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SOCIAL SEMIOTICS, 2016

VOL. 26, NO. 2, 128150


http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10350330.2015.1080015

The role of mitigation and strengthening cognitive operations


in brand names design: a case study of Spanish and American
wine brands
Lorena Prez-Hernndez
Department of Modern Languages, University of La Rioja, Logroo, Spain

ABSTRACT KEYWORDS
Despite the relevance of powerful brands in the present-day market, Branding; pragmatics;
research on the process of brand name design from a cognitive inter-cultural studies; wine
perspective focuses almost exclusively on the effects of the use of brands; cultural models
conceptual metaphor, and to a lesser extent, metonymy,
overlooking the role played by other cognitive strategies. This
paper analyzes the potentiality of mitigation and strengthening
cognitive operations as tools for the systematic, risk-free design
of new brand names with highly predictable and felicitous
connotations. In particular, it focuses on their role in the
systematic generation of axiologically positive brands in both
Spanish and American wine labels, thus largely reducing the need
for the costly and time-consuming cultural checks that branding
companies need to run on new brand names before their
commercial launching. In so doing, the interaction of the two
aforementioned cognitive operations with a number of pragmatic
principles and cultural models of social interaction, and their
subservience to other cognitive operations, like those of
comparison, correlation, and domain expansion and reduction, are
also considered. The results of the study offer new insights on the
semantics of commercial brand names which should prove useful
for branding professionals, as well as data of interest to linguists
dealing with inter-linguistic issues and cognitive modeling alike.

1. Introduction
This paper takes advantage of the theoretical contributions to the area of cognitive
linguistics (Lakoff 1987; Lakoff and Johnson 1999; Ruiz de Mendoza and Galera Masegosa
2014) in order to analyze the potentiality of some of the cognitive operations involved in
language processing as tools for the creation of inter-culturally effective wine brand
names. In this regard, there is already some evidence supporting the role of cognitive
metaphors and, to a lesser extent, metonymies in marketing and brand name design
(Fillis and Rentschler 2008; Zaltman and Zaltman 2008; Prez-Hernndez 2011). Thus,
brand names like Puma and Camel have obvious metaphorical foundations in the
GREAT CHAIN OF BEING metaphor; while others like Kellogs and Hellmans are metony-
mic in nature (i.e. PRODUCER/FOUNDER OF A COMPANY FOR PRODUCT). The inventory of

CONTACT Lorena Prez-Hernndez lorena.perez@unirioja.es


2015 Taylor & Francis
SOCIAL SEMIOTICS 129

cognitive operations underlying the use of language is, however, much richer (see Ruiz de
Mendoza and Galera Masegosa [2014] for an exhaustive classication and Felices Lago
[1999] for an interesting application to the eld of branding). This paper specically
focuses on the role played by mitigation and strengthening operations in the construction
of brand names and the generation of adequate and axiologically positive brand associ-
ations. In accordance with the needs of the branding industry, these cognitive operations
enable interpretations which go beyond those that can be conveyed literally. The fre-
quency of occurrence of these two cognitive operations in comparison to that of meta-
phoric (i.e. comparison and correlation) and metonymic (i.e. domain reduction and
expansion) operations will be assessed in relation to both American and Spanish wine
brand names, and their interactions with (1) the cue provided by the wine brand name,
(2) a number of pragmatic principles and maxims (Leech 1983), and (3) a set of cultural
models of social interaction (Ruiz de Mendoza 1996) will also be investigated.
The data for this study consist of a collection of 1500 Spanish and American wine
brands. This corpus will be analyzed in search of those particular realization procedures
that underlie the workings of mitigation and strengthening operations in Spanish and
American wine labels, thus shedding light on the preference for the linguistic implemen-
tation of the different cognitive operations by speakers of either language.
It is hypothesized that both mitigation and strengthening operations are two basic and
highly productive mechanisms for wine brand creation, whose semantic effects can be
determined and predicted beforehand to a considerable extent, thus helping marketing
professionals to overcome some of the current difculties in the branding industry.
Marketing requirements often impose constraints on brand names, which call for the
latter to exhibit a brief and synthetic form. The semantic fabric of brand names and
their signicance need, therefore, to be inferentially enriched by consumers at a later
stage. This paper constitutes a cognitive linguistics foray into how this can be done. It
offers a panorama of the patterns of interaction and the degree of subsidiarity of the differ-
ent cognitive operations underlying the semantics of wine brands in the two languages
under scrutiny, thus providing additional valuable information not only for wine branding
and marketing professionals, but also for linguists interested in cross-linguistic studies and
cognitive modeling alike.
The remainder of this paper is structured as follows. Section 2 gives an overview of the
literature on wine brand design. Section 3 lays out the specic objectives of the present
research, and provides a description of the data included in our corpus of analysis.
Section 4 presents the theoretical constructs on which this research is based. Sections 5
and 6 illustrate the workings of mitigating and strengthening operations on the pro-
duction and interpretation of the wine brands for the Spanish and American corpora,
respectively. Finally, Section 7 concludes with a discussion of the results and their impli-
cations for the branding industry, and cognitive modeling theory. In so doing, some of
the limitations of the present study are considered, offering directions for future research.

2. Branding and wine branding literature review


Kotler and Amstrong (2001, 301) dene the notion of brand as a name, term, sign, symbol,
or design, or a combination of these, that identies the maker or seller of a product or
service. Most marketing professionals agree that brands are among a companys most
130 L. PREZ-HERNNDEZ

valuable assets. Effective brands result in brand equity which has been characterized by
Farquhar (1989) as the value a brand name adds to the product. Brand equity provides
added value to producers and consumers alike. In the case of consumers, a strong
brand name provides information about the product and its quality, helps its recognition
and recall, and reduces the perceived risk by increasing trust in the maker and in the
reliability of the product. For producers, successful brands guarantee loyalty to the rm
as well as a positive impact on attitudes, prices, stability, and demand (Guris et al. 2007,
449). In fact, as stressed by Zinkhan and Martin (1987, 157), a brand name is a part of
what the consumer buys [ having] the potential to represent many ideas and attributes
associated with the product it represents. Ineffective brand names, on the contrary, can
severely hinder the success of a product.
Research on branding, in general, and wine branding, in particular, has been mostly
carried out by marketing scholars. Thus, authors such as Robertson (1989), Keller,
Heckler, and Houston (1998), and Beverland (2005), among others, have investigated
and identied the desirable properties of brand names (i.e. distinctive, suggestive, mean-
ingful, easily recalled, easily pronounced, authentic, etc.). Others have examined the
importance of developing the symbolic values associated with the brand in order to
sustain its competitivity in the market (Vrontis and Papasolomou 2007). And yet many
others have looked into varied marketing-related aspects of branding, such as the inu-
ence of brand names in determining perceptions of brand quality and attitudes toward
the product (Ruiz Vega and Azn Ramos 2007; Forbes and Dean 2013), their effects on
advertising recall (Keller, Heckler, and Houston 1998), and the process of name creation
itself (Hollebeek and Brodie 2009; Zaichkowsky 2010).
General research on branding from a linguistic perspective includes the studies carried
out by Vanden Bergh et al. (1984) on the sound symbolism of plosive consonants, by
Vanden Bergh et al. (1987) on the relevance of phonetic, orthographic, morphological,
and semantic characteristics of brand names, by Bao, Shao, and Rivers (2008) on the
effects of relevance, connotation, and pronunciation of brand names on consumers
brand preference, and by Klink (2000, 2001) on the relevance of semantics and sound sym-
bolism for the creation of meaningful brand names.
More specic studies from a pragmatic and cognitive perspective deal mostly with the
description of linguistic and visual cognitive metaphors, and to a lesser extent, metony-
mies of winespeak, focusing on the language of wine tasting notes (Surez-Toste 2007;
Caballero Rodrguez and Surez-Toste 2010; Creed 2013), and the genres of wine
reviews (Planelles Ivez 2011; Paradis and Olofsson 2013) and wine marketing campaigns
(Phillips and McQuarrie 2004; Negro Alousque 2015). These works, however, are aimed at
the discourse level of marketing narratives and do not touch upon branding and naming-
specic issues. The only study to date on cognitive operations at work in wine branding is
that of Prez-Hernndez (2013a), who offers an overview of how Spanish wine brand
names stem from the underlying workings of a limited set of cognitive operations. This
preliminary analysis, based on a small monolingual corpus of 100 Spanish wine brands,
tentatively revealed that Spanish wine branding shows a preference for the use of meto-
nymic operations involving a domain reduction. Other types of metonymic (i.e. domain
expansion) and metaphoric (i.e. comparison and correlation) operations closely followed
in number, while mitigation and strengthening mechanisms were the least commonly
used by Spanish branding professionals.
SOCIAL SEMIOTICS 131

3. Research objectives and corpus of study


The present study looks for conrmation or rejection, in a much larger corpus of 1500
Spanish and American wine brands, of the initial conclusions in Prez-Hernndezs
(2013a) preliminary study of Spanish wine labels. It focuses on quantitative and qualitative
aspects of the use of two specic cognitive operations that have received little attention to
date, namely those of mitigation and strengthening, thus offering a more detailed map of
their role in shaping the semantics of wine brands.
In an attempt to overcome the weaknesses of current studies on wine branding,
as identied in Section 2, we have established the following ve specic research
objectives:
(1) to provide corpus-based evidence of the role played by mitigation and strengthening
cognitive operations in the creation of wine brand names, quantifying their frequency
of occurrence in comparison to other cognitive operations.
(2) to assess the potential subsidiarity of mitigation and strengthening operations on
other cognitive strategies.
(3) to describe the cultural cognitive models underlying the use of mitigation and
strengthening operations in wine branding.
(4) to specify the pragmatic principles which constrain the use of the mitigation and
strengthening operations involved in the construction of wine brands.
(5) to explain the communicative effects that derive from the interplay among mitigation
and strengthening operations, cultural cognitive models, and pragmatic principles, as
well as their relevance for successful wine branding. Since cultures are inherently
bound to their languages and linguistic realization procedures often differ among
the latter, our study also attends to aspects of inter-linguistic contrast between
English and Spanish.
The data used in this study comprise 1500 Spanish and American wine brands.
Spanish wine brands in our corpus belong to four geographical areas, each of them
comprising several designations of origin: Northern Spain (D.O. La Rioja, D.O. de
Navarra, D.O. Ribera del Duero, D.O. Bierzo), Central and Southern Spain (D.O. La
Mancha, D.O. Jumilla, D.O. Utiel-Requena, D.O. Montilla-Moriles; D.O. Jerez), Catalonia
(D.O. Catalunya, D.O. Priorat, D.O. Empord, D.O. Peneds), and Galicia (D.O. Rias
Baixas, D.O. Riberiro, D.O. Ribera Sacra). All brands in the Spanish corpus were taken
from Verema [http://www.verema.com/vinos/portada, accessed 15 July 2013], an inter-
net site specialized in Spanish wines and wineries; American wine brands were chosen
among those of the four main producer states (i.e. California, Washington, Oregon, and
New York), and were extracted from the All American Wineries site [http://www.
allamericanwineries.com, accessed 20 July 2013], an Internet web page offering a
wine label, winery, and vineyard guide organized by state. A word of caveat is in
order here. The scope of the present study is not restricted to those wine brands in
the Spanish and English languages, respectively, but it also takes into consideration
the preference of Spanish and American wine labels for the use of other languages
(French, Catalan, Italian, etc.) in the brand names of their wines.
To guarantee the variety and representativeness of our corpus, we have included
brand names belonging to different Spanish and American designations of origin (D.O.
C)/geographical origins, ageing categories, and wineries differing in size, quality, and
132 L. PREZ-HERNNDEZ

popularity. By way of illustration, in the case of Spanish wines, we have included both pres-
tigious designations of origin (e.g. La Rioja, Ribera del Duero), together with others that are
better known for the quantity, rather than the quality of their wines (e.g. D.O. La Mancha,
D.O. Navarra). Two designations of origin belonging to Spanish provinces with an ofcial
language of their own (i.e. Galicia-Galician and Catalonia-Catalan) were also included in
order to enhance the representativeness of the corpus.
The initial list of wine labels for each of the four Spanish and American categories was
rst manually analyzed (1) in search of those brands involving at least one of the cognitive
operations under scrutiny (i.e. comparison, correlation, domain reduction/extension,
mitigation, and strengthening), and (2) in order to rule out repetitive brand names (e.g.
Faustino I, Faustino V, Faustino VII). After this initial ltering stage, and in order to
ensure that the nal collection of wine brands was truly arbitrary and not biased
toward one of the cognitive operations under scrutiny, we selected the rst 375 brands
for each of the four Spanish and American categories in the exact order in which they
were retrieved from the web search. The selected brands were later on analyzed in
depth as to the cognitive operations at work in each of them, and their associated
linguistic realization procedures, as well as in relation to the cultural models that played
a role in their interpretation.
As shall be made apparent in the following sections, categorization of the brands in
the corpus was often not exclusive, many of them falling simultaneously within one or
more categories of cognitive operations (i.e. metaphor and mitigation, metaphor and
strengthening, etc.). Once all brands had been assigned to one or more of the categories
of cognitive operations under scrutiny, we proceeded to (1) a quantitative analysis of the
results in order to assess the frequency of use of mitigation and strengthening oper-
ations in comparison to that of other cognitive strategies used in wine branding, and
the degree of subsidiarity of the former in relation to the latter; and (2) a qualitative
inter-linguistic study aimed at establishing the specic linguistic realization procedures,
used in Spanish and American labels, respectively, for the production of mitigation or
strengthening-based wine brands.

4. Brands as verbal cues, cognitive operations, cognitive models, and


pragmatic principles
Markets put a lot of pressure on brands to be brief, easy to remember, and thought-
provoking. If they are to be successful, therefore, brand names need to be good at activat-
ing feelings and notions that exceed those that are conveyed literally. In this connection,
brands will be hereby understood as verbal cues that both serve as guides for the concep-
tual activation of relevant pieces of world knowledge, and also set off a number of cogni-
tive operations that constrain their semantic interpretation. During this process of
meaning construction and interpretation, relevant associations and felicitous connotations
are added to the target product associated with a brand. The semantic fabric of the brand
and its signicance are thus enriched.
In this regard, Ruiz de Mendoza (2010) and Ruiz de Mendoza and Galera Masegosa
(2014) have suggested a comprehensive set of cognitive operations that guide and
constrain semantic interpretations. This collection of cognitive operations includes
comparison, correlation, domain expansion, domain reduction, mitigation, strengthening,
SOCIAL SEMIOTICS 133

and parametrization, among others. In the context of the branding and naming of new
products, this set of cognitive operations is hypothesized to provide a principle-based
framework for the design of brand names that enables the drawing of positive inferences
and felicitous associations. Due to their special relevance in the eld of wine brands, we
shall focus on the workings of two of the aforementioned cognitive operations, namely,
mitigation and strengthening operations, in the derivation of inferences from the linguistic
cues provided by wine brand names.

4.1. Mitigation operations


A mitigation operation, like its converse (i.e. strengthening), applies when an expression is
based on non-literal uses of scalar notions (Ruiz de Mendoza 2010). In an utterance like He
has told you a thousand times not to do that (Ruiz de Mendoza and Santibez 2003, 3),
non-literal a thousand times may have to be mitigated into many times in order to reach
a plausible interpretation. Nevertheless, interpretations stemming from this type of
mitigation operations often also involve an idea of an extreme situation that involves a
negative evaluation by the speaker (see also Ruiz de Mendoza and Galera Masegosa
[2014, 45] on this issue). Thus, in the above expression, obtaining the corresponding
semantic interpretation involves mitigation, but also the acknowledgement of a feeling
of complaint on the part of the speaker. The results of our study partially contradict this
assertion (see Section 5.1.2).

4.2. Strengthening operations


Mitigation and strengthening operations act in converse ways depending on whether we
take into consideration the speakers or the hearers stance. We shall now look at the oppo-
site phenomena: linguistic expressions and utterances that involve mitigation devices in
their production and strengthening mechanisms in their interpretation. This is the case
for understatements:
(1) They live some/a little distance from here (Ruiz de Mendoza 2010)
Expressions like some distance or a little distance are ways of downplaying an aspect of
reality, usually in order to minimize its cost or seriousness (i.e. not as far away as you seem
to believe). In order to reach a relevant interpretation, the hearer will now need to
strengthen the semantics of the expression up to a point that is compatible with reality.
Just as was the case with mitigation procedures, strengthening operations often not
only involve the upscaling of their literal meaning in order to make it compatible with
reality, but they may also interact with different cultural models (see Section 4.3) and/or
other cognitive operations in order to produce richer associations, thus enhancing the
evocative power of an expression.

4.3. Pragmatic principles and cultural models


As shown above, both the production and interpretation of brands based on non-literal
scalar concepts involve the workings of mitigation and strengthening operations. Their
nal interpretation and their potential semantic richness, however, are not exhausted
here. Mitigation and strengthening operations are often pragmatically motivated, tied
134 L. PREZ-HERNNDEZ

to politeness requirements, and dependent on a varied number of pragmatic principles


and maxims, which have traditionally been shown to regulate, guide, and constrain the
nal interpretation of an utterance. Thus, some mitigating strategies, as is the case with
the use of diminutives in the design of brand names, will be shown to obey Leechs
(1983) Politeness Principle and its related Modesty Maxim, which states that participants
in a conversation should minimize the expression of praise of self and maximize the
expression of dispraise of self.1
Moreover, as shall be made apparent in the remainder of this paper, these pragmatic
principles often interact with social and cultural cognitive models offering idealized, sche-
matic constructions of reality (Lakoff 1987) against which inferences are carried out. By
way of illustration, Ruiz de Mendoza (1996, 164) has connected the workings of some miti-
gating strategies, such as diminutives, to a particular cultural model (i.e. the Idealized Cog-
nitive Model (ICM) of Size), which he formulates as follows:2
ICM of Size
(1) Entities range in size from very small ones to very large ones.
(2) A small entity is often more manageable than a bigger one.
(3) A small entity is often less harmful than a bigger one.
From 2 and 3 we derive, as corollaries, two opposed emotional reactions in our
understanding of small entities:
(4) We feel that small entities are potentially likeable.
(5) We feel that small entities are potentially unimportant.
The ICM of Size accounts for many of our automatic reactions and feelings toward
small entities. Since small objects are not likely to harm us, they can be easily
ignored, but interestingly enough, they also tend to be attractive and desirable,
being as they are under our control and not posing any potential threat to us. The
ICM of Size explains, for instance, that example (1) above is likely to have a lower
emotional impact on the addressee than that of a literal formulation (cf. They live
50km from here), in the sense that picturing the location of ones relatives or friends
at a little distance/some distance from here is not felt as intimidating (distance-
wise) as the unmitigated alternative formulation. A detailed description of the ICM of
Size and its interactions with both pragmatic principles and the cognitive operations
of mitigation and strengthening may turn out to be especially useful in order to
offer a more granular explanation of the processes of meaning-creation involved in
the task of designing new brand names.
In the context of branding, the relevant interpretation of a particular brand name is
the one that allows a higher number of positive inferences to be made on the basis of
the least amount of information necessary to convey them. In this connection, the
cultural knowledge (cultural ICMs) and the set of cognitive and linguistic tools
described in this section will both constrain the scope of the potential inferences
that can be drawn from a brand name, and also guide the consumer in the task of
reaching those associations that are most relevant to the characterization of the
target product.
The remainder of this paper unveils the role played by mitigating and strengthening
cognitive operations in the process of designing powerful, expressive, and semantically
rich wine brand names.
SOCIAL SEMIOTICS 135

5. Mitigating and strengthening cognitive operations underlying Spanish


wine brand names
5.1. Qualitative results
5.1.1. Mitigation strategies in Spanish wine brand design
Our corpus indicates that Spanish wine brands formed through mitigation mechanisms
often involve the use of diminutive sufxes, most of which are linked to specic geographi-
cal locations (e.g. -ico (Aragn), -n (Asturias), -io (Galicia):
(2) -illo (Campillo); -ito (Clavelito); -io (Gran Campio); -ico (Calderico); -ete (Lorenzete);
-ejo (Portillejo); -uelo (Frascuelo), -uco (El Peruco)
These brands require the customer to carry out the converse mental operation (i.e.
strengthening) in order to reach their correct interpretation. As a matter of fact, none of
the brands listed above aims at highlighting the reduced dimensions of the target
product. The wines thus named are not smaller in size or lower in quality than others in
their similar market niche, as a literal interpretation of their diminutive sufxes may lead
to believe. The mandatory strengthening operation, therefore, ensures a correct interpret-
ation, but it does not fully explain neither the motivation for the use of diminutive sufxes,
nor the communicative effects that they yield. In order to do so, we need to take into
account the fact that diminutives are connected with deeply rooted cultural beliefs and
expectations captured by idealized cognitive models such as the ICM of Size. All brands in
(2) exploit the corollaries of the ICM of Size through the use of diminutive sufxes. Thus,
other things being equal a brand like Campillo (small eld) is liable to activate feelings
associated with small things, such as those of endearment, affection, harmlessness, and/
or unpretentiousness, more easily than its unmitigated counterpart Campo (eld). The prag-
matic effects rendered by the use of diminutives as a mitigating device turns them into a
powerful branding strategy, helping marketing professionals to lead consumers toward a
number of easily predictable positive interpretations of the wine brands involved. It
should be noticed, however, that these associations based on the activation of the ICM of
Size do not preclude the existence of additional ones, such as, for example, those stemming
from the semantics of the root word campo itself, which may evoke notions of ecology,
freshness, nature, handmade products as opposed to impersonal, chain-production ones,
etc. Additionally, it should also be taken into account that personal life experiences and pre-
vious knowledge may also inuence brand interpretation. While this last factor cannot easily
be anticipated or controlled by branding specialists, both the lexical associations of the root
word and those stemming from the activation of the ICM of Size can be predicted and,
therefore, ease the brand name creation process.
Our corpus also displays some brand names that exploit the ICM of Size through lexical
means. Among them, we nd several wine brands making use of adjectives meaning small
(e.g. pequeo (Spanish), petit (Catalan), and others using nouns referring to small and
young entities, either literally (e.g. Mi nia, Chaval) or through a metonymic extension
(e.g. El Nido):
(3) Petit Perinet , Petit Caus , Pequeo Santos
(4) Mi nia [My little girl], Chaval [Kid], El Nido [The Nest]
Those wines in (3) will not be understood literally as being small, but they will inherit
the positive semantic associations of small things. It could be argued that the adjective
136 L. PREZ-HERNNDEZ

petit can hardly be understood as a quality marker when the Catalan petit is so similar
to the French form, which is widely used in apologetic terms to distinguish a houses
second wine. However, the use of mitigation strategies is not necessarily aimed at high-
lighting the quality of the wine, but simply to make it appealing to the consumer. Wine
producers need to be able to sell all wines that they produce regardless of their quality.
The exploitation of the ICM of Size by means of mitigation strategies allows them to do
just so: to present their secondary wines as still pleasant and appealing. A houses
second wine needs to be distinguished from its high quality counterparts, but in such a
way that it is still presented as desirable. In this connection, it would be interesting to
compare the semantic effects of using mitigation strategies based on diminutive sufxes
and adjectives like petit or pequeo, which present the wine as something endearing
and desirable through the activation of the ICM of Size, with alternative adjectives used to
refer to entities of lesser quality (e.g. low, secondary, bottom, minor). The latter do not
exploit the ICM of Size, but rather lead the interpretative path toward negative connota-
tions, thus presenting the wine from a less desirable perspective. In a similar fashion,
brands like Mi nia or Chaval, which also refer to young people, may easily awake feelings
of affection and tenderness, and in turn, they appear as endearing entities that people like
to have close to them. In these latter cases, in addition, the brands also communicate the
lack of ageing of the wines by means of a metaphoric mapping between the source
domains of NIA and CHAVAL , which refer to young entities, on the one hand, and the
target domain of WINE , on the other. In the case of El Nido (The Nest), a similar metaphor
may be reached, but it involves a higher cognitive effort since it is licensed by a previous
operation of metonymic extension within the metaphoric source (i.e. CONTAINER FOR
CONTAINMENT: The nest stands for the young birds that it hosts). Not all speakers,
however, need follow this interpretative path through until the end. Some of them may
overlook the implications stemming from the underlying metonymy and simply focus
on the metaphoric connections of El Nido (The Nest) with notions of nature, landscape,
the wild, human-unaltered terroir, etc. In fact, this latter path of interpretation seems
more apt in the case of the brand under scrutiny since, unlike Mi nia and Chaval, El
Nido does not name a young wine. Both, if the speakers decipher the whole metaphor-
metonymy interaction pattern or if they stop at the metaphorical level, the connotations
arising from the brand will help to present a positive image of the target product.
As shown above, mitigation strategies (either derivational, or lexical) come forth as
useful tools for brand name creation in the Spanish corpus. By leading customers to con-
sider the product as something desirable because of its harmless, charming, and easily
controlled nature, a solicitous and well-disposed attitude is prompted on their part. The
activation of the ICM of Size by means of mitigation strategies opens up a wealth of poten-
tial positive connotations which will need to be conveniently parametrized by the context
and the nature of the specic wine under consideration. Neither all those connotation
need be activated simultaneously, not to the exclusion of others.

5.1.2. Strengthening strategies in Spanish wine brand design


At the other end of the spectrum of scalar wine brands, there are those whose semantics
depends on strengthening mechanisms. Many Spanish popular wine trademarks (i.e.
Barn de Barbn, Genium, La Perla del Priorat, Imperial, Gran Feudo, etc.) are based on
strengthening strategies which will need to be conveniently mitigated and contextualized
SOCIAL SEMIOTICS 137

in order for the consumer to grasp the intended interpretation. A large group of brands in
our corpus are strengthened through the use of the Spanish augmentative sufx -n:
(5) -n (-ona): Valdubn , Buradn , Corulln
The interpretation of augmentatives, just like that of diminutives, can be shown to
hinge on the ICM of Size, whose original formulation needs to be extended in order to
account for large entities and their related cultural expectations (Ruiz de Mendoza 2000,
359):
ICM of Size
(1) Entities range in size from very small ones to very large ones.
[]
(6) A large entity is more visually noticeable.
(7) A large entity is more difcult to control.
From 6 and 7 we derive, as corollaries, opposed emotional reactions in our understand-
ing of large entities:
(8) We feel large entities as being potentially important and, therefore, likeable.
(9) We feel large entities as being potentially dangerous.
The augmentative sufx in those brands listed in (5) activates the relevant elements of
the ICM of Size (i.e. more visually noticeable, important, and, therefore, likeable), which,
after the corresponding parametrization within the context of wine culture, may lead to
activate notions of high quality, intensity and/or marked personality, among others. The
literal meaning of the augmentative, implying excessive size, is conveniently mitigated.
No one would expect a bigger bottle or a larger quantity of wine upon hearing any of
those brands. As shown by previous cognitive studies on the Spanish and English augmen-
tatives, though, their use may lead to activate the aforementioned culture-specic positive
connotations associated with the ICM of Size (see antecedents in Gooch [1970], and further
elaborations and applications to different languages of this cultural model in Santibez
[1999], Ruiz de Mendoza [2000, 2008], Soares da Silva [2008], Bagasheva [2012], and
Prez-Hernndez [2011, 2013b]).
Several brands in the corpus make use of the Latin sufx -um, originally used to form
nouns, and which may also convey the idea of something big through its sound symbo-
lism. Studies on the symbolic value of phonemes and their combination go far as back as
the works of Sapir (1927, 1929), Jespersen (1933) and Boas (1938), and they are nowadays
one of the most valued resources on which branding and marketing professionals rely in
order to create new brand names (Klink 2000, 2001; Yorston and Menon 2004; Shrum and
Lowrey 2007). In this connection, the combination of back vowels (e.g. [u]) and voiced con-
sonants (e.g. [m]) has been shown to be associated by a signicant number of speakers
with the idea of something big, heavy, or strong in languages as unrelated as American
English and Japanese (Fjeldsted 1991, 128; Nakata 2013, 48). The Latin sufx -um, there-
fore, activates the ICM of Size, and its meaning implications (i.e. important, signicant)
not through its semantics, but rather, more subtly, through the sound symbolism of its
phonetics.
(6) -um: Bassus Premium , Urium , Retum
Brands like those in (6) not only benet from the activation of the ICM of Size through
the use of the Latin sufx, but the latter also endows their nal interpretation with a taste
of the solemnity and splendor of classical culture.
138 L. PREZ-HERNNDEZ

The ICM of Size can also be exploited through lexical means, as is the case with those
wine brands that contain the adjective gran (large/big/great):
(7) Gran Claustro [Large Cloister], Gran Feudo [Large Domain/Territory]
These brands benet from the workings of the primary pragmatic function of modern
Spanish augmentatives connected with meaning intensication. The quality and the prop-
erties of the products displaying the brands in (7) are thus enhanced and reinforced. In
other cases, strengthening strategies, rather than exploiting the cultural implications of
the ICM of Size, hinge on the workings of yet another type of cognitive mechanism: com-
parison or resemblance operations (Ruiz de Mendoza 2010). The resemblance that can
sometimes be found between two independent conceptual domains licenses the use of
one of them (source domain) to talk and reason about the other (target domain). This
type of conceptual mapping has the positive side effect of enriching the semantics of
the target domain with relevant and compatible conceptual material originally belonging
to the source domain.3
Thus, according to our corpus data, comparing and conceptually linking wines, through
their brand names, with other knowledge domains that are culturally understood as maxi-
mally positive, relevant, and/or important, such as the world of royalty and nobility, arises
as yet another productive tool for brand creation. This brand design mechanism goes
hand in hand with a strengthening operation. The brand designer, by associating a
wine with a cognitive domain that refers to an outstanding cultural entity or category,
achieves his goal of presenting the target product as endowed with a top quality. This
is the case with the following wine labels, named after kings, dukes, earls, barons, and
other members of the nobility:
(8) Faustino [Spanish king], Barn de Barbn [Baron of Barbn], Marqus de Cceres
[Marquis of Cceres], Conde de Artoiz [Earl of Artoiz], Dinasta Vivanco [Vivanco
Dinasty], Excelencia de Emilio Clemente [Excellence]
This is a largely productive way of designing new wine brand names in Spanish.
Through a comparison operation, the target domain (i.e. WINE ) inherits the touch of
luxury and high quality that is generally associated with the source domain of the meta-
phor (i.e. the WORLD OF KINGS AND NOBLEMEN ). Potential consumers will, at a later stage, down-
play and parametrize these implications as needed within the context of wine
consumption (i.e. wines which are worthy of kings and aristocrats, but which are nowadays
affordable to the average consumer). In spite of the necessary mitigation, however, the
semantics of the wine brands under consideration will always retain a feeling of the rene-
ment and sumptuousness of the source domains involved.
Other lexical means which are also effectual as metaphorically based strengthening
mechanisms include the use of nouns and phrases which describe intrinsically positive,
highly valued, entities:
(9) La Faraona [The Female Pharaoh], Diamante [Diamond], La Perla del Priorat [The Pearl
of the Priorat]
These brands establish a comparison between different source domains and the target
domain of WINE , which thus inherits from the former those compatible attributes that serve
to highlight its virtues. By way of illustration consider the conceptual projection from the
domain of DIAMONDS to that of WINE . Just like diamonds belong to a category of expensive
and exclusive jewels, a wine thus named will be understood as promising a similar degree
of uniqueness and exclusivity.
SOCIAL SEMIOTICS 139

To end our discussion on strengthening mechanisms, let us consider the case of those
brand names literally expressing exceptional attributes such as those in (10) below:
(10) Fino To Pepe [Fine], Predilecto [Favorite], Preferido [Favorite], Vega Sicilia nico
[Vega Sicilia Unique]
These brands endow the corresponding wines with extreme attributes and qualities,
which need to be conveniently mitigated. Vega Sicilia nico, for instance, manages to
emphasize its singularity by hyperbolically claiming the uniqueness of this wine. Likewise,
Predilecto and Preferido, by referring to the fact that these wines are someones favorite,
underline their appeal.
Strengthening mechanisms, both lexical and/or derivational in nature, manage to draw
attention to either the strengths of the product, or to its most salient and relevant traits,
thus turning it into something desirable. Strengthening strategies exploit well-entrenched
social conventions and conventional emotional reactions associated with them, but in
their own particular way: while diminutives suggest likeability through minoration, aug-
mentatives do so through impressiveness.
It should also be noted that in all the examples included in our corpus, downplaying the
semantics of brands based on strengthening strategies to more realistic assessments
always results in a positive nal evaluation on the part of the consumer. This nding con-
trasts with Ruiz de Mendoza and Santibaezs (2003) proposal (see Section 4), according to
which the mitigation of hyperbolic expressions generally results in a negative evaluation of
the corresponding state of affairs. In the case of wine brands, neither the mitigation, nor
the strengthening of the non-literal scalar notion involved results in negative assessments.
As far as brand names based on strengthening strategies are concerned, this may be due
to the fact that the notions involved are all intrinsically positive in meaning (e.g. Magni-
cus, Alma, La Perla del Priorat, Gran Feudo, etc.). Thus, its mitigation does not affect its
axiologically positive value. It simply provides a more realistic and accurate interpretation
of it. In the case of those brand names involving mitigation strategies, the positive evalu-
ation has already been shown to arise from the exploitation of the ICM of Size, which
motivates the conceptualization of small things as desirable objects.

5.2. Quantitative results


Our rst research objective was aimed at quantifying the frequency of occurrence of those
mitigation and strengthening operations that underlie the conceptual fabric of wine
brands in comparison to other better-known and already amply studied cognitive oper-
ations such as comparison, correlation, domain reduction and expansion. In this connec-
tion, the sub-corpus of Spanish wine brands yields the results displayed in Table 1:4
For reasons that shall be made apparent in Section 6.2 in comparison with the quanti-
tative results for the American corpus, domain reduction operations have been found to
be the most productive in the construction of Spanish wine labels, being involved in the
design of almost half the brands under analysis. Comparison and domain expansion oper-
ations follow in number. Correlation, mitigation and strengthening mechanisms, though
used to a lesser extent, are still found in over a quarter of the total number of brands in
the corpus.
Although it comes as no surprise, since the interaction between different cognitive
operations has already been accounted for in relation to metaphor and metonymy
140 L. PREZ-HERNNDEZ

Table 1. Frequency of occurrence of cognitive


operations in the Spanish wine brands corpus.
Cognitive operation Number Percentage
Comparison 185 24.7
Correlation 51 6.8
Domain reduction 347 46.3
Domain expansion 149 19.9
Mitigation 104 13.87
Strengthening 95 12.7
Total 931

(cf. Barcelona 2003), the results reveal a 24.1% rate of overlapping among the different
categories under analysis. One hundred and eighty-one instances of cognitive operations
are found to work in combination with others rather than in isolation. Out of them, 176
instances (97.24%) correspond to combinations of mitigation and strengthening oper-
ations with other types of conceptual mechanisms. This output shows (1) that the use
of mitigation and strengthening operations is quite extended as an instrument for wine
brand name creation in Spanish, and (2) that mitigation and strengthening operations
have an almost total subsidiarity on other types of cognitive constructs. Tables 2 and 3
offer more specic information on the nature of this subsidiarity relationships, which
are especially noticeable as regards the combined used of mitigation and domain
reduction operations (e.g. La Olmedilla), on the one hand, and strengthening and com-
parison operations (e.g. La Perla del Priorat), on the other. The combination of mitigation
and comparison mechanisms (e.g. Clavelito) comes in third position. The use of mitigation
or strengthening operations in isolation from other cognitive strategies, although possible,
amounts to less than a quarter of the total number of occurrences of these two cognitive
operations in the Spanish corpus.
This preference for the combination of scalar cognitive operations, like mitigation and
strengthening, with non-scalar operations, such as metaphor (i.e. comparison/correlation)
and metonymy (i.e. domain reduction and expansion) may nd a raison dtre in the fact
that these two groups of cognitive operations fulll very different functions in human cog-
nition and communication. Thus, while metaphoric and metonymic mappings are closely
connected with the conceptualization of reality and can, thus, fulll a representational and
referential function; scalar operations (i.e. mitigation and strengthening) are linked to
alternative pragmatic factors and purposes (i.e. politeness, hyperbolic representations,
cost-benet and indirection scales, etc.). In the context of branding, their combination
is, therefore, welcomed since it helps to enhance the semantics of the brand name in
different but compatible directions.

Table 2. Interaction patterns and frequency of


occurrence of mitigation operations in the Spanish
wine brands corpus.
Interaction pattern Number Percentage
Mitigation + comparison 22 21.2
Mitigation + correlation 9 8.6
Mitigation + domain reduction 58 57.7
Mitigation + domain expansion 6 5.8
Mitigation in isolation 9 8.7
Mitigation total no. of occurrences 104
SOCIAL SEMIOTICS 141

Table 3. Interaction patterns and frequency of occurrence of strengthening


operations in the Spanish wine brands corpus.
Interaction pattern Number Percentage
Strengthening + comparison 59 62.1
Strengthening + correlation 5 5.3
Strengthening + domain reduction 13 13.7
Strengthening + domain expansion 4 4.2
Strengthening in isolation 14 14.7
Strengthening total no. of occurrences 95

6. Mitigating and strengthening cognitive operations underlying


American wine brand names
6.1. Qualitative results
6.1.1. Mitigation strategies in American wine brand design
In comparison to other Romance and Germanic languages (i.e. Italian, Spanish, German,
Greek, etc.), the English language has often been regarded as poor in diminutive resources,
exhibiting only a small unproductive set (e.g. -ette in kichenette, -let in piglet, -ling in duck-
ling, and -y/ie in piggy; Dressler and Barbaresi 1994; Schneider 2004; Ruiz de Mendoza
2008; Grandi 2011), being used with decreasing frequency (Sianou 1992). In fact, most
of the American wine brands in our corpus that hinge on the use of diminutive sufxes
borrow them from other languages, mostly French, Italian, and Spanish:
(11) French -et: Chapellet
(12) Italian -etto/a and -ino/a: Dolcetto , Santino
(13) Spanish -ito/a: La Finquita , Ranchita
As was the case with their Spanish counterparts, American brands including a diminu-
tive ending call for an strengthening operation in order to unfold their full semantic
potential. Such semantic upscaling rules out the interpretation of these wines as being
literally smaller or less important than their competitors. For those English speakers
acquainted with the meaning of these sufxes, the ICM of Size will be activated, thus
motivating a positive affective reaction toward the target product. Simultaneously, the
use of foreign diminutive sufxes in American brands has the benet of endowing the
product with additional overtones deriving from pre-conceived, often stereotypical
beliefs about the countries where those languages are spoken. In this connection,
those brands using French sufxes may inherit the uniqueness, sophistication, and ele-
gance widely associated with French wines; Italian diminutives may lend American
brands a touch of the dolce far niente, friendly Italian character; and those displaying
Spanish diminutives, most of which belong to Californian wineries, may benet from
representing a clear wink at the Spanish heritage of the region.5 Interestingly enough,
American labels extend their derivational nature to the use of prexes, which also
express small size or quantity (e.g. Microwinery).
As was the case with Spanish wine brands, American trademarks also exploit the ICM of
Size through lexical means. By way of illustration, brand names like Lullaby or Travieso
(Naughty) make use of a mitigating strategy, based on the use of lexical items referring
to an entity metonymically connected with babies (i.e. domain expansion operation) in
the rst case, and an attribute of little children in the second, to render positive and
endearing wine names through an activation of the corollaries of the ICM of Size.
142 L. PREZ-HERNNDEZ

A noticeable difference between the Spanish and American corpora, though, lies in the
extensive use that American brands make of mitigating strategies based on phrases
beyond the lexical unit (e.g. Baby Blue, Moon Puppy, Mosquito Fleet, Eye of the Needle,
Girlie Girl, etc.). Phrases of this type allow branding specialists to increase the number
and richness of the semantic associations and connotations conveyed by the brand.
Together with the sense of charm and affection transmitted through the activation of
the ICM of Size, reference to other poetically loaded words, like moon and blue, extends
the suggestive power of the brand. In addition, phrases such as Mosquito eet contribute
a humorous, ludic effect to the semantics of the brand name.
Finally, although to a lesser extent, mitigation strategies in American brands also
include the use of blends as in Zinderella (i.e. Zinfadel grape variety + Cinderella).
All in all, the range of mitigating strategies identied in the corpus of American brands
is more varied than the one found in relation to Spanish wine brands. Not only diminu-
tive sufxes and lexical items referring to small or young entities are used, but also
diminutive prexes, phrases, and blends are exploited in the realization of mitigated
brand names.

6.1.2. Strengthening strategies in American wine brand design


Having no native augmentative sufx of its own, augmentation is expressed in English by
means of prexes (i.e. over-, grand-, super-, etc.). Our search, however, has retrieved no
instances of wine brand names making use of them. The only derivational strengthening
strategy found in the American corpus is the Latin sufx -um (e.g. Saxum, Continuum),
which favors the cross-cultural exploitation of the ICM of Size and conveys a sense of
the distinction and magnicence associated with classical culture.
Strengthening strategies based on lexical items in the American corpus generally
involve phrases with intensication adjectives or adverbs as in Grand Reve, Abundantly
Rich Red, Major Creek, Big Reds Twinkle, or Bountiful Blanc. The variety of modiers at
work in American brands is much richer and distinctive than those in Spanish labels,
which only display the intensication adjective gran (grand), as in Gran Feudo.
American wines also exploit the ICM of Size through the use of strengthening oper-
ations based on comparison operations. In a similar fashion to their Spanish counterparts,
American wine marks are metaphorically named after members of the nobility, military,
religious, and diplomatic social classes: Tudor, Marechal Foch, Abbots Table, Al King
Wine, Chateau Ste. Michelle, Ambassador, etc. Comparison operations with other
domains that describe highly valued or intrinsically positive entities are also found in
some American brands: Perle, Diamond, Jade Mountain, Sapphire, etc. In addition, the
American corpus, like the Spanish one, yields instances of trademarks literally expressing
exceptional attributes as yet another type of strengthening realization procedure (e.g.
Optimus, Opus One, Grandioso, Prime Cellars, and Quintessence). The tendency to use
Latin words for this purpose aids inter-cultural transparency and penetrability.
Finally, as was the case with mitigating strategies, American brands based on strength-
ening mechanisms display a wealth of linguistic realization types that largely outnumbers
those used by Spanish labels. Thus, the American corpus further yields examples of the use
of copula (Old and Glorious), compounding (e.g. TooGood), and set phrases (e.g. Hand of
God, Summer in a bottle).
SOCIAL SEMIOTICS 143

6.2. Quantitative results


In contrast to the results for the Spanish corpus, American wine brands heavily rely on
comparison operations, almost equaling in number those based on domain reduction
strategies. Spanish wines, on the contrary, showed a marked preference for the latter.
This is not totally arbitrary, since most of the Spanish wine brands based on domain
reduction operations make use of a proper name connected with their own cultural
roots and history, either the name of the geographical area, village, etc. where the
winery is located, the name of the vineyard, or the name of its founder. This reects a
sense of tradition and respect for the terroir that is not so noticeable or relevant for a sig-
nicant part of the brands stemming from the more modern and recent American wine
industry (Table 4).
The most salient feature yielded by the corpus of American wine brands is the low fre-
quency of occurrence of mitigation operations, which amount to only a 7.2% of the total
number of occurrences and are largely outnumbered by their converse (i.e. strengthening
strategies), which correspond to a 16% of the brands in the corpus. This nds an expla-
nation in relation to the fact that native diminutive sufxes are not as frequent in
English as in other languages. This is so to the extent that, as shown in Section 6.1.1,
the few American wine brands which exploit the use of diminutive sufxes borrow
them from other languages such as French (e.g. Chapellet), Italian (e.g. Santino), and
Spanish (e.g. Ranchita).6 Even though the linguistic resources used by American labels
based on mitigation operations are on the whole more varied than those used by
Spanish labels (e.g. American brands make use of prexes, phrases and blends that
have not been found in the Spanish corpus), these cannot compete with the extensive
use of diminutive sufxes (in all their regional variants) found in the Spanish language.
In relation to the degree of subsidiarity of mitigation and strengthening operations on
other conceptual strategies, both corpora yield similar quantitative results. American
brands display a 25.2% of overlapping (189 instances of operations that combine with
others), 92.1% of which corresponds to the subsidiarity of strengthening operations on
other conceptual strategies. If considered from a qualitative perspective though, the
data reveal that most of the overlapping in the American corpus involves the combined
use of strengthening and comparison operations. In contrast to this, Spanish brands
display a more varied combinatorial potential, where both mitigation and strengthening
operations mix freely with comparison and domain reduction mechanisms in signicant
numbers. Again, as shown in Sections 5.1. and 6.1 above, this nds an explanation in
the fact that Spanish brands rely more heavily on linguistic means for the activation of

Table 4. Frequency of occurrence of cognitive


operations in the American wine brands corpus.
Cognitive operation Number Percentage
Comparison 271 36.1
Correlation 79 10.5
Domain reduction 295 39.3
Domain expansion 120 16
Mitigation 54 7.2
Strengthening 120 16
Total 939
144 L. PREZ-HERNNDEZ

Table 5. Interaction patterns and frequency of


occurrence of mitigation operations in the American
wine brands corpus.
Interaction pattern Number Percentage
Mitigation + comparison 21 38.9
Mitigation + correlation 9 16.7
Mitigation + domain reduction 11 20.37
Mitigation + domain expansion 9 16.7
Mitigation in isolation 4 7.4
Mitigation total 54

Table 6. Interaction patterns and frequency of


occurrence of strengthening operations in the
American wine brands corpus.
Interaction pattern Number Percentage
Strengthening + comparison 61 50.8
Strengthening + correlation 8 6.7
Strengthening + domain reduction 28 23.3
Strengthening + domain expansion 12 10
Strengthening in isolation 11 9.7
Strengthening total 120

mitigation and strengthening operations. On the contrary, American labels make a smaller
use of mitigation strategies, on the one hand, and display a preference for strengthening
through the use of comparison operations (rather than through the use of other linguistic
resources), on the other (Tables 5 and 6).

7. Discussion and conclusions


This research has sought to address a gap in the literature on the processes of wine brand
creation and interpretation. This task has been undertaken through the study of the miti-
gation and strengthening operations at work in a corpus of American and Spanish wine
brands. From a theoretical viewpoint, the results of our analysis open a much needed
twofold line of research on (1) branding studies, by drawing attention to the linguistic
and cognitive strategies that underlie the design of brand names, and (2) cognitive mod-
eling, by exploring the degree of subsidiarity of two cognitive operations (i.e. mitigation
and strengthening) on other cognitive strategies such as comparison, correlation,
domain reduction and expansion. This study is one of the rst to attempt a systematic,
inter-cultural study of the cognitive operations involved in the specialized language of
wine brand design. As such this research makes a number of contributions that pave
the way for further studies:
(1) Our quantitative analysis reveals that mitigation and strengthening operations are
largely dependent on other cognitive mechanisms for their realization. Thus, mitigat-
ing operations are mostly dependent on domain reduction operations (57.7%) and
comparison operations (21.2%) in Spanish labels, while they are primarily subservient
to comparison operations (38.8%), followed by domain reduction operations (20.4%)
in American brands. Strengthening operations, on the contrary, show a marked and
similar dependence on comparison operations in both languages. This subsidiarity
SOCIAL SEMIOTICS 145

of mitigation and strengthening operations on other cognitive operations (i.e. com-


parison, domain reduction/expansion) is only to be expected due to the predomi-
nance and signicance of metonymy and metaphor in human thought (Lakoff and
Johnson 1980). Future research should seek to further analyze the interdependence
of other cognitive operations, such as those of comparison, correlation, domain
reduction, domain extension, echoing, and parametrization, among others, in the task
of designing new brand names.
(2) The qualitative part of our analysis has focused on how the interaction of mitigation
and strengthening operations with pragmatic principles of communication and cul-
tural cognitive models yields insights that may be useful for the wine branding indus-
try. Both cognitive operations have been unveiled as two basic and highly productive
mechanisms for wine brand creation, whose cultural effects can be determined and
largely predicted beforehand. Their systematic use would help to overcome some
of the current difculties in the branding industry.
(3) More specically, our qualitative analysis suggests that mitigation operations are an
effective tool for the design of wine brands specically aimed at gaining the consu-
mers affection through the exploitation of Leechs Politeness Principle and its related
Modesty Maxim, as well as through the emotional reactions and cultural expectations
toward small entities captured by the Idealized Cognitive Model of Size.
(4) Strengthening operations have been shown to be mostly effective in the task of high-
lighting one or more special traits of the target product and, as a result, intensifying
their axiologically positive values.
(5) Comparison of the mitigation and strengthening strategies found in both corpora
reveals a much richer inventory of mechanisms at work in the design of American
brands than in the creation of Spanish labels. While the former include both prexed
and sufxed derivational trademarks, together with others arising from blending, com-
pounding, loanwords, phrases, and coordination, Spanish brands are mostly based on
the use of sufxes and metaphorically used lexical items. This piece of information
should encourage Spanish wine branding specialists to explore other possibilities,
but at the same time, it should make those wine marketing professionals in the
USA aware of the fact that many present-day American wine brands display linguistic
strategies (i.e. long phrases in English, blends of English words) which Spanish custo-
mers are not used to nding in this context and may not be able to decipher correctly.
In addition, the Spanish preference for metaphoric brands obeys to the fact these are
normally more compelling, attractive, and effective for sales.
(6) When considering the mitigation strategies found in our study from an inter-linguistic
perspective, there are several facts that need highlighting. Those Spanish wine brand
names based on the use of regional diminutive sufxes, like -io/a (from Galicia), -ino/a
(from Extremadura), or -n (from Asturias) will be unknown and, therefore, largely
incomprehensible for American speakers with no knowledge of these regional
peculiarities of the Spanish language. Of all Spanish diminutive endings only -ito/a
(and the less productive -illo/a), which are shared by all varieties of Spanish, and
-ico/a (widely used in Costa Rica) would be familiar to American consumers thanks
to the inuence exerted by the proximity of the Latin American heritage (see Santib-
ez [1999, 175] and Lipski [2012, 20] on the geographical variation of Spanish diminu-
tive sufxes). On the contrary, all the diminutive sufxes found in American wine
146 L. PREZ-HERNNDEZ

brands would be fairly easy to understand by Spanish speakers, since both French and
Italian sufxes are widely recognizable to them thanks to geographical and cultural
proximity.
Wine brands based on lexical units again will be largely inter-culturally incompre-
hensible, except for those that are loanwords and/or well-known foreign words.
This is the case with Baby Blue and Mi nia, and partially with Mosquito Fleet and
Girlie Girl, but not so with Moon Puppy, Chaval or El Nido, for example. The difculty
of using brands inter-culturally without encountering comprehension problems
increases with those labels based on longer phrases (e.g. Eye of the Needle). It is inter-
esting to note, however, that these strategies are common among American wine
brand setters, with California wines gathering pace on an international scale, and
also timidly, though increasingly, being used by some of the most modern Spanish
wineries (e.g. Spanish White Guerrilla). This suggests that the understanding of the
literal meaning of the brand is one factor, but not the only one inuencing brand effec-
tiveness. A more detailed study of brand names using language-specic lexical units
and phrases would be needed in order to unveil the reasons why some of these
brands are still successful in spite of being semantically obscure for speakers of
other languages.
(7) Strengthening strategies based on the Latin sufx -um will be mutually comprehensi-
ble for both Spanish and American consumers, while the use of the native Spanish
augmentative sufx -n will only make sense for Spanish-speaking wine purchasers.
Strengthening strategies based on the use of intensication adjectives and adverbs
will be largely productive in both languages since most of the lexical items involved
have a Latin root that is mutually comprehensible for consumers in the Spanish and
American markets (e.g. Grand-Gran, Abundantly-Abundantemente, Major-Mayor, etc.).
Other American and Spanish brands based on lexical strategies that exploit the ICM
of Size through comparison operations will only be translatable between the two
languages in as far as the particular lexical items at stake are transparent to speakers
of the two languages -due to their similarity, or because they are well-known foreign
words or loanwords. Thus, wine brands such as Tudor, Diamond, Excelencia or
Ambassador will be productive in both markets, while others like Abotts Table or
La Faraona will only be comprehensible to consumers of American and Spanish
markets, respectively. Another point of convergence between the strengthening strat-
egies found in both corpora is the use of Latin words expressing optimal and excep-
tional attributes (e.g. Optima, Magnicus, etc.). This represents yet another strategy
which facilitates inter-cultural intelligibility.
(8) Together with the above implications for the branding industry, the present study also
sheds light on aspects of cognitive modeling that are in need of further exploration.
The analysis carried out in relation to American and Spanish wine brands offers
further support to the universality of cognitive operations. However, even though
they are available to speakers worldwide, our study also points to specic outputs
for their interaction with (1) language-specic pragmatic principles, and (2) concrete
linguistic genres.
Regarding the rst, our data show a more extensive use of strengthening mechan-
isms in isolation from other cognitive operations in Spanish than in American wine
brands (cf. Tables 3 and 6). This is easily tied to the workings of the Politeness Principle.
SOCIAL SEMIOTICS 147

According to the latter, Anglo-Saxon cultures favor a minimization of praise of self,


and a maximization of praise of others. Spanish brand names based on unltered
literal strengthening mechanisms, therefore, probably come off as arrogant to Amer-
ican consumers, and hence the lower frequency of use of this cognitive operation in
American wine brands. Its frequency increases, though, when used indirectly in com-
bination with comparison or domain reduction operations, since indirection helps to
soften the force of the message, thus allowing compliance with the Politeness
Principle.
The interaction of different linguistic genres with the classication of cognitive
operations considered in this study also calls for more in-depth consideration.
Further investigation could, therefore, explore conceptual integration in wine brand
names in comparison with current work on this issue within the more general market-
ing discourse (Prez-Sobrino 2013). It would be interesting to consider, for example,
whether or not the general language of marketing narratives also favors the use of
comparison and domain reduction operations as is the case with the more specic
genre of branding and naming, or whether, on the contrary, either genre can be
dened in relation to its preference for specic patterns of conceptual integration.

Disclosure statement
No potential conict of interest was reported by the author.

Funding
This work was supported by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness [grant
number FFI2013-43593-P].

Notes
1. Since diminutives involve a downscaling of the attributes of an entity, the brands based on this
linguistic realization procedure exploit the Modesty Maxim by presenting themselves as small
and unimportant (and thus, maximizing dispraise of themselves). However, diminutives, as shall
be shown in Sections 5.1 and 6.1., simultaneously exploit the ICM of Size, according to which
small and unimportant things are often seen as harmless, desirable, and/or appealing (see
Section 4.3).
2. The ubiquity of the Idealized Cognitive Model of Size is a theoretical construct that has not yet been
ascertained or refuted through empirical analysis. Its formulation has been made in relation to
Western cultures (Europe, North-America) and it is, therefore, useful for the analysis of the
Spanish and American brands under consideration, but its full cultural scope is yet to be
determined.
3. This being one of the fundamental tenets of Conceptual Metaphor Theory within Cognitive
Linguistics (cf. Lakoff 1987; Lakoff and Johnson 1980, 1999; Lakoff and Turner 1989, and refer-
ences therein).
4. Comparison and correlation operations are two subtypes of the traditional umbrella term
cognitive metaphor (Lakoff 1987). Domain expansion and reduction operations correspond to
part-for-whole and whole-for-part cognitive metonymies (see Prez-Hernndez 2013a for an
exhaustive description of these four types of cognitive operations and their role in wine
branding).
148 L. PREZ-HERNNDEZ

5. Although the use of French, Italian, and Spanish diminutives is likely to have some meaning
effects on the overall interpretation of the brand, as we have theoretically speculated in the
text above, the nature and scope of the specic associations and connotations that may
derive from them should be the object of more ne-grained empirical work based on the statisti-
cal treatment of consumers answers to specically-targeted queries and questionnaires.
6. An additional reason for using French, Italian, and Spanish diminutive sufxes may well be that
brands with overtones from these languages may benet from the connotations of exclusivity
and top quality that the wines from the corresponding countries have already earned.

Notes on contributor
Lorena Prez Hernndez, Ph.D., works as a permanent lecturer at the University of La Rioja
(Spain) since 2001. She is a member of the Editorial Board of the Review of Cognitive Lin-
guistics (RCL), the Bibliography of Metaphor and Metonymy (John Benjamins), the Journal
of English Studies (JES), and American Journal of Linguistics (AJL).
Her present research interests include aspects of cognitive and functional semantics.
She has looked into issues of grammatical metaphor and metonymy from a cross-linguistic
perspective, as well as into cognitive and constructional aspects of speech acts. Simul-
taneously, she has also investigated the metaphorical grounding of modals in Spanish,
French, English, and Italian. She has published over 30 papers in high-impact international
journals such as Journal of Pragmatics, Language and Communication, Cognitive Linguis-
tics, and Applied Linguistics. At present she collaborates with Lexicon Branding, Co. (Sau-
salito, USA) as a linguist consultant in the assessment of new commercial brands.

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