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Socio-linguistic study of Christian religious posters and its effect on the audience

Socio-linguistic study of Christian religious posters and its effect on the audience



1.1 Background of the Study

In the attempt to describe language, various scholars have given various but related definitions. Agbedo (2001) refers to language as the system of rules and principles of human communication. Language is said to have cultural established rules which govern all forms of linguistic communication within any given community of speakers that share common linguistic knowledge, (Babarinde, 2009).

Language according to Wikipedia may refer either to the specific human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, or to a specific instance of such a system of complex communication. Also, a rule of thumb definition of language according to Babarinde, says it is a signalling system that uses vocal symbols or sounds. It is the human vocal noise and the graphic representation of this human vocal noise in writing that is used systematically and conventionally by a speech community for the purpose of communication. Basically, language is said to be a means of human communication that uses symbols.

The concepts of language simply put it is the system of rules and principles of human communication. According to Wikipedia, “perhaps the most distinctive defining characteristics of language as a method of communicative ideas, emotions, feelings and desires by means of a system of vocal and sound symbols, are its humanness and non-instinctiveness, as well as its place in human society as one of the most necessary and tricate of all social skills.” Language according to Ferdinand De Saussure in Hartzeter (1965:11) “exists only by virtue of a sort of contract signed by the members of a communication.” In other words, language has culturally established rules which govern all forms of linguistic communication within any given community of speakers that share a common linguistic knowledge which De Saussure referred to as langue. In Agbedo (2oo1:1), language is seen “as a passively – accumulated, cultural – inherited and institutionalised instrument created through time by any given speech community to enable its members use the faculty of speech to achieve their communication needs,” language is then said to be interwoven with human essence. Sapir and Whorf (1942) in Agbedo (2001:19) agree that “the background linguistic system of each language is not merely a reproducing instrument of voicing ideas,” but also “the programme and guide for the individual’s mental activity, for his analysis of impressions, synthesis of his mental stock in trade.”

Language has a powerful influence on people and their behaviour. This is especially true in the fields of marketing and advertising. The choice of language to convey specific messages with the intention of influencing people is virtually important. Visual content and design in advertising has a very great impact on the consumer but it is language that helps people identify and remember it. The English language is known for its existence vocabulary. Where many other languages have one or two words which carry a particular meaning, English may have about five or six. Moreover, the meaning of the words may differ slightly and in a very subtle way. It is important to understand that asides the original meanings of words, words can mean something else over and above its original meanings.

At Such points words are said to be used connotatively. Connotation is the feeling or meaning of the word for example, arms chair suggests comfort, whereas chair arouses no particular feelings. The target audience of course also puts its own meaning into certain words; different people usually interpret language in different ways. When reporting news items, the marketing and advertising personnel and every information disseminating agency have to consider the emotive power of the words they use. First, they must make a decision about what to communicate and what to withhold. One way in which advertisers adopt language for their own use is to take compound words and use them as adjectives. These compound words often later become widely used on normal situations. Examples of these compound words which have become parts of English language are top-quality, economy-size, chocolate flavoured, father-light and longer lasting.

Wikipedia (2010) has it that the language of advertising is of course very positive and emphasize why one product stands out in comparison with another. Advertising language may not always be “correct” language in normal sense. For example, comparatives are often used when no real comparison is made an advert for detergent may say,” it gets cloths whiter,” but whiter than what?.

For language to be made relevant, the function which it performs is of great importance. According to Lyons (1981:224) functionalism is “characterized by the belief that the phonological, grammatical and semantic structures of language is determined by the function that they have to perform in the societies in which they operate.” He further explains that functionalism tends to emphasize the instrumental character of language. From these, it can be observed that there is a close relationship between the functionalist and the sociolinguist; hence they both “have subsumed language-behaviour under the more embracing notion of human interaction”, (Lyons 1981:227).

The context in which a language is used determines the meaning derived from the sentence. According to the British council, contextualization is putting language items being treated as isolated items of language for language manipulation and practice only. Contextualizing languages try to give real communicative value to the language that learners meet. The context can help readers remember the language and recall it at a later date. Human language, as a tool used for communication has peculiar characteristics and any utterance, spoken or written has a distinctive variety. Crystal and Dave (1989:3) say that “there are noticeable, though dissimilar differences between varieties, which are due to the sort of person who is talking or writing and the kind of situation he is in”. This indicates that there are appropriate linguistic manners for the different types of situations in which language is used, which the users are expected to show. These varieties are known as registers.

Different disciples have registers that are peculiar to them. According to Wikipedia (2010), registers refers to the level and style of the piece of writing or speech that is usually appropriate for a defined situation. It distinguishes one product from the other in terms of language use and this is reflected in their advertising styles for example, the register of Pentecostal evangelism otherwise known as religious posters will feature words like ‘faith’, ‘believe’, ‘God’, ‘heaven’, ‘spiritual’, ’sinner’, ’repent’, ’confess’, while registers of product advertising will include words like ‘satisfaction’, ‘quality’, ‘first among equals’, ‘smooth’, ‘brighter’, ‘loyalty’, etc. product advertisings as a discipline has its own variety of language use, which set it apart from others. Leech (1966:66) describes product advertising as “a sub-literary genre”. He states further that novel and creative exploitations of language in the service of product promotion is often valued in adverts to the extent of advertising language begins to look very much like literary language. On the other hand, many adverts move in entirely the other direction, repeating an unchanged message that has been used for years. Crystal (1987:84) notes that “most of the products”. This shows that there are different types of format and content as there are different types of the products. This was buttressed by Crystal (1987:86) who posits that “within the genre there is no so much variation in subject-matter that it is important to maintain a single attitude that will encompass everything”. This makes the task of advert write one of appropriacy and effectiveness in other to communicate through a variety of language.

As earlier noted, that each situation has its own kind or variety of language use. Evangelism also has its own peculiar register. Evangelism, according to Osborne (1977:4) is “giving the good news to every creature”. He asserts that this job of soul winning could be achieved through one way –Jesus – and this can only be accomplished by the operation of language as a tool used in communicating this good News.

Religions with its distinct discourse varieties is linguistically distinctive at the lexical, semantic, non-segmental, phonological and syntactic level which Webster collapses into what he calls the ‘ lexical semantic stylistic dimensions of discourse’ Crystal (1965: 155) says that ‘religion is one of such fields that could well use the information about language that linguistics can provide-information about terminology, definition, ambiguity, Vernacular and techniques for communication’. Obviously, the importance of language and its varieties cannot be undermined in Evangelism.

Religious communication according to Ghadessy (1990:89) is characterized however by sub-systematic variation along the lexico-semantic dimension such that in the case of the vocabulary belonging to a religious system, consisting of the shared terminology of various systems, we can expect there to a variety of meaning attributed to the same words resulting in pseudo-comprehension. The Catholic Church for instance has a variety of religious language different from the Pentecostal church but lately the charismatic renewal movement has introduced terminologies which have a distinctly fundamental or Pentecostal tone.          (Stern, 1978:88). Stern concludes that it is precisely the churches blending with other movements and denominations that has shifted its language patterns-Religious language then is not synonymous with the sociolinguistic competence of the Roman Catholic or Evangelical but rather according to Ghadessy (1988:96) is defined as’ consisting of these features from both lexico-semantic and stylistic dimensions which are identified within the culture as constituting religious language’. He further postulates that religious language is a folk-notion describable with the socio-linguistic competence of members of a religious community. He goes on to say that the term JARGON is used to label the variety of language used by a particular religious group. The fact remains that be it jargon or not, this variety of language can still be communicated to a given audience. But both the language of product advertisement and the language of religions through Pentecostal evangelism are tailored to achieve communicative purposes and the messages are communicated to their recipients through various mediums some of which are posters and handbills. Undoubted, communication cannot be complete and effective without a medium, whose category posters and handbills fall into.

Linguapress.Com (2011) states that in any language, styles of expression are appropriate in different situations. We can go from the formal to the informal, the written to the spoken, from technical language to slang. Lucas (1962) says that ‘the two meaning that concern us here. (About style) are (1) a Way of writing, and (2) a good way of writing. Our subject then is simply the effective use of Language, especially in prose, whether to make statements or to rouse emotions. It involves first of all power to put facts with clarity and brevity; but the facts are usually none the worse for being put also with as much grace and interest as the subject permits’’. Simply put, style refers to the particular way or manner in which a person communicates.

The Encyclopaedia American (1929:458) defines the poster “as a form of announcement usually printed on paper or card-board for public display” unlike small notices, broadside or handbill, it says “a poster is a large placard that conveys a brief message usually in pictorial terms, it is ephemeral and its placement on walls, billboards, kiosks and vehicles is unpredictable.’’ It observes that picture is generally combined with lettering in a simple, design that makes a unified impact concisely and powerfully. Thus, the poster is easily seen, understood and recalled and through this the messages of product advertising and religious evangelism through the correct and concise registers will be passed on and deciphered by the consumers or clientele .The encyclopaedia Britannica (1768:316) vol.18 says that “the poster is an announcement publicly exhibited which is designed to be understood at a glance; advertising an event, product or service”. It explains further that the poster must combine immediate visual effectiveness with concise communication of a message; it must complete for attention in visually confusing surrounding and yet inform the spectator or communicate the advertiser’s message to him. The Longman Dictionary of contemporary English defines the poster as a “large, printed notice, picture or photograph, used to advertise something or a decoration”. From the above, the dual roles of the posters can be easily seen as aesthetics and commercial roles. The posters, apart from advertising, also serve as a form of art that beautifies and gives pleasure to people. Speaking of the effect of both the pictorial drawings and the message which must be suffused in concise language makes us look closely at these posters.

Basically, this work deals with the kind of language used by religious organizations on religious posters, and will also attempt to determine the sociolinguistic implication of this language on its audience.

1.2       Statement of the Problem

Posters are used to inform a target audience about a particular event or programme or to further sensitize the public about a certain product or service. Religious organizations make use of posters and fliers to inform their audience of one programme or the other. They tend to use the most captivating words to attract the attention of their audience. As a result, this research sets out to study the language use of religious posters from a linguistic and sociolinguistic perspective. It should be known that the aim of religious posters may be forfeited if there is lack of proper placement of some important variables. Variables like the theme, sub-theme and the graphics/image of the audience will be considered during the course of this work. Also the different levels of language use in Pentecostal evangelism cannot be used interchangeably. If this is done, the purpose of the advertisement would be defeated. Communication can only be complete when the right kind of language is used for the right advertisement, the right audience and within the right context. To this effect, it has been observed that in the course of some religious posters trying to communicate to its audience, that there tend to be misleading contents. This is seen when the religious group try to psyche the need of the audience and as such get them to grace the invitation which most of them finally get disappointed when the miracles and all worth not advertised are not seen. Additionally, most religious posters make use of hyperbole which tends to make the picture look bigger than it is or what should be expected. More so, some religious posters sometimes are been used as a means of abuse, libel and or slander which has a long term negative effect on the audience. In order to effectively find a lasting solution to the above problem of language use of religious posters, this study, generally seeks to make a socio-linguistic study of Christian Religious posters.

1.3     Research Questions

The following research questions will guide the direction of this study,

  1. What are the major contents of religious posters?
  2. What are the motives of religious posters?
  3. To what extent does the language of religious posters reveal what is intended by the religious groups?
  4. What are the sociolinguistic implications of the language use of religious posters on the audience?


  • Purpose of the study

This study is geared towards making a socio-linguistic study of Christian Religious posters. Specifically, it seeks to:

  1. Identify the major contents of religious posters.
  2. Ascertain the motives of religious posters.
  3. Examine the extent language of religious posters reveal the intention of the religious group(s).
  4. Determine the sociolinguistic implications of the language use of religious posters on the audience.
    • Significance of the study

The importance of this work cannot be overemphasized as it explains explicitly the concept or reasons behind the use of posters and fliers by religious organizations. It also goes on to analyze the effect of this posters on the churches that adopt this medium with regard to the audience turn out or better still, attendance to the programmes. This study will discover if the aim of the churches making use of religious posters is usually achieved.

It is expected that the information derived from this work will equip posters and church owners with the necessary idea needed to effectively draft out a write up for a poster. Besides this study will also benefit individuals and Christians all over the world as it will bring to their awareness the most important points to look out for when viewing a religious posters. Basically, the study will help to improve the language use of churches and will also influence the advertising company positively.


  • Scope of the study

This study discusses the sociolinguistic study of Christian religious posters, focusing on the resultant effect which is brought about by certain variables or conditions such as, the theme of the programme or event, the sub-theme which helps to substantiate the theme, also the graphics and pictures used to back up the written words and most importantly the choice of words and sentences constructions of religious posters. Also the sample posters will be gotten from Ebonyi State University Abakaliki particularly EBSU Ishieke Campus, EBSU presco campus and other neighboring areas like new layout primary school Abakaliki, Obiri street, Democracy Estate off Presco Junction Abakaliki, Ezza Road Abakaliki, Ogbaga Road. The posters would be those of churches and fellowships inside the university.

1.7       Limitation of the study

This research work is restricted to basically church posters in some parts of Abakaliki metropolis. It could not cover all the posters in Abakaliki L.G.A for the want of time and the cost it will involve.

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