Media discourse in Yemen [Archives:2004/748/Community]

June 21 2004
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Dr Vinod S Dubey*
For the Yemen Times

When Mr Walid Al-Saqqaf, Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of the Yemen Times (YT), sent me a note of appreciation for my presentation on the Media Discourse in Yemen at Hodeidah University international conference held last year and evinced his keenness to carry in YT its abridged version tailored to meet its readership requirement I felt deeply gratified at once by his magnanimous gesture and a modicum of self-fulfillment at having struck the right chord at the right place )the right place of mediamen in Yemen.
The credit behind the writing of this article thus indeed entirely goes to Mr Walid, though, in the process, I should admit, I have been a privileged beneficiary myself at the opportunity given me by YT to reach out my views to a wider cross-section of readership, especially media savvy people in Yemen and perhaps outside.
A few things to catch my instant attention on my first arrival in Yemen over a year ago were the warmth of the people here, their Arabic and eye-catching uniqueness of local media scenario, particularly the English media situation. I was also at the same time quick to notice that since the English media scenario in Yemen had so far remained unexplored, it needed a full and in-depth scholarly attention. Fortuitously, the Hodeidah University conference just came my way around that time as an opportunity to express my views on the subject, though only one of its aspects, precisely, the dynamics of print media English advertisement discourse in Yemen.

Notion of discourse
Discourse in linguistic parlance is now a cover-term to refer to all aspects of how meanings are structured and negotiated in the society through either of its main channels ,verbal (linguistic) or visual , or both. The extended implication of the term thus goes beyond linguistic communication per se, and has reference to “a behavioural unit that has a pre-theoretical status in linguistics.”
Even as language remains the dominant means of human communication it is increasingly realized that it is not the only or exclusive channel of human communication. The growing global trend for a mixed verbal-visual discourse structure, especially in the media globally, underscores this fact, as also a primordial fact that the visual channel of communication precedes its verbal (linguistic) channel significantly: ” Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak.” This would perhaps explain why in the event of a communication bottle-neck or a necessity to establish a quick rapport with the addressee, as, for example, in the Yemeni English-as-a-foreign-language communication situation, the overriding discourse pattern is one of mixed verbal-visual structure, the latter quite often marginalizing the former structure.

Dimensions of discourse
A brief word on some of the key-dimensions of discourse -social, pragmatic and psychological)is relevant here before a discussion of the media discourse in Yemen, which follows below.
Social dimension of discourse highlights that discourse is primarily a social event and can occur only in a speech society. This is so because discourse derives from social conditions of production and social conditions of interpretations.
Pragmatic dimension of discourse reveals the relationship between what is actually said / transmitted and what is really meant / received.
Psychological dimension of discourse is derived from the notion of 'relevance' in the act of communication. Discourse is successful to the extent that its effect on the addressee is large and to the corresponding extent that the effort required by him to process it is small.

English advertisement discourse in Yemeni print media
For an in-depth view, attention is restricted for the present to only one of the several aspects of media discourse in Yemen, namely, the English advertisement discourse in the Yemeni print media. Interestingly, the English advertisement discourse in the Yemeni print media presents a fairly cohesive picture of similarity and contrast. Significantly, the Yemen Times (YT), the leading English weekly of Yemen, alone provided a representative sample of the Yemeni print media English advertisements, and, therefore, this study is entirely based on it. It needs to be added that, for reasons of space, a discussion of only a selection of them will follow here.

Structure of the Yemeni print media English advertisement discourse
Perhaps a most prominent eye-catching sight for a first-time reader of YT is its advertisements, particularly those published on its first page (see Figs 1-3). Even as these advertisements display a mixed verbal-visual structure a closer look reveals that it is their visual component that functions as the main 'text', or the dominant component of discourse structure while the verbal component functions only as a kind of 'co-text'. This is because the visual component ) the image of a bottle of perfume or the associative image of a woman beside such a bottle (Figs 1-3)) covers much of space of the advertisement and is what the reader is first drawn to and first interested in whereas the verbal component of the advertisement) the name of the shop where the product is available for sale) occupies much less space in the advertisement and gets only secondary attention. How the visual component is crucially far more important than the verbal component would be apparent if it (the visual component) is blanked out from the cited advertisements, which would result in total loss of the communicative value of these advertisements. To check this, compare Figs 1-3 and Fig 7 (with visuals) with their corresponding Figs 4-6 and
Fig 8 (without visuals).

Dimensions of the Yemeni print media English advertisement discourse
The use of visual, instead of verbal, as dominant component in the Yemeni print media English advertisement discourse has a clear reference to its social, pragmatic
and psychological dimensions.

The social dimension
The Yemeni social scenario is characterized by the occurrence of English as a foreign language, and, obviously, such an occurrence is highly restrictive. Naturally, therefore, it goes with minimal proficiency level in English of a majority of the Yemeni users of English. What is more, it also visualises an English speech situation wherein a majority of the Yemeni users of English prefer to stay content with fulfillment of their minimal communication requirements in English, apparently in keeping with their minimal proficiency level in English.
Consequently, Yemeni English advertisements highlight only the core contents of the message, by visual display of the image of the sale product or its associative image, and ignore / marginalise descriptive details about it. For instance, the image of two bottles without any description, or details given in prints too fine to be read ('Paul Smith: Perfume') (Fig 1), and the associative image of a woman beside a bottle
(Figs 2 and 3 ) are easily understood in the native perfume-loving society.
But, for a non-native addressee who is unfamiliar with the Yemeni social condition of production and social condition of interpretation of such advertisements, a communication bottleneck / breakdown is an inevitable probability.

The pragmatic dimension
The social interpretation of Yemeni print media English advertisements is clearly derived from their pragmatics, or the pattern of relations between what is actually
said/written and what is really meant. This is why despite little or no verbal (descriptive) details about it the prominent display of visual image in the advertisements proves much too handy in establishing easy rapport with the target native addressee. Apparently, the advertisement copywriter fully exploits here his knowledge of English-as-a-foreign-language situation in Yemen with the best of his imagination.
The iconic image of two bottles in Fig 1 and evocative image of a woman in Figs 2 and 3, both displayed prominently in the advertisements, carry the same implication in the native Yemeni communication situation, being an advertisement of a brand of perfume, more precisely, a solicitation to buy it.
Similarly, in Fig 7, the prominent display of visuals of automobiles, etc. serves as the main text, and the verbal (descriptive) component of the advertisement )”With Best Wishes From “) functions as a co-text which has an implication of a solicitation to buy the item(s) whose image is visually displayed, and not 'really' one of greetings or “best wishes”. This can be checked by comparing Fig 7 (with visuals) with Fig 8 (without visuals).

The psychological dimension
The success of an advertisement lies in how 'relevant' or 'more relevant' it can make itself to the addressee through a stimulus )its verbal or visual component, or both)and through a response it can evoke from the addressee. The extent of response from the addressee depends on the extent of its effects on him in a given context, which ,in turn, depends on the degree of minimal 'processing effort' required on his part to receive the targeted message.
The regular appearance of the same or similarly patterned English advertisements in YT is a clear evidence of their being successful commercial advertisements, or their being 'relevant' to the native addressee. Being aware of the social dimension of English-as-a-foreign-language communication situation the advertisement copy-writer best exploits the strategy of using the visual as the dominant component of advertisement discourse structure to stimulate the native addressee's immediate response to the advertisement. After all, naturally and primordially, the visual channel precedes the verbal channel of communication.
The texts in Figs 1-3 provide only what is most essentially relevant from the point of view of both the addresser and addressee: the visual image of the advertised item and the name of the shop where it is available for sale. The iconic image of a pair of bottles in Fig 1 and the evocative image of a woman beside a bottle in Figs 2 and 3 work as stimulant to the target addressee to buy the product, and , of course, from the shop(s) named in the verbal component of the advertisement.

Some remarks
The Yemeni print media English advertisement discourse generally opts for mixed verbal-visual discourse structure for reasons of Yemeni social, pragmatic and psychological considerations. Indeed, the visual component of its structure constitutes the main text whereas the verbal component functions as a kind of 'co-text'. Such a choice pattern seems to be derived from the natural and primordial phenomenon of the act of communication : “Seeing comes before words.” Interestingly, the discourse structure one encounters in Yemeni print media English advertisement discourse is also largely shared by that in other forms of media discourse in Yemen, for example, in Yemeni commercial hoardings in English displayed atop shops and on streets and other vantage points.
* Dr Vinod S Dubey is a prominent professor of English language at the Faculty of Education in Hodeidah University. He can be reached on his email : vinodsdubey@