EESE 5/2000

The language of poetry and advertising - an interdisciplinary teaching project at Hamburg University

Martin Klepper and Ingrid Piller*


"Interdisciplinarity" has been a buzzword in the debate about university reform in Germany and elsewhere for some years and even decades now . Within the field of English Studies such a plea for interdisciplinary research and teaching through the cooperation of scholars in cultural and literary studies, as well as linguistics, was recently made eg. by Nünning & Jucker (1999). Indeed, despite the philological tradition that unites these sister disciplines under the roof of one single English Studies department at most German universities, linguistics and literary studies often continue in blissful ignorance of each other's concerns to the detriment of the coherence of our programs. The interdisciplinary cooperation that we, the authors of this article, who work in American Literature (Martin Klepper) and English Linguistics (Ingrid Piller), report upon in this article grew out of common challenges to our teaching. For instance, we found that it undermines credibility when students are introduced to metaphor as a cognitive phenomenon of everyday language (in the tradition established by Lakoff & Johnson 1980) in their linguistics class, and, some hours later, meet metaphor again as a literary trope which characterises the language of poetry in contrast to more mundane uses of language, in their literary studies class, or vice versa. Although the two accounts are not in principle incompatible, and while the two differing accounts of metaphor might actually benefit work in both disciplines, the fact that these two differing accounts do not speak to each other but are presented in isolated classes more often than not leaves students with two competing monologues. If they can find a way to integrate the different aspects of their course, it is only through their own individual efforts. Teaching, however, does not do anything or only very little to ease the assimilation of different bodies of knowledge into a coherent whole. The ideal of both our philological heritage and the interdisciplinary future that innovators map out for teaching and research, is continuously snubbed by fragmented classes in which literary scholars pretend that linguistics is meaningless to their endeavours or those in which linguists pretend that they hold the copyright to the study of language. The consequence is frustration at disparate, half-empty mosaics of knowledge. It is amazing to see that fields that have for almost two decades now been happy to embrace the "Bakhtinian program" (Hirschkop 1989) in their research and in which the exploration and application of concepts such as "dialogism", "heteroglossia", or "polyvocality" (Bakhtin 1981; 1984; 1986; Bakhtin/Medvedev 1978; Vološinov 1975) has opened up exciting new understandings of language and literature have, by and large, completely failed to incorporate such ideas into their teaching practices.

Based on such considerations, the present authors started to brainstorm about an interdisciplinary class in American Literature and English Linguistics in late 1998, which was eventually conducted as an undergraduate class with the title "The Language of Poetry and Advertising" during the winter term 1999/2000 at the University of Hamburg. In this article we are going to report on our experiences with this interdisciplinary teaching project. Given the fact that, in our experience, most students are determined lovers of literature and haters of linguistics or vice versa by the end of their undergraduate studies, it was clear to us that we needed to develop an undergraduate class in order to prevent this developing fragmentation of knowledge. This choice lead to the development of a syllabus that presupposes no linguistic and literary studies classes except the respective introductory classes, and one which was closely modelled upon the syllabus in a typical introductory linguistics class in that it progressed through the various linguistic levels from graphic and sound phenomena via word-formation, semantics, and syntax, on to discourse phenomena such as intertextuality, and the relationship between language and identities. Our corpus choices - advertising and poetry - were based upon the fact that advertising is a central research interest of one of the authors (Piller 1996, 1997, 1999a, b, in print), and that, as a functional genre, poetry is the literary genre advertising is most closely related to, both in the linguistic techniques that are employed in both genres and in the functions they serve (eg. Cook 1992; Greven 1982; Spitzer 1949; Williams 1980).

In this article we are reporting upon the development, implementation and evaluation of the class which resulted from these initial considerations. Our purpose in doing so is threefold: The first aim of this article is to describe the practical consequences and outcomes of taking seriously a much-touted aim of educational policy at the tertiary level, namely "interdisciplinarity". As such we view our teaching project as exemplary and would welcome it if other teachers copied, adapted or changed our syllabus for use in their own teaching. Our second aim is evaluative in that we would like to reflect upon the rewards as well as the limits of such an interdisciplinary project in teaching practice, both from our own perspective as well as the perspective of students who filled in questionnaires about their expectations and evaluations both at the beginning and end of the term. Our third aim could be called political: in publishing the aims, strategies and outcomes of this teaching project we hope to initiate an exchange about teaching experiences and practices in our field. As young university teachers we are pursuing academic careers in an environment in which teaching, although it makes up a substantial part of our professional lives, counts very little towards the advancement of our careers. Therefore, we hope not only to encourage team-teaching and interdisciplinary teaching projects, but also a more general debate in the field about valuing teaching practices, commitment and excellence much more in academic career decisions than has previously been the case.

In the following, we will first outline our planning decisions for the course as they relate to the relationship between the two genres of advertising and poetry in our corpus, to the teaching objectives, and to the selection of the teaching materials. This will be followed by a description of our syllabus. The general syllabus will be exemplified with three individual lesson plans. The lesson plans are for the classes in which we explored graphical aspects of poetry and advertising, advertising slogans and haikus, and linguistic expressions of gender, sexuality and erotic desire. The article ends with two evaluation sections, one in which we summarise students' expectations and responses as elicited in two questionnaires at the beginning and end of term, and a concluding one in which we suggest implications for teaching practices in English Studies at German universities more generally.


Brainstorming the project

Our initial considerations focused upon ways in which we could link linguistics and literary scholarship productively. Given the common tradition of our disciplines this may seem like an easy enough problem. However, it is complicated by a number of factors:

  1. For both, the instructors and the students, to get credit for their work certain institutional requirements have to be met. These include two distinct topics and two (potentially) distinct classes. Eventually, formal requirements were met by teaching two 90-minutes' sessions per week. Each teacher received credit for one 90-minute-segment and volunteered an additional 90 minutes. Students received credit for an undergraduate seminar in both American or English Literature and English Linguistics, provided they met the requirements.
  2. We envisioned a real interdisciplinary form of inquiry in which the two approaches are not simply supplementary to each other. Therefore we needed to concentrate on a set of materials in which linguistics could genuinely contribute to the understanding of literature and in which literature was of genuine interest to linguistic questions.
  3. The course set-up had to be adequate for a seminar at the introductory level, thus counting out a scenario in which, for instance, linguistics would supply the theoretical models and literature the corpus of application. Instead we were looking for a topic in which we could compare, combine and perhaps contrast linguistic modes of inquiry with literary modes of inquiry to texts typically studied in applied linguistics or literary scholarship.

An idea we explored but eventually dismissed, for instance, was a class on tropes. This would have entailed an inquiry into the significance and function of tropes in everyday language (along the lines of Lakoff & Johnson: 1980) and in literary texts. However interesting such a scenario is, we decided against it because it is too narrow for a full-term course and also too demanding for a class on the introductory level if we wanted to include an in-depth exploration of the theory of metaphor (eg. Haverkamp: 1983; 1998, Ortony: 1993). Eventually, we settled on the idea of comparing two different discourses, the one of poetry and the one of advertising. The idea of comparing two discourses, one a privileged discourse of applied linguistics and the other a classical field of inquiry for literary scholarship, had many advantages for the sort of course we were envisioning. We could structure the class along the usual levels of linguistic inquiry (graphics, phonetics, morphology etc.) and analyse the similarities and differences of the respective linguistic devices in the two fields. In this way we could review and reinforce the knowledge our students had brought from their general introductory courses on linguistics and literature and at the same time keep up an ongoing discussion about the functions of various devices for poetic and commercial discourse.

Indeed, apart from being a useful propaedeutic exercise, the topic is well worth pursuing. The languages of poetry and advertising are clearly related: Northrop Frye's famous remark, "Poetry is language used with the greatest possible intensity." (Frye: 1983, 4) is also valid for advertising - even if not intended to apply to advertising by Frye himself. Structurally, there certainly is no single device used in poetry which does not sooner or later crop up in advertising (although it would clearly be dysfunctional for advertising to drive fragmentation as far as is for instance the case in language poetry). Historically, advertising, together with the media in general, has taken on many of the traditional functions of art and poetry. Today's memorable catchphrases are coined by advertising (eg. Williamson: 1992). Nevertheless, advertising usually lacks the self-critical edge which poetry characteristically implies (but see Goldman & Papson 1996 for exceptions). Socially, advertising has long taken over the community-building function of the bard, gluing together individuals with the semiotics of shared symbols and narratives (see eg. Jhally: 1990). Ideologically, advertising is faced with the same evolutionary changes in gender roles, post-colonial identities and human rights issues as poetry is (O'Barr 1994) - as is evidenced, for instance, by the Benetton campaigns. Still, advertising does more consciously adhere to the majority ideologemes than other forms of art.

It is not only advertising that has appropriated poetry but poetry also reacts to advertising. As Marjorie Perloff (1991) argues "theirs is a relationship of enormous variation and complexity" (XIII). Simply by always being both/and: the same and different, related and separated, artistic and uncompromisingly commercial, advertising as against poetry makes a fascinating topic for inquiry and discussion.

A course on the language of poetry and advertising furthermore takes its justification from the fact that quite a number of our students do in fact pursue or plan to work in the field of media and/or marketing. According to Martha Meyer-Althoff (1999), MA graduates in the humanities from Hamburg University pursue careers in journalism (26.5 %), public relations, advertising and marketing (10.5%), and the cultural sector, including film (7.6%). Classes that focus on the language of the media can therefore be seen as directly related to the professional preparation of our students.

Teaching Objectives

The decisions regarding the teaching objectives were based upon the above planning considerations. The teaching objectives derive from the combination of the two topics, the level of the students' knowledge and the objectives of the curriculum in our field in general (English and/or American Studies). They add up to a cluster of more or less specific aims which we pursued in the seminar:


Principles of selection

After the teaching aims had been clarified, a reader consisting of a selection of poems and print advertisements was assembled. In order to ensure that everybody had the material for preparation and discussions students were obliged to purchase this reader. However, the reader did not comprise all of the material: Since one of the principles of selection was variety, we included TV commercials to be shown on a VCR and a rap song on tape. Advertisements were selected if they exhibited interesting phenomena about the linguistic level studied. In one instance - when we were discussing tropes - we selected several ads for one specific product (automobiles) in order to demonstrate how a single product projects an entire metaphorical world.

Poetry was selected according to three criteria: First, it obviously had to contribute something to the analysis of the linguistic level under scrutiny. e.e. cummings, for instance, was a classical choice for the graphics session. Second, we made an effort to include a wide selection of poetry, as students should - and, as was explicitly voiced in the introductory questionnaire about expectations, also wanted - to be acquainted with a variety of poetic structures and contents. Finally, we included poetry from Shakespeare to contemporary poets in order to cover, as a by-product, historical developments in poetry. Systematically, historical developments in poetry were pursued in the sessions on tropes (see below).

Implementation: The Syllabus

Based on the teaching objectives and the principles of selection the following syllabus was devised, a course format which we hoped would support a varied and interesting seminar. We will first give an overview of all the sessions detailing topic, materials, methods and objectives (Table 1) and then offer an in-depth discussion of three exemplary sessions (graphics, slogans and haikus, and gender). Each session lasted 2 x 90 minutes, with a coffee break of 15-20 minutes in-between. Student preparation for each session included studying the respective texts in the reader and reading a chapter in the textbook (Cook 1992).

Table 1: The course format





Session 1: Introduction

- Expectations

- Typical features of poetry & advertising

- Central definitions

- Methods of comparing the two discourses

- Introduction to the analysis of poetry and advertising

- Questionnaire about student expectations

- Excerpt from American Psycho

- "The Penalty of Leadership" (Cadillac, 1915)

- Handout about poetry analysis and introduction of the textbook (Cook 1992)

- Individual work with the questionnaire

- Group work and discussion of the excerpt as commercial and the ad as poetic discourse

- Classroom discussion about the characteristics of poetry and advertising as discussed in groups

- Classroom discussion about ways to compare poetry and advertising

- Lecture about key methods in the analysis of poetry and advertising

- Students formulate initial ideas about the relationship between poetry and advertising

- Students study typical features of the two discourses

- Students learn that the distinction between the two is fuzzy rather than clear-cut.

- Students get to know analytical methods relevant to poetry and advertising

Session 2: Graphics

- Linguistic and paralinguistic messages in ads

- Confrontation of two texts in poetry

- Iconicity, types of signs

Ads: Compaq Computers, Hamburger University, UPS, various logos

Poetry: Roger McGough ("40 - Love"), Lewis Carroll ("Mouse's Tale"), e. e. cummings ("in Just-")

- Instructor-led discussion about the analysis of ads and poems

- Lectures on iconicity and Peirce's theory of signs

- Discussion of the different uses of graphical devices in poetry and ads

- Students study the relations between linguistic and paralinguistic messages

- Students discuss iconicity in e e cummings poem (spacing, contraction, capitalisation)

- Students learn about Peirce's categorisation of signs

- Students learn about logos, their functions, and the picture-text relationships in ads

Session 3: Sound

- Classical prosody: meter and rhyme as emphasis, linkage, movement

- Beat and meaning in Rap

- Relation ad - addressee

- Sound as voice (female vs. male, standard vs. non-standard voices)

Poetry: William Blake ("The Tyger")

Song: Queen Latifah ("Ladies First")

Ads: TV commercials (The History Channel, Cancer Research Fund, Vileda Freshmate)

- Lecture about meter, rhyme and rhythm

- Instructor-led analysis of "The Tyger"

- Classroom discussion of "Ladies First"

- Creative group work in which students write scenarios for ads incorporating Rap

- Discussion of the significance of the sound of voices and the choice of songs in ads

- Students review fundamentals of prosody

- Students see analysis applied to "The Tyger"

- Students discuss significance of sound in Rap

- Students discuss possible addressees for writing a Rap-advertisement

- Students analyse the significance of different voices (gender, accent) in ads

Session 4: Words

- Word classes

- Types of meaning

- Denotation, connotation and association

- Brand names between common and proper nouns; semantization

- Words in poetry

- Desemantization in Gertrude Stein's work

Introductory text:

Lewis Carroll ("Jabberwocky")

Ads: List of brand names

Poetry: Gertrude Stein ("Susie Asado")

- Instructor-led discussion of word-formation patterns and meaning in "Jabberwocky"

- Lecture about word-classes, formation patterns and types of meaning

- Discussion of form and function in various brand names

- Student presentation on Gertrude Stein

- Group work and discussion of "Susie Asado"

- Students learn criteria for determining word classes

- Students interpret word play

- Students review the concepts of proper and common nouns, form and function, types of meaning

- Students explore the rationales of brand name creation

- Students learn about Gertrude Stein

- Students discuss Stein's "Susie Asado"

Session 5: Tropes I - Metaphysical Conceits

- Tropes in language and literature

- Tenor and vehicle

- Extended metaphor

- History of poetic metaphors

- Metaphysical Conceits


Sylvia Plath ("Words")

John Donne ("A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning")


British Airways (lounges as oases in the desert)

- Introductory lecture on tropes from a (cognitive) linguistic and literary perspective

- Instructor-led application of the theory of metaphor to the BA ad

- Instructor-led discussion of tropes in Plath' poem

- Lecture about different metaphorical registers eg. Petrarchism, chain-of-being, metaphysicals, romantics

- Instructor-led discussion of the tropes in Donne's poem

- Students learn about definitions of tropes, metaphors, metonymy

- Students can apply concepts such as tenor and vehicle

- Students learn that specific uses of metaphors are context- and culture- specific

- Students analyse Donne's "Valediction"

Session 6: Tropes II - Romantics and Modernists

- Nature imagery in poetry and advertising

- The Sublime

- Imagism

- Non-verbal advertising


"Dirty" Potato Chips

Jordan's Frusli

Nike Air


E.A. Poe ("The Lake")

E. Pound ("Metrostation")

W.C. Williams ("Red Wheelbarrow", "This Is Just to Say")

- Collection of nature tropes from everyday experience

- Discussion of the functions of these tropes

- Instructor-led discussion of the nature imagery in the Dirty Potato Chips and Jordan's Frusli ads

- Instructor-led discussion of "The Lake"

- Lecture on Romanticism

- Student presentation on Imagism

- Discussion of W.C. Williams' poems

- Discussion of the Nike Ad as a minimal ad

- Students become aware of the significance of nature imagery

- Students can identify the various functions of nature imagery in advertising

- Students learn about the Sublime in Romantic poetry

- Students learn about its counter-movement of Modernism

- Students explore imagist poetry

Session 7: Tropes III - The Automobile

- Romantic car ads

- Cultural history of the car

- Strategies of automobile advertising

- Car metaphors in everyday discourse

- Poetic reactions


- Aero Willys (1953)

- Chevrolet (1950)

- Chevrolet (1966)

- Datsun (1974)

- Jordan Playboy (1923)

- MG (1964)

- Oldsmobile (1968)

- Plymouth (1959)

- Volvo (1970)

- VW (1963)

- VW (1969)


-Russell Edson ("The Automobile")

- Instructor-led discussion of the poetic devices in the Jordan Playboy ad

- Lecture about the significance of the automobile in culture and society

- Group work: analysis of the target groups, strategies, images etc. of car ads

- Discussion of car metaphors in everyday language

- Reading of Edson's poem

- Students learn that ads play with historical poetic images

- Students understand the significance of the car for commercial and cultural history

- Students learn to analyse a car ad for target groups, strategies etc.

- Students learn that everyday language is influenced by advertising

- Students discuss the literalisation of metaphor in Edson's poem

Session 8: Syntax I - Slogans and Haikus

- Syntactic and rhetorical strategies in slogans

- Functions of slogans

- Haiku as a form

- Creating slogans and haikus

- 25 slogans for a questionnaire

- Corpus of 195 slogans to draw examples from

- Haikus by Basho, Karen Tellefsen, Penny Harter, Dhugal Lindsay, Laura Young, Alexey Andreyev, Kent Dorsey

- Filling in a questionnaire about slogan recollection

- Discussion of the results

- Lecture about linguistic strategies used in slogans

- Student presentation about the history and rules of haiku writing

- Group work: creating slogans about the English Department or haikus about our lecture theatre

- Presentation of and comments on creative work

- Students explore the memorability of slogans experimentally

- Students identify reasons for poor or enhanced memorability

- Students become familiar with creative strategies used in slogans

- Students learn about the history and rules of haiku writing

- Students apply the "how-to"-potential of syntactic and rhetorical strategies to their creative writing

Session 9: Syntax II - Language Poetry

- Cohesion

- Language poetry

[guest lecture]

Ad: Royal Caribbean

Poem: Charles Bernstein ("MicMac Mall")

Art: Collages by Kurt Schwitters, Andy Warhole, Roy Lichtenstein

- Instructor-led application of the concepts of cohesion and coherence as introduced in the textbook to the Royal Caribbean ad

- Discussion of Modernist artworks as collage, repro or imitation

- Discussion of initial reactions to Bernstein's poem

- Lecture on language poetry

- Discussion of the poem's title

- Instructor-led discussion of the text type and content of each section of the poem

- Discussion of cohesion in the poem

- Students learn about the significance of and methods for achieving textual cohesion and coherence

- Students discuss the differences between reproduction, collage and imitation

- Students learn about the history of the "language movement"

- Students explore form and function of "MicMac Mall"

Session 10: Pragmatics I - Ideologies of Love and Beauty

- Language and gender, sexuality, erotic desire, ideology

- The sonnet

- Love poetry

- Advertorials

Magazines: Harvey Nichols, B

Ads: Liquid Glass, Rimmel Nail Polish, Mabelline WonderCurl Mascara, Shine Magazine, Clarins Body Lift 2000


W. Shakespeare ("Sonnet 130")

E.B. Browning ("How Do I Love Thee?")

E. St. Vincent Millay ("Sonnet")

Adrienne Rich ("The Floating Poem")

- Definition of the terms "sex" and "gender"

- Lecture about the sonnet

- Lecture about language and gender

- Instructor-led analysis of "Sonnet 130"

- Classroom discussion of gender in ads

- Group work: analysis of Browning's, Millay's and Riches poems

- Classroom discussion and comparison of the results

- Students learn about various gender systems in European history

- Students learn about the love discourse of the 16th/17th century sonnet

- Students learn about contemporary approaches to language and gender

- Students explore ideologies of beauty in "Sonnet 130"

- Students discuss ideologies of gender and beauty in advertising and their subversion in poetry

- Students understand the specific context of women's magazines for advertising

Session 11: Pragmatics II - Intertextuality

- Michail M. Bakhtin and his work

- Theories of intertextuality

- Intertextuality in poems and ads

- Comparative advertising


C. Marlowe ("The Passionate Sheperd to His Love")

Sir W. Raleigh ("The Nymph's Reply")

C.D.Lewis ("Come, live with me and be my love")

A. Rich ("A Valediction Forbidding Mourning")


Sunday Times: "Bible story comes back into vogue" (April 18, 1999)


BMW, VW, Timotei

- Discussion of biblical images in ads

- Lecture on intertextuality as understood by Kristeva and Barthes

- Lecture on intertextuality as understood by Bakhtin and Lachmann

- Discussion of the relations between Marlowe's, Raleigh's and Lewis' poems

- Discussion of comparative advertising (BMW, VW)

- Instructor-led exploration of Rich's "Valediction"

- Discussion of the uses of poetry in advertising (Timotei)

- Students discuss relations of ads to classical and 'holy' texts

- Students learn about concepts of intertextuality

- Students get to know poetry as an ongoing conversation

- Students discuss and evaluate comparative advertising

- Students get to know poetry as an inter- and self-reflexive process

- Students explore the uses of poetry in advertising

Session 12: Voice I- Who is speaking?

- Voice in advertising and in literary studies


British Gas (TV)

Neiman Marcus

Royal Caribbean



Emily Dickinson ("I'm Nobody!")

L. Hughes ("I, Too")

Cathy Song ("Lost Sister")

Handout (for the analysis of the poems)

- Review of the text book chapter

- Instructor-led discussion of voice in TV commercials

- Lecture about voice, identity, and subjectivity in literary studies

- Group work: voice in the 3 poems

- Discussion of voice in print ads

- Students learn about the significance of voice in ads

- Students are able to analyse the functions of different voices in ads

- Students learn about the concepts of voice in narratives

- Students transfer the concept of voice from narratives to poetry

- Students analyse voices in ads

Session 13: Voice II- Hybridity and post-colonialism

- Colonial and postcolonial poetry in English

- Orientalism

- Hybridity and the Other in poems and ads

- Multilingualism and language contact as linguistic consequences of colonial relationships

- The uses of English in German advertising


- Nail polish ('out of this world') (TV)

- 10 German ads which use English

Handout (for the analysis of the ads)


Lorna Dee Cervantes ("Refugee Ship")

Tato Laviera ("AmeRícan")

- Discussion of the functions of 'The Other' in a nail polish commercial

- Student presentation about hybridity and postcolonialism in Indian and Canadian poetry

- Group work: target groups and functions of English in German advertising

- Discussion about discourses of colonialism, post-colonialism and globalisation

- Students learn about the function of Otherness in ads

- Students are introduced to the discussion about post-colonialism in poetry and theory

- Students analyse one example of hybrid language in advertising

- Students evaluate relations of power and economic influences as they impact upon language and discourse

Session 14: Concluding discussion

- Evaluation

- Relations between poetry and advertising

Questionnaire: ideas about the relation of poetry and ads, course evaluation

- Summary review of the course

- Statements about the discourse of poetry by the linguistics teacher and about the discourse of advertising by the literary studies teacher

- Classroom discussion of these statements

- Students evaluate the course

- Students discuss results in terms of the relations between poetry and advertising


Exemplary lesson plans

Having briefly outlined the course as a whole, we will in the following put some flesh on this skeleton by describing three exemplary sessions in some more detail - No. 2 ("Graphics"), No. 8 ("Slogans and Haikus"), and No. 10 ("Ideologies of Love and Beauty"). Each session's description consists of a brief summary of the contents, the didactic and methodological reasons for the structure of the session, the lesson plan, and a short evaluation of the session.

Session 2: Graphics

What distinguishes both poetry and ads at first sight from other text types is the unique graphic form in which the 'message' is presented. However ordinary or extraordinary the specific ad or poem might be, there is always a more or less subtle interaction between graphic appearance and meaning. The over-all objective of the second session in our seminar was to alert students to this interaction and to give them some tools for describing and analysing it.

There is a typical graphic structure for ads as well as for poems. In the case of poems it is simply the presentation in verses and stanzas. Within that presentation there are various immediately recognisable forms: for instance the sonnet, the haiku, or the limerick. The poem's appearance leads us to recognise a text as a poem and, consequently, to read it as a poem. In some cases the appearance may actually constitute the poem as John McRae suggests for W. C. Williams' "This Is Just to Say" (McRae: 1998, 5-7). The same is true for ads. Print advertisements typically consist of eight elements: a headline, an illustration or picture, the text (body copy), the name of the product, the name of the producer, the logo, a slogan, and any additional information (Sauer: 1998, 89). The illustration may simply be the attention catcher, but there are also much more complex relationships between linguistic and paralinguistic messages (for the terminology see. Cook: 1992, 60ff). Examples are typographical variations, the mixtures of index, icon and symbol in logos, and graphological experiments with language, as in the Compaq service ad, "What do you cut out when you cut out the middleman?", we used in the lesson, in which the face of the 'middleman' is formed by phrases describing his services. Usually, all of these elements interact to create a memorable effect which is stronger than the simple addition of elements. This interaction and reinforcement of effect is also at work in graphological poems or 'poempictures'. Text and graphic form can be described as two texts which communicate in the sense of reinforcement, intensification, addition, contradiction etc (see Meaning in Graphic Poems).

We decided to concentrate on four phenomena of which two each were related across the disciplines: texts with a more or less obvious graphological significance (the Compaq ad and the poems by McGough and Carroll) and texts with a more ambiguous nature of the signs involved (logos and cummings' "In Just-"). We started by going in medias res, discussing the structure and effect of the Compaq ad. The ad lends itself to identifying the typical elements of an advertisement, and therefore presents a good opportunity to discuss the relation between linguistic and paralinguistic message. Thus we had reviewed and applied the first part of the information from the textbook and could go on to transfer that knowledge to poems. This is relatively unproblematic for the McGough poem. After a short lecture on graphical poems aided by the Slide "Meaning in Graphic Poems" and some remarks on e.e. cummings we proceeded to the more complicated analysis of "In Just-", with its specific spacing, its contractions and unusual capitalisations. Since this was only the second session, we still worked a lot with instructor-led discussions in which we gave a lot of input, asked closed questions, and recorded results carefully on the blackboard. We also did not want to switch back and forth too much between disciplines at this early point in the course, so we continued with poetry and looked at Carroll's "Mouse's Tale". This is a poem which again is more openly graphological, but the graphic message is more ambiguous than in McGough's poem as: the mouse may disappear and, by implication, die, it may leave a trail of flight and survive, or the form of the poem may stand for a question mark implying an open ending. This gave us a chance to talk about iconicity and to review Peirce's categorisation of signs which students had already encountered in their reading assignment. Finally, this exploration of signs in terms of how they signify served as a transition to the discussion of logos which generated debate about whether logos can be regarded as indices, symbols or icons.

View a detailed lesson plan of Session 2 on Graphics.

All in all, the response of the students was satisfactory. They discovered the relationships we aimed at presenting and the good participation confirmed that the selection of the material was interesting and challenging. However, we decided to try to integrate poetry and ads more fully, so that the appearance of two distinct disciplines would be broken down further and the interdisciplinary aspect of the class enhanced. We also clearly felt the strain, both on the students and on ourselves from three hours of lecture and discussion and decided to include more group work and creative exercises, which we started in the next session.

Session 8: Syntax I: Slogans and haikus

This session, which was held shortly after mid-term, had a number of teaching objectives: the first one was to enable students to address syntactic questions in the material under consideration. This included a brief review of the principle of constituency, and the terms "phrase," "clause," and "sentence." Within this general aim, we wanted to discuss minimal argumentative forms and raise awareness for syntactic strategies most commonly used in such forms. Following Oaks (1995), it was our aim that students should not only be able to analyse such forms but also to use them productively in their own writing. The third aim was to introduce slogans and their functions in advertisements, as well as haikus and the history of this genre. To reach these aims we structured the session as follows: in a 10-minute introductory lecture we related the topic of the previous session, which had been metaphors in automobile advertising, the animation of the machine car through the use of such metaphors, and the (re-)literalisation of automobile metaphors in poetry critical of automobile culture, to the current session by arguing that in an image world (Debord 1983, Ewen 1988) in which the pictorial dominates over the verbal, even language itself becomes more image-like, ie. shorter and more concentrated. We then provided students with a questionnaire which asked them (a) to pair slogans with the brands they are used for, (b) to pair brand names with the slogan they regularly co-occur with, and (c) to list their favourite slogans, the slogans they disliked most, and the ones they found most memorable. After each student had filled in a questionnaire, we collected them, and while one of us quizzed students about the slogans and brands they had just been asked to pair, the other prepared an overhead slide with the most frequently mentioned favourite, most disliked and most memorable slogans. In the pairing exercise, students had to match 13 slogans with their brands, and to match 12 brand names with their slogans.

Three slogans from the questionnaire had a 100% recognition rate, namely Auf diese Steine können Sie bauen, Die Freiheit nehm' ich mir, and Nicht immer, aber immer öfter. Nichts ist unmöglich and Die tun was also had high recognition rates while all the other slogans were only matched correctly by a few students. The reasons for high recognition rates were obviously non-linguistic ones such as length of use and frequency of release or paralinguistic ones such as characteristic melody. The same goes for the matching of brand and slogan, where most participants knew the correct slogans for Gilette and McDonalds.

While the reasons for pairing brand and slogan correctly were non-linguistic or paralinguistic, this was different for slogans given as favourites. Favourite slogans were collected on an overhead slide, and explanations for their being liked were elicited in a 15-minute classroom discussion. The reason most frequently given was semantic, namely an affinity in one's personal values to the brand philosophy expressed in the slogan, such as "Astra - was dagegen?", "Nicht immer, aber immer öfter", "Ich bin doch nicht blöd", "Just do it" or "Vertrauen ist der Anfang von allem." Obviously, different students were attracted to quite different "philosophies". Puns ("Wenn ich nen See seh, brauch ich kein Meer mehr"), uncommon syntactic structures ("da werden Sie geholfen"), and rhetorical figures ("Nicht immer, aber immer öfter") also came up as reasons why some participants liked particular slogans.

The individual work with the questionnaires and the ensuing classroom discussion served to focus students on slogans and to discover some of the linguistic and non-linguistics means that help making them attractive. It also addressed the basic functions of the slogan within an advertisement, namely to encapsulate the brand's philosophy, and to achieve memorability and recognition (Myers 1994; Piller 1997). This was followed by a 30-minute lecture which summed up and systematically addressed questions of definition, function, and syntactic and rhetorical strategies used in slogans. There was a special focus on the relationship between linguistic brevity and expression of the brand's philosophy to facilitate understanding the similarity between slogans and haikus. Haikus - which to our surprise the vast majority of students had never heard of before - were introduced through a student presentation. Like all student presentations, this presentation had been coached by one of the teachers, so that it fitted well within the overall structure of the class. The presentation described the typical three verses of five, seven, and five syllables, which structure the haiku, and gave a brief overview of the great Japanese haikuists and the context in which they wrote (focusing on Basho, see eg. Blyth 1963; or Just as the slogan tries to evoke a philosophy in as few words as possible, the haiku tries to paint a picture, or produce an evocative image in as few words as possible. The linguistic strategies used to achieve this aim were exemplified from a number of contemporary American haikus, such as

(1) the juxtaposition of two elements as in Karen Tellefsen's

daffodils open

around my mailbox

but no letter

(2) ellipsis as Penny Harter's

snowflakes -

dust on the toes

of my boots

or (3) graphic iconicity and alliteration as in Alexey Andreyev's

left upper corner of the envelope

the only part of your long letter


The analytical skills acquired up to this point were then applied to the students' own writing in a creative task where they worked in pairs on either of the following two assignments:

  1. Compose a slogan about the Phil-Turm as a place of learning and education.
  2. Compose a haiku which takes our lecture theatre as its starting point.

The slogans and haikus were then displayed on posters and during the time left until the end of the session (about 10 minutes) students had a chance to comment upon the strategies they had used in the creation of the slogans and haikus. Examples of slogans for the Phil-Turm include "Every step a step ahead," "The tower of power," "Der Turm zur Wissenschaft" or "Get out as much as you can." While more students chose to write slogans than haikus, the haikus also showed that students could make use of the strategies previously discussed in highly creative ways. Examples include

the walls


as slides rush by.


seeds of thought

on the seats

of wood


neon overhead,

the day drips from the ceiling

into my tired eyes


View a detailed lesson plan of Session 8 on Slogans and Haikus.

The combination of improving analytical as well as creative skills made this one of the most successful sessions throughout the term. All our teaching objectives were met. The fact that the posters with the students' slogans and haikus were displayed for some weeks on a wall in the English Department established a sort of tangible presence of the class, and served to strengthen "corporate identity" among its participants. The fact that students appreciated such creative hands-on tasks was reconfirmed when they handed in their term papers for the linguistics Schein. They had been given a choice between various analytical and creative assignments and many students chose creative assignments such as devising a poster and flyer campaign for the stairway in the Phil-Turm, shooting a set of TV commercials for the English Department or developing an advertising campaign for a new designer label called "Ladies First."

Session 10: Pragmatics I: Ideologies of Love and Beauty

This was the first session which no longer focused on structural aspects of language use but rather pragmatic ones and was devoted to the interrelationship between language and gender, sexuality, and erotic desire. Based on the assumption that gender is a performative category (Butler 1990) and that language is a central means in the achievement of "doing gender" (West & Zimmerman 1987), we view the relationship between language and gender as one that is mediated by ideologies of gender, of femininity and masculinity (see eg. Bucholtz, Liang & Sutton 1999, Hall & Bucholtz 1995, Hof 1995, Jehlen 1995, Romaine 1999, Talbot 1998). Both literature and advertising are major sites for the construction of such gender ideologies in a given society. Therefore our teaching objectives for this session were to introduce students to postmodernist, social constructionist theories of gender and sexuality, particularly as they impact upon linguistic practices. We felt that an understanding of gender as a socially constructed category that differs across societies, cultures, or historical settings could best be achieved by presenting material from a variety of contexts in which different gender ideologies are constructed, affirmed, subverted and contested. Furthermore, we wanted to enable students to identify the sonnet as a central form of love poetry in European literature and introduce them to the history and development of this form. With regard to advertising it was our objective to show that the gender discourse of advertising is as powerful as it is because it is not restricted to advertising sensu strictu but spills over into the editorial content of magazines which may be distributed with the sole purpose to form an outlet for advertising, as eg. in women's magazines.

To achieve these aims we began the session with a 10-minute introductory lecture that aimed to clarify basic concepts such as "sex" and "gender", and showed how the central issues to be explored in this class (gender, sexuality, erotic desire, love, beauty, ideology) are related. This lecture was largely based on Bem (1993), who views the gender system as operative through the ideologies of biological essentialism, gender dichotomy, and androcentrism. This was followed by another 10-minute introductory lecture to the characteristic forms of the sonnet, its development as a central means for the expression of courtly love by Petrarca and its appropriation in the English Renaissance (see Bermann 1988, Oppenheimer 1989, Spiller 1992). The focus of the initial lecture on language and gender was then re-established in a further 40-minutes lecture which detailed the central axioms of the postmodern, social constructionist view of language and gender, viz. that gender is not an individual property but a system of social relations and that it is socially and culturally constructed and, as a result, differs historically and across cultures. In this view the meaning of gender is embodied in gender ideologies which are multiple, dynamic and subject to change. A major site of the construction, negotiation, contestation and subversion of gender is in discourse which means that language plays an active role in the production and reproduction of gender asymmetries (see Pavlenko, in print, for a more detailed discussion).

The subversion of an ideal of female beauty was then explored in a classroom discussion about Shakespeare's sonnet 130, "My Mistress' Eyes Are Nothing Like the Sun". Such a subversion of traditional ideals of passive femininity can also be found in contemporary make-up advertising, which oftentimes appropriates the discourse of second wave feminism to set up model identities for consumers to emulate. The Rimmel nail-polish ad our discussion centred around exhorts women to be independent ("Make up your own language"), to appropriate activities and traits which have traditionally been considered male preserves (race-driving; "Play hard and fast") while at the same time linking the idea of emancipated femininity to consumption - just as ads which set up more conservative femininities do.

This classroom discussion was followed by a quick leafing-through of a number of women's magazines to expose students to "advertorials" and to make the point that in consumer economies advertising and non-advertising can not always be strictly separated in a number of publications. The final 60 minutes were reserved for group work in which students could further explore subversions of gender, sexuality and beauty ideologies in three poems, namely Elizabeth Browning's "How Do I Love Thee?" where the traditionally male speaker of the sonnet is gendered female; Edna St. Vincent Millay's "Women have loved before as I love now" where female sexual desire is constructed as active and predatory; and Adrienne Rich' "The Floating Poem, Unnumbered" which celebrates lesbian sexuality. Each group of students discussed one poem and briefly summarised their findings for the whole class at the end of the session.

View a detailed lesson plan of session 10 on ideologies of love and beauty.

The teaching objectives for this session proved to be rather more ambitious than what could effectively be achieved in two 90-minutes periods. Given the time constraints the lesson plan turned out to be more rushed than had been anticipated and some students concomitantly complained of "input overload". Generally, the temptation to try and cover more ground than is conceivably possible within the given time constraints is, in our experience, greater in a team-teaching situation than in one with an individual teacher. With team-teaching one has to allow not only for the presentation of the subject matter of the two individual disciplines involved but also for the combination of the two.

Evaluation - The Feedback from the Students

Altogether, 83 students signed up for this class, and 65 attended the class throughout the semester.4 The high number of attendees is partly explained by serious understaffing in the Linguistics section of the English Department at Hamburg University. However, it also demonstrates that there is a real need for such interdisciplinary courses. Concomitantly, student expectations of the class as expressed in their introductory questionnaires, were high. One student wrote: "I expect to gain a totally new awareness about advertising;" another wrote: "I expect to obtain a new grasp of poetry, of language and of the relationship between language and power;" still another one wrote: "I'd like to see a broad range of poetry covered, to see a lot of the different things that can be done with and by language - and then compare that to the usages in advertising." On the whole, students' expectations of the class seem to have been met, as is evidenced by the fact that their average grading of the class was "2" (on a grading scale of 1 to 5, with "1" expressing full agreement with a number of positive statements and "5" expressing complete disagreement with these statements). Likewise, in the section in which students were asked to write an evaluation statement, the majority praised our team-work, the enthusiasm we brought to the teaching of this class, as well as the selection of materials, and the relationship between fields that opened up new avenues of thought not previously considered. However, there were also two recurrent criticisms, which we take seriously and which should be considered in future such projects, namely the size of the class and the connection between the disciplines.

  1. The size of the class
  2. For many students the size of the class made it impossible for them to raise their concerns and opinions in class, it made group work tedious, and they felt ignored. Likewise, for us as teachers, our perception of how things went in the class was mainly based on the 20+ active participants while the remainder remained a more or less anonymous mass. Our vision of teaching as not only mere content-transmission but rather the facilitation of knowledge-making through human dialogic interaction was difficult to realise under these conditions. Therefore, we suggest that under conditions in which interdisciplinary project-oriented classes compete with more traditional classes and the former are perceived as more attractive than the latter, a mechanism has to be in place which ensures equitable distribution of participants over same-level classes available in a given department.

  3. The connection between the disciplines
  4. While we regularly met for preparation and review throughout the term and tried to make sure that the connection between literature studies and linguistics as well as between advertising and poetry was addressed throughout, many students voiced a criticism in their final evaluation that the connection and transition between our respective lectures or classroom discussions was not always clear for them. One student, for instance, complained of "confusing swip-swapping between teachers". This perception may have been due to time constraints: whenever a classroom discussion lasted longer than we had anticipated we tried to make up for that and still keep in line with our lesson plans by cutting on connections rather than the subject matter of the individual disciplines. So, as mentioned above, it is important to avoid an overload of material and plan for time to explore the connections between disciplines in the preparation of such interdisciplinary teaching projects.

Evaluation and conclusion

As teachers we found this a most rewarding course to teach - in terms of interactions with and feedback from students, in terms of the course's content, fit with the overall program and relevance to the students' careers, and in terms of collegial support we provided to each other. Despite a considerable time investment, which was about three times higher than it would have been for a more traditional format, and despite the fact that institutional constraints led to a much higher number of students than would have been the case if we had not been committed to such a project, we are convinced that this course and similar courses deserve repeating, deserve more work and reflection, deserve similar efforts, and particularly that they also deserve an institutional commitment rather than "mere" individual enthusiasm. Personally, we have been motivated to start pursuing co-operations also outside the English Department, namely with colleagues in History (Martin Klepper) and Marketing (Ingrid Piller).

The broad structure of the seminar proved to be an advantage and a disadvantage at the same time. On the one hand there was an ambitiously high amount of input for the students to swallow and process. The material to be covered in each session could easily have been spread out over two or three sessions. In planing the seminar, we may have underrated the time and thinking that human beings need to digest new material. On the other hand, the class certainly did fulfil its function as an introduction to the analysis of language for the specific purpose of advertising and poetry. It demonstrated to the students on how many different levels texts can be described and analysed, and it provided them with a variety of methods - concepts, terms, theories, questions - with which to do this.

As instructors we probably had some difficulty living up to our own expectations of representing the specific forms of analysis and inquiry our disciplines offered and, at the same time, to open inroads for comparison, contrast and 'bricolage' between the disciplines and fields of study. One related issue is the material: it would take much more research to find the ideal selection that "automatically" invites a comparison between poetry and ads, especially if one has the desire to stick to relatively classical poems so that the students obtain at least an inkling of the canon in this field.

To conclude, we do believe that interdisciplinary classes are feasible and rewarding. In correction to the seminar introduced in this article, next time we would probably cut down on the material, perhaps meet twice a week (for 90 minutes each) instead of once, and try to draw even more links between our two disciplines. We would also hope for stronger institutional support, for a debate in the field of English Studies about teaching practices and we would find it helpful to be able to access more material and ideas from colleagues - for which reason, we think, it makes sense to exchange teaching experiences just as much as it makes sense to exchange research.


*We contributed in equal amounts to this article and the project we report upon, and our names appear therefore in alphabetical order. Contact e-mail addresses of the authors are (Martin Klepper) and (Ingrid Piller). We are indebted to Catharina Rzeplinski for helpful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript.

0 Feel free to order a copy of the reader from Dr. Martin Klepper, Institut fuer Anglistik und Amerikanistik, Von-Melle-Park 6, Universitaet Hamburg, 20146 Hamburg. Please enclose DM5 and a self-addressed envelope.

1 e.e. cummings' term. See Link (1996) for additional references.

2 A 14-storey building of the University of Hamburg which houses the humanities' departments.

3 Cf. Hamburg's slogan, "Das Tor zur Welt."

4 The drop-out rate of 22% is in line with more traditional classes, and does not call for any explanation specific to this class.


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Appendix1: Lesson Plan of Session 2: "Graphics"








Review of the previous session



Students review central aim of the class and constitutive levels of texts

5 min


Compaq ad

Instructor- led discussion


Review of the categories 'language and paralanguage' as introduced in the reading assignment, and application to an example from advertising

10 min


Poem: Roger McGough ("40 - Love")

Classroom discussion


Application of the same categories to a poem

15 min


Graphological Poems



Students learn about different kinds of 'poempictures' and some questions for analysis

10 min


e e cummings ("In Just-")

Instructor- led discussion

Overhead projector, blackboard

Students discuss the functions of spacing, contractions and capitalisations in the poem

50 min








Lewis Carroll ("Mouse's Tale")


Overhead projector

Students discuss the relationship between the graphic and the verbal text

15 min


Peirce and iconicity

Instructor- led discussion


Students review Peirce's categorization of signs and learn about iconicity

20 min





Students explore logos and discuss their semiotic status

55 min



Appendix 2: Which product goes with the following (German) slogans?

A class of its own.

Auf diese Steine koennen Sie bauen.

Creating a higher standard.

Die Entdeckung einer neuen Welt.

Die Freiheit nehm' ich mir.

Die tun was.

Für die italienischen Momente im Leben.

Nicht immer, aber immer öfter.

The Power on your side.

Nichts ist unmöglich.

Vertrauen ist der Anfang von allem.

Leading to results.

Vorsprung durch Technick.




LBS/Schwäbisch Hall


Opel Frontera



Nescafe Capucchino




Deutsche Bank


Appendix 3: Which slogan(s) go with the following products?



British Airways


Dr. Best

Dr. Oetker








The Queen of Table Waters. / Trinken ist das Lachen der Götter.

Was wir machen ist rund.

The world's favourite airline.

Die ganze Welt per Tastendruck.

Die klügere Zahnbürste gibt nach.

Qualität ist das beste Rezept.

Deutschlands meiste Kreditkarte.

Für das Beste im Mann.

McDonalds ist einfach gut. / Every time a good time.

Where do you want to go today?

Come together.

Come to where the flavor is. / Come to Marlboro Country.



Appendix 4: Lesson Plan of Session 8: "Syntax I: Slogans and Haikus"








Review of the previous session



Students review automobile metaphors and their (re-) literalisation in poetry

10 min



Individual work with a questionnaire


Experimenting with the ubiquity and memorability of slogans

15 min





Students match slogans and brands correctly and see that most of them know/don't know the same slogans

20 min




Overhead slides

Students identify the strategies that make slogans memorable, catchy etc.

15 min


Syntactic and rhetorical strategies in slogans


Overhead slides, reader

Students get a systematic overview of the various strategies used in the coining of slogans

30 min









Student presentation

Overhead slides

Students are introduced to the haiku: the history of the genre, important poets, major patterns

20 min


Creative writing of slogans and haikus

Group work

Posters, markers

Students apply the strategies typically used in slogans and haikus to their own writing

60 min


Creative writing


Posters with student writing

Students comment upon their choices and experiences in writing slogans and haikus

10 min



Appendix 5: Lesson Plan of Session 10: "Pragmatics I: Ideologies of love and beauty"








Sex and gender



Students review the difference between the two terms and understand basic concepts of Gender Studies

10 min





Students review the history of the form, typical patterns and content

10 min


Gender and language



Students learn about gender as socially constructed, and maintained and contested through language

40 min


Shakespeare, Sonnet 130

Instructor-led discussion

Reader, blackboard

Students identify the ideology of feminine beauty contested in the poem

30 min








Ads for cosmetic products


Overhead slides, reader

Students identify ideology of feminine beauty as constructed in the ads

20 min





Students learn about the "co-dependence" of advertising and women's magazines

10 min


Elizabeth Browning "How Do I Love Thee?" Edna St. Vincent Millay's "Women have loved before as I love now" Adrienne Rich' "The Floating Poem, Unnumbered"

Group work


Students discuss subversions and contestations of gender ideologies in these poems

60 min




This article reports upon an interdisciplinary teaching project in linguistics and literary studies conducted in the English Department of Hamburg University. The teaching project was motivated by a perceived lack of communication between linguistics and literary studies, and by a similarity between the text types of poetry and advertising which has as yet gone largely unexplored. In this article we first describe our motivations for the project as well as our motivations in publishing this report. We then go on to describe the development, implementation and evaluation of the project. The article contains three detailed lesson plans and an invitation to appropriate them in other contexts. The in-depth discussion of didactic questions is intended to instigate debate about the teaching practices in English Studies at German universities.