Educational mottos of tertiary institutions in Vietnam and English-Speaking countries: A study of syntactic features

It should be noted that at present educational sector has clearly shown its worth in accordance

with the development of human society. The fact remains that numerous Vietnamese universities and

colleges have penetrated into overseas educational sector, receiving thousands of foreign students

annually and adopting various advertising campaigns using a wide range of English mottos. It is

inevitable that those universities and colleges may make some mistakes when creating fitting mottos for

their vision and mission. On the basis of the analyzed results, the study is expected to give an in-depth

insight in one of the most integral aspects of linguistic characteristics of educational mottos, syntax,

which centers on investigating the way structural components are arranged. Furthermore, similarities

and differences in the way of writing educational mottos between Vietnam and English-speaking

countries (ESCs) are also briefly summarized before proposing some useful hints for Vietnamese

authorities in creating educational mottos.

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Educational mottos of tertiary institutions in Vietnam and English-Speaking countries: A study of syntactic features
e to limit of space, it virtually appears to 
have no room for longer and more complicated noun phrases or elaborated sentences. According to 
Bruthiaux (1996, p. 80-81), the fact that heavy modification of noun phrase springs from spatial and 
financial constraints which help to minimize the number of function words lead to the frequent use of heavy 
modification. In this study, it is particularly the form: Premodifier + Head. For the sake of attracting 
students’ attention, mottos are found with the main use of adjectives and nouns to modify head nouns. 
As shown in the chart above, universities and colleges of ESCs deem verb phrase a predominant type 
in writing educational institution mottos, accounting for 43%. Meanwhile, this usage is less observed in 
mottos of Vietnamese institutions with merely over 18%. In advertising, verbal groups are mostly of 
maximum simplicity, consisting of only one word (Leech, 1996). In addition, the marked frequency of 
using progressive forms in mottos of ESCs can probably result from the intention of advertisers to mimic 
spoken language (Biber et al., 2002, p. 158). This assists the authorities to add a conversational quality to 
advertisement which can make the audience easily feel warm and familiar. Another noticeable observation 
is the propensity of authorities to omit the subject and auxiliary in the progressive phrase to become non-
finite, for instance “Shaping futures” (Nottingham Trent University). The reason is that students are 
supposed to form a virtual link between the implied subject of universities and colleges and mottos, which 
enables schools to remove it without misinterpretation. Also be concluded from the analysis of noun 
phrases, verb phrases are quite commonly used due to the limit on spatial and financial constraints. 
Other categories of phrases seem to be unremarkable and much less commonly used. Regarding 
adjective phrase, while its usage makes up only 9.5% in the mottos of ESCs, Vietnamese universities and 
colleges employ this linguistic feature more popularly, but with merely 15%. One reason for this fact may 
arise from the preference of using noun phrase with adjective modification. Hence, in sample mottos, 
adjectives just play a supplement role in noun phrase. 
Concerning prepositional phrases, they account for over 16% and 12% in mottos of Vietnam and 
ESCs respectively. Prepositional phrases on educational institution mottos are aimed to inform the readers 
of the vision or the missions, so readers can be attracted if they are told what they will get from tertiary 
education. For example, the motto “The Road to Success” (University of Economics and Business) tells the 
readers that the school will assist students to obtain a successful career in the future. However, not many 
authorities think that prepositional phrases are strong enough to fascinate the target audience. 
The least used phrases are adverb ones with roughly 5% in both Vietnam and ESCs. In general, 
adverbs are functioned as the modifiers in a sentence or to give further particulars about certain conditions. 
For instance, the word “freely” in “Freely you have received, Freely give” (Pepperdine University) will 
explain how you receive and give. However, it was found that adverb phrases do not always become the 
modifiers to the other lexical categories. In mottos, adverb phrases can stand alone as the main phrase to 
give further explanation about the universities and colleges. 
In light of the abovementioned analysis, one can conclude that universities and colleges in Vietnam 
are strongly in favor of using noun phrases in creating motto, while those in ESCs pay much more attention 
to verb phrases. Nonetheless, they all somewhat share the same preference for adopting adjective phrases, 
adverb phrases and prepositional phrases when writing mottos. The use of nouns helps to save space and 
time in advertisements or other related activities. This is absolutely beneficial when the audience can be 
well informed and easily receive the imparted messages. Meanwhile, verb phrase assists school authorities 
to add a conversational quality to the educational motto which can create a friendly, warm atmosphere and 
a close relationship between the institutions and the audience. Plus, verb phrases are also used quite 
commonly due to spatial and financial constraints. 
5.2. Sentences 
 Figure 3. The frequency of sentences in mottos of in both Vietnam and ESCs 
Figure 4. The frequency of sentences in mottos of in Vietnam and ESCs 
As can be seen from Figure 3, the most frequently used type of sentence is imperative sentence with 
the proportion of over 50%. It is not surprising that the authorities would employ imperative sentences to 
create a motto since this is the most direct way to achieve the ideal effects. In particular, in Vietnamese 
institutions, imperative sentence appears to be predominance with around 70%. Leech (1966) argues that 
the reason for the ubiquitous utility of imperative sentence is deemed the audience’s familiarity with the 
road signs, official forms and instructions. However, the tendency of applying this category in Vietnam is 
contrary to that in ESCs. It is evident that the figure for imperative sentence in ESCs nearly doubles that of 
Vietnamese institutions (28 versus 16 mottos). The reason for this may be the diverse use of other categories 
in Vietnam. 
In terms of statement, which ranks second in the frequency of using in both Vietnamese and English-
speaking universities and colleges with about 48%, the trend is different. To be more specific, the 
percentage in using statements of tertiary institutions in ESCS makes up roughly 54%, which is almost 
twice as much as that in Vietnam. Regarding statement, simple sentences are the most frequently used type 
because with well-composed simple sentences, the information imparted to readers will be succinct and 
coherent. Additionally, simple sentences are easy to remember, while one main aim of a motto is to be 
memorable and recited. Hence, statements, especially simple sentences are more reader-friendly and 
commonly applied in advertisements in general and in educational school mottos in particular. 
Another category is question, making up only over 1% in both Vietnam and ESCs. Leech (1966) 
stated one of the functions of interrogative sentence in advertisements is to draw the audience’s attention 
by raising questions, especially rhetorical questions. This approach may have merits as well as drawbacks; 
therefore, it might be considered one minor reason why questions are less used in educational school mottos. 
Last but not least, it can be seen that exclamation is not used in any educational school mottos of 
universities and colleges in both Vietnam and ESCs. There is no doubt that exclamation is a sentence 
expressing a strong feeling; as a result, it is not suitable for serving educational institution mottos which 
transmit the educational vision and mission of the universities and colleges. 
In a nutshell, on the one hand, both Vietnamese and English-speaking universities and colleges tend 
to make little use of question and exclamation. On the other hand, imperative sentence appears to be a major 
element employed in the mottos of tertiary institutions in Vietnam, whereas statement contributes the 
highest percentage in the frequency of using in ESCs. The notion to explain this result is that imperative 
sentence is applied to express the determination and commitment to achieve the set goals of the whole 
university. This type of short and concise sentence creates persuasion, serving for the purpose of boosting 
the learning spirit of students to try harder for their learning cause. In terms of the sentential type of 
statement, the main aim is to illustrate the visions and missions of schools, giving much more motivations 
for their students to pursue their study path. Furthermore, those facts can be also seen as reasons for them 
to enrol into universities and colleges. 
This study aims at providing some critical insights in syntactic features of mottos, from which 
students can expand their understanding in the field of advertising mottos. Particularly for ones who work 
with advertising agency, this theory gives ways to understand structure of a motto and offers some 
techniques for them to write a successful motto in English to attract students’ attention. As for teachers, 
they can take advantage of this study to understand not only the background information of advertising and 
mottos, but they also can gain a profound insight in syntactic aspects including phrases and sentences. 
Hence, they can apply knowledge as well as sample mottos as examples from this study to explain to 
students during the process of teaching. When it comes to Vietnamese tertiary institutes, this work creates 
an opportunity for these universities and colleges to have a deeper understanding in the structure of each 
kind of mottos. In particular, structure and the use of phrases and sentences are two major elements that can 
be attained through this study. In that way, tertiary institutions will easily make decisions on which kind of 
phrases or sentences is suitable and brings success to their reputation. 
6. Conclusion 
It is worth noting that Vietnamese universities and colleges have tendency to use noun phrases in 
mottos whereas those in ESCs show their preference for adopting verb phrases. The use of nouns helps to 
save space and time in advertisements. This is absolutely beneficial when the audiences can be well 
informed and easily receive the delivered messages. Meanwhile, verb phrases assist school authorities to 
add a conversational quality to the educational mottos, which can create a friendly warm atmosphere and a 
close relationship between the tertiary institutions and the audience. What is more, verb phrases are also 
applied quite commonly due to the limit on spatial and financial constraints. Nonetheless, all universities 
and colleges in Vietnam and ESCs, to a certain extent, share the same preference for adopting adjective 
phrases, adverb phrases and prepositional phrases when creating mottos. 
Regarding sentences, statements tend to hold up the majority in the frequency of occurrence in ESCs 
thanks to its being more reader-friendly and going straight to the audience’ mind, while those in Vietnam 
give their preference to imperative sentences due to the audience’s familiarity with the road signs, official 
forms and instructions. However, both Vietnamese and English-speaking universities and colleges tend to 
make little use of questions and exclamations. 
Due to time constraint, this research has only investigated 200 educational institution mottos, which 
makes the results become less generalized. Hence, a larger population of samples is recommended to 
generate more precise results. Also, the scope of study on syntactic features can be implemented in other 
fields, not merely limited in tertiary education mottos. 
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KHẨU HIỆU GIÁO DỤC ĐẠI HỌC TẠI VIỆT NAM 
VÀ CÁC NƯỚC NÓI TIẾNG ANH: 
NGHIÊN CỨU DƯỚI GÓC NHÌN TỪ ĐẶC TRƯNG CÚ PHÁP 
Tóm tắt: Hiện nay nền giáo dục đang ngày càng thể hiện rõ vị thế của mình trong quá trình phát triển 
của xã hội. Thực tế cho rằng rất nhiều trường đại học, cao đẳng của Việt Nam đang nỗ lực vươn mình 
ra tầm quốc tế, thu hút hàng nghìn sinh viên nước ngoài tới theo học mỗi năm, đồng thời áp dụng nhiều 
chiến dịch quảng bá hình ảnh, trong đó có sử dụng các khẩu hiệu giáo dục. Tuy nhiên, các trường đều 
thật khó tránh khỏi những sai sót trong quá trình định hình khẩu hiệu giáo dục phù hợp với tầm nhìn và 
sứ mệnh của mình. Dựa trên kết quả phân tích, bài nghiên cứu đưa ra một cái nhìn có chiều sâu về một 
trong những khía cạnh ngôn ngữ quan trọng nhất trong khẩu hiệu giáo dục, đó chính là cú pháp, tập 
trung nghiên cứu sự sắp xếp của các thành tố ngôn ngữ. Hơn nữa, đặc điểm giống và khác nhau về cách 
viết khẩu hiệu giáo dục của các trường đại học, cao đẳng ở Việt Nam và các nước nói tiếng Anh cũng 
được chỉ ra cùng với những gợi ý cho các trường khi viết khẩu hiệu giáo dục. 
Từ khóa: Đặc điểm cú pháp, khẩu hiệu giáo dục, đại học và cao đẳng, Việt Nam, các nước nói tiếng Anh 

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