Strength for Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow

Volume 3 : 3 March 2003

Editor: M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
Associate Editors: B. Mallikarjun, Ph.D.
         Sam Mohanlal, Ph.D.
         B. A. Sharada, Ph.D.




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Copyright © 2001
M. S. Thirumalai


L. Ramamoorthy, Ph.D.


Language and society are closely related to each other. Language reflects the social realities. At the same time any social change that takes place in the society leaves its imprints on the language.

One of the much talked about social processes of this era is globalization. The collapse of the Soviet Union, the emergence of unipolar world, and the victory of the liberal economic agenda are said to be the factors responsible for the emergence of this new social and economic order. With the revolutionary changes in the telecommunication and information technology, the finance, goods and other resources can easily be mobilised on a global scale.

The following example illustrates the mobilization of production and marketing due to globalization (cited in Ajit Ray 1997:48).

Some models of Honda automobiles are designed in Japan and assembled in the United States with American labours and with parts manufactured in Europe, the US and Japan. Is this Honda a Japanese car? In truth it is a global car coming from a Japanese company which has become a global company.

Such types of production and marketing that have encompassed the world have also affected Indian market and economy. In India, the economic policy of the government that encourages liberalization and privatization of industries, etc., has paved the way for globalization. This has resulted in the creation of new types of domination, which not only affect the values of the society but also create a new type of culture. Since Language is a means of communication and is part of culture, it has to equip itself to express these changes.

I make an attempt in this paper to study the language of globalization as revealed in the advertisements published in mass media such as newspapers. Transnational corporations that try to attract customers for their products communicate with their prospective customers through attractive advertisements. The study of these advertisements offers an excellent opportunity to observe how globalization exploits local language nuances and mechanisms to its advantage.

Media is the vital force that actually propels the process of globalization to its profitable end. Even as the international products are sold throughout the nation, the information about these products is mediated through advertisements and other forms of communication in local languages.

One can see the effects of globalization in the visual media more fully than in the print media. The term language of globalization here means two things:

  1. The language through which globalization is realized or translated.
  2. The traces of globalization and transnational values as a result of globalization, on the language.

Since our aim is to study these two aspects, the data for this paper is collected from advertisements that appeared in two newspapers, namely, (Dinamalar and Dinamani), Tamil satellite T.V's, Sun, Vijay, and Raj, and the Tamil edition of "India Today" magazine. The data collection is not systematic and exhaustive, but selective.


Some scholars equate globalization with Americanization. These scholars consider that the language of globalization is English. If globalization is equated with Americanization, and if English is the American language, we need to study how the globalization process is carried out in the Third World countries, where English is learned as a foreign or second language. Since most people still may not understand English well enough, is globalization advanced through translation or some other process?

The main purpose of translation is, to enrich a language. However, there is also another function that is very important for the multilingual countries. In these countries translation is exploited to foster national integration. In a multilingual nation such as India or Pakistan, translation becomes the only means to understand and appreciate the language and culture of the other communities. Globalization also advocates some form of integration and unification with different perspectives. Though Indian culture is heterogeneous in character and plural in manifestation, these are threads of commonness among different language groups. This has evolved from the historical experiences and is drawn from a variety of sources.

In such situations the task of translation is somewhat difficult because no two languages, as stated by Sapir (1956:69), are ever sufficient to be considered as representing the same reality. The worlds in which different societies exist and prosper are distinct worlds, not merely the same world with different labels attached. This being the case, then, how globalization can be or should be achieved by crossing language and cultural barriers? In order to answer these questions, one needs to have some insights into the processes of globalization.


Scholars from various disciplines such as sociology, political science, economics, and geography have perceived globalization differently, and tried to define it from various angles. Taking cues from these definitions (cited in Guillian, 2001:236) we can understand globalization in the following lines:

  • Compression of space and time, shrinking of world.
  • Commodity of chains whereby production is coordinated on a global scale.
  • Increasing technological scale and information flow.
  • Increasing cross border flow of goods, services, money, people, information, and culture.
  • Diffusion of practices, values, and technology that have an influence on people's life worldwide.

From these definitions, we can find some common concepts like mutual interdependence, exchange, and sharing of the community around the world in all aspects such as social, economic, cultural, and even linguistic aspects. Our concern here is with regard to language. So linguistically speaking, globalization is the emergence of languages that are common cross-culturally and across national boundaries. The global communication leads to some extent functional homogenization of culture and language. These two aspects, namely, homogenization of culture and homogenization of language, are particularly relevant for translating globalization as a reality. The active responses of sub-national languages and cultures to the global force are also very important for their own survival and progress.


At the language level, it is an accepted fact that English acquired the status of global domination as a consequence of the economic domination achieved by the English-speaking world. Apart from this, the globalization process leads to the growth of metropolitan cities and business, capital, and industrial cities with mosaic-like distribution of people from different regions. The lingua franca of these people is usually English, and some other language may be used as a supplementary language. These factors favor linguistic homogenization through English. But, each nation has its own language selected by the people for their symbolic and instrumental purpose. Though linguistic homogenization is possible to certain extent, the national languages and the uneducated people who constitute the vote banks in a nation like India that act as the stumbling block for homogenization. Even then, efforts to encourage and establish this type of homogenization are felt in print and Television media. This can be illustrated by taking the advertisements in these media.

As for the advertisements in print media, they are either in English or English dominated Tamil language advertisements. Advertisements for certain international products such as Honda, Ford, and Mitsubishi appear in English even in Tamil newspapers. Acquaintance with English is assumed to be a hallmark of affluence. It is assumed that buyers of these international products prefer to use English for communication, or prefer English as a mark of prestige. No translation is made or even attempted for such advertisements. Moreover, in the Tamil advertisements that publicize the international products, there are lots of English vocabulary that are adopted as such. For example, Samsung products are advertised using phrases such as wire-free talaimuRai (wire-free generation), and rompa smarta:na (very smart).

In the case of television media also, we can see the domination of globalization process through English. All the advertisements in satellite Tamil Television channels give captions in English. If a person views the TV keeping the TV in mute state, it would look as if he were watching an English channel, not a Tamil channel. The pictures associated with the products are images not native to Tamil, and the brand titles are presented in English. This makes one to feel the effects of globalization.

Apart from the cost of production for these advertisements, the fact that the products cross regional boundaries may be given as a justification for using English. The voice used in the advertisement reveals the language background of the speaker, which happens to be local language. However the face happens to be a foreign-looking face. The globalization makes us to get accustomed to these strange features: pictures with English title in uncoordinated lip movements with foreign faces, and voice from a regional language speaker. Here the translations are done only for the audio part. The technological and advanced communicational facilities make the world to shrink and pave way for homogenization. Maximizing the profit for the transnational capital investment is achieved through a blend of English and the local language. If the advertisements are in English alone, the expected profit may not be made. To achieve maximum benefit with minimum investment in advertisements, the voices alone are translated into regional languages.


Culture seems to be a cover term for innumerable elements. It encompasses elements ranging from simple food habits, use of articles, travel habits, and attire to belief, faith sentiments, and, emotions, etc. Cultural aspects of any text is untranslatable but it can be adequately interpreted. The homgenization of culture due to globalization process results in the marginalization of indigenous cultures. The cultural invention represented by the rapid intrusion of electronic media through advertisements tends to create the impression that the global forces are introducing new cultural elements, i.e. consumer culture.

The consumer culture makes the commodities free to take on a wide range of cultural association and illusion. Advertisements, in particular, are able to exploit this and attach the images of romance, beauty, exotica, good life, etc., to the mundane consumer goods such as soaps, washing machine, cell phone, etc. (Featherstone, 1991). Advertisements attach a type of values to those items to attract customers. These values encouraged by globalization include, among others, travel and inter-connectivity. Cultural domination from the developed nations can be seen in the advertisements.

Apart from media and trade, travel is a basic feature of globalization. For the sake of attracting foreign currency from international tourists, governments show interest in projecting traditional culture, monuments, arts, dance forms, spiritual disciplines such as Yoga, and music. Most of the private channels in Tamil telecast the important tourist spots and other historically important places. This type of telecasts not only helps the people to learn about the places but also helps to mobilize money in terms of travels. The highest form of consumer culture is the commercialization of leisure time. Even holidays are made as commodity, which is a new element to Indian culture, and this is seen in a few advertisements. The advertisements given by 'Thomas Cook ' and 'Cox and Kings' agencies have the following translations in their advertisements in which holidays are priced.

Thomas Cook - - - Best Holidays, Honest Price
CiRanta viTumuRai, CiRappaana vilaiyil
Cox and Kings - - - We work harder on your holidays unkal viTumuRaikku Na:nkal ulaikkiro:m

Inter-connectivity is another feature of globalization. Many things are said to circulate ranging from people to money, culture to information, etc. The inter-connection between two big corporations joining hands to project their products is commonly seen in advertisements by the phrase, iNaintu vazankum' , presenting jointly together.

The establishment of franchise shops ranging from McDonald's to Levis, and Pizza culture in Tamilnadu seem to be a type of cultural homogenization. Apart from this, there is a type of cultural domination through TV, newspapers, fast food, soft drinks, clothes, and other cultural artifacts.

The celebration of Valentine's Day and Mother's Day as ka:talar tinam and annaiyar tinam in Tamil Satellite TV are due to the impact of cultural importation through globalization. Though these concepts are new to Tamil society, the satellite TV channels offer special programs for the whole day only to get sponsorship advertisements from commercial companies. The celebrated Days simply promote trade and profit in the guise of culture.


In order to understand the type of processes that operate on language in the era of globalization, we need to contrast these processes with those of modernization. Globalization can easily influence the Indian society because of its inter-connection with modernity. Panikkar (1997) states that people consider this as an opportunity to organize modern life through this modernity parameter. Though modernization is used as a cover term to any social change that takes place in a society at different periods, the role of languages in these process is different. There are many terms such as Sanskritization, westernization, industrialization, and now globalization that are equated with the term modernization. However, they have different types of adaptation in languages.

Modernization and globalization in India are due to the impact of the western contacts. At the ideological level, certain characteristics of the European society, namely, the principles of equality and freedom, and the knowledge based on reason were experienced by the Indian society during the 19th century. The Indian society was organized on the basis of individuals with unequal rights, differential action of freedom and functions based on faith and authority reinforced by mythology (Annamalai, 2001). Indian society was modernized during the 19th century by transforming the traditional values of religion, faith, etc., to secularism, and equal rights. However, in the case of globalization, it is induced by information and technological revolution, which paved way for indirect domination. Global trade and transnational economy dominate the scene, which result in a new type of culture.

When we talk about these processes in terms of language, the modernization process, attains inter-translatability with the languages of industrial countries by developing new vocabulary and discourse for new area of knowledge. This helps making a language on par with the so-called developed languages of the world when it is used in new domains of activity. On this basis, translating technical terms from English carried out modernization of Indian languages. Majority of the technical terms in administration were coined on the basis of one to one translation though same creations were also found (Ramamoorthy 2000).

In the case of globalization, it is not the endeavor of the language community or government to promote the language to a global level as in the case of modernization. The regional languages are at the receiving end. Domination in the form of economy and marketing penetrates into the regional languages. The industrialists, traders, and their marketing techniques play a major role in shaping the languages.

A cursory glance of the advertisements portrays this aspect of globalization. The free flow of foreign goods in India is shown in advertisements by the following phrases.

  1. intiya:vil mutal muraiya:ka (first time in India) -- Diafite
  2. ualakattaram vaintha (of world-class quality) -- National
  3. Japa:niya tolil nuTpam (Japanese technology) -- Akai

There is a phrase in advertisements that is often used to donote both "introductory offer" and "entry of the product" in Indian market.

The advertisements make use of three different types of method to market the international products. They are:

  1. Adaptation
  2. Product oriented translation
  3. Transcreation

As mentioned in the earlier part of this paper, adaptation technique is exploited for some items like Mitsubishi, Lancer, Hundai, etc.

Using English expressions straight is one way of adaptation. The advertisement for 'Coke' shows another type of adaptation. Eco (1988) explained that Coco-cola is the symbol of affluence for America from the use of the word 'more' in their advertisement, more coke, as in other usages like some more coffee, more to come. When Coke was introduced in India, the traders took the same symbol for Indian consumers also. The phrases 'Dil monge more', inta uLLam ke:tkume: mo:r represent the adaptation of certaom foreign cultural symbols due to globalization.

The second type of translation is very interesting as well as important for market economy. The character of the product is mixed with the offer or price, thereby new types of constructions in Tamil are created. This type of translations may be called a 'product oriented translation'.

palicciTum calavai - - - 'brilliant wash' (Washing machine)
palicciTum calukai 'brilliant discount' (in price)

Inter-connectivity: Three or four items combined.

icaiva:na vilai - - - 'agreeable price' Akai Audio

The third type of technique adopted in the advertisement is transcreation. In this type of advertisements, there will be no connection between English text and translated text.

The storm in your palm - - - (idu enna instant puyalappa:?)

There are certain advertisements, which are highly contextual and localized. Contextualization and localization are the techniques of globalization. The products are from other countries, but the advertisements are in localized format.

The example for this type of advertisements are from Pepsi and Coca-cola.

The use of the phrase 'fanta' by the leading cine star in a movie is the best example for transforming the local concept to a global product. The term fanta is used for the indigeneous soft drinks in rural areas.

Another type of transcreation in the advertisements is the use of colloquial variety of Tamil. The use depends upon the nature of products. These advertisements carry many spelling and syntax errors.

Though globalization is a wide spread phenomenon, millions of people are untouched by globalization Venkata Rao (2002) states that it may sound paradoxical to state that the agents of globalization are also keeping the cultural tradition alive. Language is also a cultural institution. The virtual media uses colloquial Tamil in most of the advertisements for the conversation part. The captions of these advertisements are in written pronunciation.

The tradition of diglossia is maintained in visual media. Even though everyone thinks that language of globalization is English, it is not really so in actual/ practical situation. The local languages, especially colloquial and regional varieties, are mostly used in visual media.

The analysis given by Tsing (2002) for globalism can be cited as a reason for this type of usage. Tsing says that global thinkers imagine the local to be the stopping point for global circulation. It is the place where the global flows are consumed, incorporated, and restricted. It is the place where global flows fragment and are transformed into something place-bound and particular. That is why the international products are introduced through colloquial usages with local icons/stars. The globalization process is penetrating into the Tamil society through English upto certain level. But the products and the target population of the product also play a significant role in the selection of the language.


Globalisation revolves around market economy and information technology. In this context, the control over the language is not in the hands of scholars or academic institutions. It is shaped by the traders and marketing agencies. The traders give contextual and localized flavor to the foreign products and hence new types of collocation are created in the regional languages.


Annamalai, E. 2001. Managing Multilingualism in India: Political and Linguistic Manifestations. New Delhi: Sage.

Mike Featherstone. 1991. Consumer Culture and Post Modernism. Delhi: Sage.

Ferguson, Charles. 1968. 'Language Development'. In Fishman et al(ed.) Language Problems of Developing Nations. New York: William Sons.

Ajit Muricken (ed.) 1997. Globalization and SAP: Trends and Impact - An Overview. Mumbai: Vikas Adhiyayan Kendra.

Panikkar, K.V. 1997. 'Globalization and Culture'. In Ajit Murican (ed.)

Ramamoorthy.L. 2000. Modernization in Tamil with Special Reference to Administration. Pondicherry: PILC.

Venkata Rao, 2002. 'Globalization and Anthropology.' The Eastern Anthropologist. Vol 55:1.

Ajit Roy 1997. "Civil Society and the Nation State In the Context of Globalization". In Ajit Muricken (ed.).

Umberto, Eco 1986. "Travels in Hyper Reality" Essays. - Translated from the Italian by VVibiam Weaver, (PICADOR).

Anna Tsing 2000, 'The Global Situation.' Cultural Anthropology, Vol.15:3.

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L. Ramamoorthy, Ph.D.
Pondicherry Institute of Linguistics and Culture
Pondicherry, India.