The genre of the matrimonial advertisements
Arun Kumar Ph.D.
This article discusses various rhetorical and linguistic aspects of matrimonial advertisements from a weekly newspaper published from the USA. The language of such ads is studied under different theoretical frameworks. The notions of Russell (1998) and Winsor (1999) about relationship between text and context is used to demonstrate influence of context over text in the language used in matrimonial ads. Since the genre of matrimonial ads has never been studied, such genre was analyzed following Bhatia’s (1993) approach to analyzing unfamiliar genres and move structure in ads by Bhatia (2004). These ads were also examined in the light of Cook’s (2001) notion of discourse and genre of advertisement, and finally a look at whether the readers and writers form a “Discourse Community” of Swales (1990).
The results of this study are based on eleven issues of the publication between March 2004 and November 2005. Significant findings of this research indicate that the text of matrimonial ads is shaped by socioeconomic and psychological factors. The readers and writers form a discourse community as conceptualized by Swales (1990) and to a certain extent they appear to share a common “genre knowledge” for effective communication with each other. Matrimonial ads are a very distinct form of advertising since they lack most features common to ads for ideas, goods and services described by Cook (2001). This line of work in sociolinguistic writing has far reaching implications for understanding how different Indian communities within India and outside have changed since 1947, the year India became an independent country due mainly to educational and socioeconomic advancements. The change in psychological perspective of different Indian communities on marriage can be meaningfully studied if the scope and objectives of present study is expanded and widened in time and space i.e., studying language of matrimonial ads from newspapers and magazines published from different parts of India and outside India since 1947.
The present work examines the text and the language of matrimonial ads in the weekly newspaper in the light of various theories of writing. An attempt is made to explore the genre of matrimonial ads and to conduct a genre analysis of such ads in the weekly newspaper using concepts and methods of Bhatia (1993, 2004). Cook (2001) discusses the indeterminacy of definitions, and the impossibility of establishing clear boundaries between one genre and another. He also presents twenty-six features as being prototypical of ads rather than as definitive components. Matrimonial ads are examined in the light of all these twenty-six features to see how such ads compare with traditional ads for ideas, goods, and services. Further I investigate whether the readers and writers are a discourse community as defined by Swales (1990).
Background of the work
The concept of arranged marriage and thus matchmaking of bride and groom has been an integral part of the Indian psyche for generations. Despite all the social modernization and economic development, deep rooted cultural, social, and psychological attitudes still play a predominant role in the decision-making process regarding the selection of a suitable bride or a groom within a family. This process of matchmaking is quite complex, it not only seeks approval from family members and close relatives but in traditional Hindu families it also requires approval of the family priest or an astrologer. An astrologer does the job of horoscope matching of the prospective bride and groom and advises concerned families whether to go ahead with marriage or not. Sometimes he/she predicts the future of a particular marriage, although not too many people believe in such predictions these days. The astrologer also advises both families about an auspicious time of the year for the marriage. Earlier marriage proposals used to come from family members, relatives, friends, and acquaintances. But during the past few decades Indian society has undergone a sea-change and time has become a precious commodity. People want many marriage proposals from a wider range of society in the shortest possible time, thus matrimonial ads were born and now they are very much in vogue. The most common information required for a marriage proposal are a horoscope and information about the family background, a post card size color photograph, details of requirements of the boy or the girl, and the email addresses or telephone number of the boy or the girl and their parents. Matrimonial advertising is a big business in India and outside where Indian diaspora inhabits. There is hardly any newspaper or magazine, national or regional, published in any one of a multitude of languages that does not have week-end editions reserved for matrimonial ads. Such ads run in hundreds of thousands every week and reflect India’s linguistic, religious, regional, and cultural diversity, along with people’s hopes, aspirations, and expectations. With the advent of internet, the business of matrimonial advertising has reached a new high in the cyberspace. Most astrologers have gone “high-tech”, and they use software programs to make instant horoscopes based on information about the date, time, and place of birth. A search for matrimonial ads in Yahoo results in 828,000 sites and a Google search results in 459,000 sites (in 2005). It is obvious that such high numbers of matrimonial ads can’t be all Indian because several other Asian cultures too practice arranged marriages, thus for matrimonial matchmaking they too have their websites. But it is certainly safe to assume that most of such sites are for Indian consumers. The online versions of Indian newspapers and magazines are full of ads on e-matchmaking, chatting, and/or dating etc. reflecting a behavioral change in the society, especially in urbanized India.
Matrimonial ads use specific language and a style that reflects the above-mentioned requirements. Since such ads cost money, a minimum number of words are used to convey the maximum amount of information, thus language becomes “telegraphic”. There is a need to study the language of such unique ads in the socio- cognitive context mainly because of their distinctive discourse. A rhetorical and linguistic study and genre analysis of these ads forms the basis of this work.
The present study of the genre of the matrimonial ads and its other linguistic aspects employs a theoretical framework that includes aspects of Vygoskian activity theory used by Russell (1998) and Winsor (1999), genre theory and genre analysis by Bhatia (1993, 2004), genre of the advertisements (Cook, 2001) and the concept of “discourse community” by Swales (1990).
A. Vygotskian activity theory and matrimonial advertisements
Russell (1997) discusses Vygotskian activity theory and its influence on composition studies. Its growing significance lies in its ability to analyze the dynamic social interactions mediated by writing at both micro-level (psychological and interpersonal) and macro-level (sociological and cultural). The uses of Activity theory have come mainly through its intersection with North American genre theory, where genres are seen as dynamic local realizations of specific social purposes of intersecting groups (re)negotiating power. Winsor (1999) says that Vygotskian Activity theory offers two advantages in theorizing how change and continuity can coexist: It expands our ability to see how text and context influence one another.
Using the above-mentioned notions of Vygotskian Activity theory by Russell (1998) and Winsor (1999), this work explores matrimonial advertisements in the weekly newspaper. The following points have been investigated (1) How text and context influence one another? (2) Can they be analyzed at micro-level (psychological and interpersonal) and macro-level (sociological and cultural)? (3) Do they serve specific social purpose of intersecting groups?
B. Genre theory and genre analysis
Genre researchers like Miller (1984) and Swales (1990) maintain that through recurrent use and typification, these conventionalized forms of writing become vehicles by which knowledge and information get disseminated to a community of people with shared interests (Ramanathan and Kaplan (2000)). Swales (1990) offers a definition of genre as, “A genre comprises a class of communicative events, the members of which share some set of communicative purposes. These purposes are recognized by the expert members of the parent discourse community, and thereby constitute the rationale for the genre. This rationale shapes the schematic structure of the discourse and influences and constrains choice of content and style”. Exemplars of a genre exhibit various patterns of similarity in terms of structure, style, and content. The application of genre analysis is not merely restricted to academic writing. According to Bhatia (2004) “the real world of discourse is complex, dynamic, versatile, and unpredictable, and often confusing and chaotic; thus, genre analysis is now used in the discourse of all kinds of non-academic writing also”. Bhatia (1993, 2004) has discussed the concept of and various approaches to genre analysis and provided a very clear view of their form and functions. He further sates that “Discourse analysis, of which applied genre analysis is a recent but a very significant development, is a multidisciplinary activity to which a number of researchers from a variety of disciplines in the last quarter of century have been drawn”. He discusses genre analysis under distinct and meaningful headlines. They are “Linguistics and genre analysis”, “Sociology and genre analysis”, “Psychology and genre analysis” and provides the following points for analyzing unfamiliar genres, they are (1) Placing the genre-text in a situational context (2) Surveying existing literature (3) Refining the situational/ contextual analysis (4) Selecting corpus (5) Studying institutional context, and (6) Two levels of linguistic analysis, firstly analysis of lexico-grammatical features, and secondly analysis of text-patterning or textualization. This work analyzes matrimonial ads on the above six points.
C. The genre of advertisements
Cook (2001) provides an extensive discussion on diverse aspects of advertisement. He discusses indeterminacy of definitions, and the impossibility of establishing clear boundaries between one genre and another, he presents twenty-six features as prototypical of ads rather than as definitive components. This work evaluates the matrimonial ads in the light of Cook’s (2001) notion of advertisement genre.
Matrimonial ads were studied for the purpose of genre analysis from the eleven issues of the weekly newspaper between March 2004 and November 2005. The issues of studied were from the last week editions of alternate months beginning March 2004. All the ads in each of these eleven issues were read and twelve examples of such ads were subjected to Bhatia’s (1993) “Analyzing unfamiliar genres” and “Move structure in advertisements” (Bhatia, 2004).
Results and discussion
Matrimonial ads were classified into matrimonial bride (looking for grooms) and matrimonial groom (looking for brides). Each issue has anything from 75 to over 100 ads, and ads for matrimonial brides were always more (55-60%) than for grooms (40-45%). This indicates higher parental concern for their daughters’ marriage than sons and up to an extent it also indicates that daughters tend to heed more to parental advice than sons as far as their marriage is concerned.
The language used in matrimonial ads is quite distinct, full of superlatives and provides basic information on individuals looking for marriage proposals and his or her requirements. Such ads provide information about region, religion, caste, age, gender,
personality, education, profession, and expected requirements from the would-be spouse. In a sense such ads are like marketing a product. They tend be sexist in the sense that these ads highlight the perceived notions of Indian values about the bride and the groom. For example, parents of a girl would highlight the “discreet feminine charm”, “family values”, “expertise in home-making” etc. perceived in Indian culture to be very important for a bride. Indians tend to be extremely color-conscious, when it comes to choosing a bride they look for fairer skin in a prospective bride. This is not necessarily true for the groom though. The expectations from boys are their achievements in education, type of profession, level of earning and employment, handsome or otherwise, family background etc. Although I must admit that such stereotypes are slowly but steadily fading, younger people in this e-generation do not always follow such norms.
The following 12 examples of the matrimonial ads were selected as representative samples from among thousands of matrimonial ads. They represent religious, social, cultural, and economic diversity of the Indian diaspora in North America and also express their expectations, aspirations and their mind-set about marriage and family.
1. Matrimonial Bride
“32/5’6” BS MD MS FRCS Surgeon, Fellowship from USA, Board certified specialist in USA and Canada, published many acclaimed research papers, Asstt. Prof. Surgery in a prestigious Mid-West University, Canadian Citizen, Punjabi Arora, beautiful, fair, highly accomplished daughter. Proposals from tall, below 36, never married, equally qualified MD specialists (US/Canada qualified only) or in advanced post-fellowship training, and willing to relocate, preferably Punjabi Hindu/clean shaven Sikh. Photo (must) detailed bio-data: Email…………”
2. Matrimonial Groom
“Financially secure, very honest, loving, caring male, age 59, US Citizen, been in the US for the last 28 years, looking to share life and dreams with a sincere, honest, family-oriented lady, 40+ age. Caste no bar. Respond with photo and biodata. Address……...”
3. Matrimonial Bride
“LONDON (UK) based well-established, affluent Lohana Gujarati family invites proposals for their daughter, US citizen, studying medicine, doing 3rd year of MD residency. Born in October 1981, 5’5” (166 cm) with a fair complexion, she is smart, confident and lively. She loves music, classical dance and is a talented graceful Bharatnatyam dancer. Seeks alliance from a smart, tall (5’ 10” +) medical graduate, born 1976-1980, and preferably from a Gujarati family. Direct Email…………Will be on a medical rotation in Florida in Jan 2005”
4. Matrimonial Bride
“WELL-ESTABLISHED Ramgarhia Sikh parents invite correspondence from Non-Turbaned Sikh doctors, engineers, degree professionals; for Toronto based Dual Graduate Software Engineer girl, 24/162. Caste no bar. Please reply with complete educational, family background, latest photograph to Email……….”
5. Matrimonial Bride
“Gujarati Sunni Muslim girl, 39, green-card holder, seeking Gujarati Sunni Muslim match. (From brother) Phone……”
6. Matrimonial Groom
“Iyer Bharadwaj; divorcee 38, MBA, CPA; vegetarian, working in financial services company in Boston; seeks bride living in Northeast area. Sub caste acceptable. Contact, Email……”
7. Matrimonial Bride
“ALLIANCE invited for Bisa Oswal Marwari girl, 42 years good looking, homely, educated, well-traveled, brief marriage, issueless, previously lived in US for 7 years, belonging to respectable family. Prefer educated, vegetarian, financially sound, and pleasing personality, 42-45 years, Marwari boy from respectable family. Email……”
8. Matrimonial Bride
“BROTHER invites proposal for his sister, 25 years 5’8”, the most beautiful girl you would have ever seen, recent law graduate belonging to a highly respected Gur Sikh family. Only turbaned Sikhs must send their biodata with picture. Email……...”
9. Matrimonial Bride
“CHRISTIAN physician (Double Boarded Cardiologist), USA born, 35/5’6” years, never married. Distinguished NI Physician family background. Send biodata and photo. Email...............”
10. Matrimonial Groom
“ALLIANCE invited from beautiful, tall, professional Protestant Christian girls; for 32-year-old, tall (6’) and handsome US born, Senior Consultant Engineer (MS & PE). Send bio-data and photo to: Email………”
11. Matrimonial Groom
“CLEAN shaven Sikh MD, completed residency, joining fellow-ship. Handsome Italian looks, pleasant personality; seeks Sikh/Punjabi medical/professional outdoor loving life partner. Please respond. Email……...”
12. Matrimonial Groom
“MUSLIM parents invite correspondence for son based in San Francisco, 30/5’8”, athletic, fair and handsome. Bachelors and Masters from Ivy League University in Engineering. Working at a very senior executive position in a large corporation. Please contact at Email…... Green card and citizen only”
Using Russell’s (1998) and Winsor’s (1999) notions of relationship between text and context, this work examines how context influences text. The relationship and interdependency between the text and the context is not obvious in these examples, however, the influence of context over text is very evident in these matrimonial ads, for example, “caste no bar”, “green card holder” and “green card and citizen only”, “brief marriage, issueless”, “looking to share life and dreams” and “never married, equally qualified”. The caste-based division of Indian society is very evident in these ads, when a person says “caste no bar” it could mean one of two things, either the person does not believe in the caste system, or he/she desires to reach wider audience for larger number of responses by not restricting the proposals from certain caste only. The desire of Indian settlers in North America to have family alliances within Indo-North American community here is growing and that is evident in the phrase “green card and citizen only”. This means that families want to have marriage alliances with other Indian immigrants in the USA or US citizens from India only. The phrase “brief marriage, issueless” is used by divorcees without children who want to get married again, likewise “looking to share life and dreams” is used by older persons hoping to get married to someone compatible with his/her age. The phrase “never married, equally qualified” is used by never married highly educated Indian professionals who are either in their late thirties or early forties and are looking for marriage proposals from persons of similar background.
The analysis of these matrimonial ads both at a micro-level (psychological and interpersonal) and at a macro-level (sociological and cultural) leads to some very interesting observations. For example, a clean-shaven Sikh doctor emphasizes his “Italian looks”, a family’s emphasis on the beauty of their daughter “the most beautiful girl you would have ever seen”, or emphasis on the academic achievements “published many acclaimed research papers” or emphasis on music and dance “loves music, classical dance and is a talented graceful Bharatnatyam dancer”. Food habits, social stratification and a degree of social acceptance are observed in “vegetarian” and “sub caste acceptable”, also religious and denominational preferences are seen in “CHRISTIAN physician” and “Protestant Christian girls”. The use of such phrases in the matrimonial ads clearly shows psychological and interpersonal attitudes of certain people. All these twelve ads exemplify the social and cultural aspects of Indian society that puts a lot of emphasis on high education, professionalism, economic advancement and social status, religion, arts, caste, and sub-caste, looks and health etc.
Do such matrimonial ads serve specific social purpose of intersecting groups? The answer is yes. Looking at the enormous volume of matrimonial ads in the newspapers and magazines all over India or wherever Indian community lives around the globe, it is amply clear that such ads play an important role in a diverse variety of groups within the Indian society.
Are the writers and readers of the weekly newspaper a discourse community? I investigated this question using Swales’ (1990) notion of six defining characteristics identifying a group of individuals as a discourse community. Let me examine each characteristic individually. (1) “A discourse community has a broadly agreed set of common public goals”. It is argued that writers and readers have a common set of goals, i.e., they want to keep themselves up to date about the news and events in India and events around the world that affect Indian communities. (2) “It has mechanisms of intercommunication among its members”. Every issue has a page for “Letters to the Editor”. This page serves as a platform for intercommunication among the readers. People argue endlessly on a wide range of controversial issues by writing letters to the editor. (3) “It uses its participatory mechanisms primarily to provide information and feedback”. The “Opinion Page” and “Letters to the Editor” fulfill this aspect of discourse community. (4) “It utilizes and hence possesses one or more genres in the communicative furtherance of its aims”. It possesses and utilizes diverse genres like editorial, political commentary, business reports and economic analysis, sports and cinema etc. to further its primary aim to reach as far as possible in the Indian communities. (5) “In addition to owning genres, it has also acquired some specific lexis”. This is very true because the language is Indian English which is a very distinct form of World Englishes (Kachroo, 1983). Indian English uses many words borrowed from other Indian languages which have been incorporated and successfully used in modern Indian English. (6) “It has a threshold level of members with a suitable degree of relevant content and discoursal expertise”. The audience and readership is global but is primarily concentrated in the USA and Canada. Readers and writers of this newspaper are educated professionals having discoursal expertise. Swales (1990) states that such communities need not be academic only but could be a group of people having a common interest. Thus, according to Swales’ (1990) descriptive criteria for defining a “discourse community”, the writers and readers of the weekly newspaper do indeed constitute a discourse community.
The genre of the matrimonial advertisements
Bhatia (1993) provides six points to investigate and analyze unfamiliar genre. I discuss five of them in the light of matrimonial ads. (1) Placing the genre-text in a situational context. The texts used for matrimonial ads are like any other matrimonial ads in other newspapers or magazines in India with minor differences emanating from the socioeconomic differences between Indian communities in India and North America. The importance given to the immigrant status, or the citizenship is significant part of the ad. The older age marriage which could be second or may be in rare cases even third appears to be more common among Indians in North America than India. This is evident in the ad, “Financially secure, very honest, loving, caring male, age 59, US Citizen, been in the US for the last 28 years, looking to share life and dreams with a sincere, honest, family-oriented lady, 40+ age. Caste no bar. Respond with photo and bio-data”. People at the age 59 are unlikely to marry in India. The text used in this ad is probably by a retired male who wishes to marry someone from a similar background as his own. This is indicated by “family-oriented lady, 40+ age” and to widen his response group he adds “Caste no bar”. (2) Surveying existing literature. I am not aware of any literature on ethnographic, sociologic, or linguistic study of matrimonial ads. The internet search on linguistic study of matrimonial ads did not yield any meaningful information except for an article describing matrimonial ads in India that was published in The Korea Times (Mukherjee, 2005). I have read many matrimonial ads in Hindi and English newspapers in India, the text and the style used in such ads is quite similar. (3) Refining the situational/ contextual analysis. Matrimonial ads are usually written on behalf of a man or a woman by the parents, but it is also common to see ads coming from uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters, or even close relatives also. It is very rare to see someone writing an ad for himself or herself, but older people tend put their own ad because of social taboos against old age marriage in Indian society. The textual reality clearly defines the audience, their relationship, and their goals. (4) Studying the institutional context. According to Bhatia (1993) institutional context includes system and/or methodology in which the genre is used and the rules and conventions (linguistic, social, cultural, academic, professional) that govern the use of language in such institutional settings. The rules and conventions that govern matrimonial ads are controlled by advertising space which is at a premium anyway. Maximum information is given with minimum words. Thus, the text of a matrimonial ad becomes “telegraphic”, for example see the ad, “CLEAN shaven Sikh MD, completed residency, joining fellow-ship Handsome Italian looks, pleasant personality; seeks Sikh/Punjabi medical/ professional outdoor loving life partner”. (5) Levels of linguistic analysis; Level 1. Analysis of lexico-grammatical features. The rampant use of superlatives like “beautiful, fair, highly accomplished”, “very honest”, “well-established, affluent”, “the most beautiful girl you would have ever seen” characterize matrimonial ads. The lexis related to the caste, community, social hierarchy, food habits, immigrant status, religion, region, and native language are commonly used. Since text of these ads is very compressed, they hardly follow any rules of grammar, and they use comma and semi-colon abundantly. Level 2. Analysis of text-patterning or textualization. The text of matrimonial ads does not offer much for text-patterning or textualization.
Bhiatia (2004) discusses extensively the diverse aspects of genre theory and genre analysis and provides a classification scheme for promotional genres at various genre levels as “genre colony”, “genre” and “sub-genre”. Matrimonial ads, according to this classification scheme would be a sub-genre belonging to the genre of the advertisements. He further illustrates move structure in advertisements as an example of advertisement discourse. There are nine moves in a typical ad, I will examine how many of them apply to matrimonial ads. 1. Headlines (no); 2. Targeting the market (no photographs or special incentives, however online web-based matrimonial ads do have photographs); 3. Justifying the product or service (matrimonial ads have established a niche by sociocultural justification); 4. Detailing the product or service (matrimonial ads provide details of varying degrees); 5. Establishing credentials (yes); 6. Celebrity of typical user endorsement (no); 7. Offering incentives (no); 8. Using pressure tactics (no); 9. Soliciting response (yes). Since matrimonial ads share only few of the move structures of advertisements, they can be classified as a sub-genre of the genre of advertisements.
Since matrimonial ads are advertisements, it is important to understand the discourse and genre of advertisement. Cook (2001) presents twenty-six features as prototypical of all kinds of ads rather than as definitive components. This work examines matrimonial ads to see how many features of Cook (2001) match with matrimonial ads under study. Most of Cook’s (2001) points are concerned with the advertisement of ideas, products and services in both print and audio-visual media. The matrimonial ads for the most part do not correspond to most of these points, except for only three observations, such as, “ads are parasitic: appropriating the voices of other genres, and having no independent existence, “ads make extensive use of intertextual allusion, both to other ads and to other genres”, “ads constantly change”. This makes matrimonial ads a unique form of advertising.
Conclusions and Implications
This study demonstrates that contexts influence text in the matrimonial ads and the relationship and interdependency between the text and the context is not very evident in such ads. The text of matrimonial ads is shaped by socioeconomic and psychological factors. Readers and writers are a discourse community as conceptualized by Swales (1990). Genre of matrimonial ads is analyzed using Bhatia’s (1993) approach to analyzing unfamiliar genres. Matrimonial ads have distinct lexico-grammatical features and use “telegraphic” language to optimize their results. The move structure in advertisements (Bhatia, 2004) for ideas, goods and services are broader than in matrimonial ads. Matrimonial ads are a very distinct form of advertisements because they lack several features common to ads for ideas goods and services (Cook, 2001).
This work presents a good example of Ethnolinguistic study (the relationship between language and culture, and the way different ethnic groups perceive the world: Wikipedia) in writing. Although at present this study is limited in scope and implications, however this line of work can be expanded considerably in both time and space to understand changing attitudes towards arranged marriages in India since 1947. This line of study can shed light on how educational advancement, economic growth, and migration of people within India and outside affect their attitude towards marriage and family life. The questions like are there any regional, linguistic, religious, or communal variations in attitudes towards arranged marriage? Are there any rural/urban or metropolitan/sub-urban divisions in attitudes towards arranged marriages? These are some of the questions that can be addressed by similar studies like this one.
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