongs to either directive or assertive syntax.

The difference between assertive and directive functions is that the former tells one something that may or may not be in one's best interest while the latter tells one what to do in a certain case. Along the same lines, Allwood (1977: 55) reports that the act of warning should be identified through the intention to warn (i.e. the intention to make somebody aware of danger), some specific type of explicit behavior that the agent conducts to warn others, some specific contexts, and some persons actually being warned (i.e. taking the warning in his/her course of action). In characterizing the function of warning, Leech (1983: 208) claims that there are warnings which belong to both the assertive and the directive categories: e.g. (1) They warned us that the food was expensive (assertive), and (2) They warned us to take enough money (directive). Each of these examples has within it both the assertive and directive forces. To be warned that the food was expensive serves the purpose of (i) informing them about how expensive the food was, and (ii) directing them to take more money (implied).

Wierzbicka (1987: 177-178) states that the versatility of the verb 'warn' finds expression in a wide range of syntactic patterns which can be used to make a warning. She goes further to propose the following formula for the illocutionary force of warning: "I say this because I want to cause you to be able to cause that bad thing not to happen to you". Maintaining her claim, she reports that "[i]n indirect speech, one can warn that, warn about, warn of, warn off, warn not to (do something) or warn to (do something)." In this study, warning refers to the different strategies used for getting the attention of the addressee and making him/her alert to a specific danger or bad consequences. It also refers to the way in which speakers use these strategies either directly or indirectly, politely or impolitely, as influenced by their cultures and ideological perceptions.

Song (1995) explores the speech acts of threatening and warning in English conversational discourse in Washington D.C. metropolitan area. He has found that differences between threatening and warning are not always very clear, but both speech acts require certain conditions to be performed successfully. He has also found that the severity of the illocutionary force of threatening and warning is related to the syntactic forms in which acts are performed. He has therefore categorized warning and threatening into two types according to their semantic content and consequences of the speech act: physical punishment and loss of privilege. Sadock (1974) claims that the act of warning can be an illocutionary and perlocutionary act at the same time because the concept of warning is not necessary to create a sense of awareness in the hearer. For example, in the sentence "The bull is about to charge", the speech act of warning is an illocutionary act of warning because the speaker can say "I warn you that the bull is about to charge", and a perlocutionary act because it creates a sense of awareness by-product of asserting that the bull is about to charge depending on the context in which it happens Al-Omari (2007) cited in Bataineh and Aljamal (2014) compared the patterns and realizations of the speech act of warning by English and Arabic native speakers in responding to a 20-item questionnaire. He has collected the data from 93 American and 200 Jordanian graduate and undergraduate students. He reported that the Jordanian and American subjects used 20 different strategies to express warning, more so for the former than the latter.

Nine of these strategies (i.e. requesting, showing surprise, alerting, threatening, suggesting, flouting, begging, advising and offering alternatives) were shared between the two groups. On the other hand, nine strategies (i.e. swearing, frightening, blaming, amplifying, apologizing, anticipating, reminding and wishing) were only used by the Jordanian subjects and two (i.e. disallowance and encouraging) by their American counterparts. This means that the former use more strategies to express warning than their...

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