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Denotation and Connotation

Denotation and Connotation

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Published by andru_nico2008

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Published by: andru_nico2008 on Jan 10, 2012
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The concepts
are two of the most important in semiotics analysis(although they are not exclusive to semiotics). Roughly speaking, denotation and connotationrefer to the first and second levels of meaning in a sign. The term denotation refers to the literalmeaning of a sign; to what is ³objectively´ present and easily recognized or indentified.Connotation is a term used to refer to meanings which lie beyond denotation but are dependenton it. In Elements of Semiology, Roland Barthes says ³the first system (denotation) becomes the plane of expression or signifier of the second system (connotation)«. The signifiers of connotation« are made up of signs (signifiers and signifieds united) of the denoted system´.While the distinction between literal and figurative language operates at the level of the
,that between denotation and connotation operates at the level of the
. We all know that beyond its ³literal´ meaning (its denotation), a particular word may have connotations: for instance, sexual connotations. In semiotics, denotation and connotation are terms describing therelationship between the signifier and its signified, and an analytic distinction is made betweentwo types of signifieds: a denotative signified and a connotative signified. Meaning includes both, denotation and connotation. For the art historian Erwin Panofsky, the denotation of arepresentational visual image is what all viewers from any culture and at any time wouldrecognize the image as depicting (Panofsky 1970, 51-3).
tends to be described as the definitional, literal, obvious or common-sense meaningof a sign. In the case of linguistic signs, the denotative meaning is what the dictionary attempts to provide.The term
is used to refer to the socio-cultural and ³personal´ associations(ideological, emotional, etc.) of the sign. These are typically related to the interpreter`s class,
age, gender, ethnicity, and so on. Connotation is thus context-dependent. Signs are more³polysemic´- more open to interpretation- in their connotations than their denotations.Denotation is sometimes regarded as a digital code and connotation as an analogue code.(Wilden 1987, 224).Denotation is the literal usage of words, while connotation is the use of language which has ahigh degree of emotion, either positive or negative. Compare the denotation of the word³police´ with several words which denote ³police´, but also connote positive or negativefeelings:-denotation: police;-connotation: officer, cop, pig.The word ³police´ is neutral in connotation, but ³officer´ is positive, ³cop´ neutral and ³pig´very negative in connotation. Thus, all of these words denote ³police´, but ones at right connoteeither positive, neutral or negative feelings. If you`re getting a ticket, you`d better say ³officer´.In common speech, we might call a policeman a ³cop´, but if you call him a ³pig´ you`ve reallysaid something nasty!Here`s a similar list:-denotation: thin;-connotation: svelte, skinny, slinky, anorexic.If someone calls a woman ³svelte´, she`s received a compliment meaning she`s thin and chic,like a model. But call a woman ³skinny´ and she`s not very pretty. Call her ³slinky´, and shemight be a bad girl, but call her ³anorexic´ and she should be hospitalized! All of these wordsdenote ³thin´ but each has a very different emotional meaning or connotation. The language youchoose plays a big role in the message that you actually convey. Try to determine the tone of your message and then choose words which are congruent with it. Two special and opposite usesof connotation are euphemisms and profanity. A euphemism is the substitution of words withmore positive connotation , for negatively connotative words.
indicates a simple, unambiguous , direct relationship between a sign and its referent.For example, the denotative meaning of ³home´ is ³shelter´ or ³a place to live´. There is noambiguity in denotative meaning because it is objective and concrete. Denotation occurs when asignified is known to everyone in the same manner. Denotations are akin to dictionary meanings.However, there are meanings that are not in the dictionary.For example, ³home´ has several connotative meanings. Connotations, then, are subjectivemeanings people add to signs, based on their idiosyncratic experiences and feelings. Dependingon how a person experiences home, the connotative meanings may vary. To somebody, homemay mean ³paradise´. To others, the same home may mean ³hell´. Connotations reflectsubjective values that are arbitrarily added to a sign by an interpreter. The important point is thatconnotative meanings of a sign stem from the interpreter¶s cultural experiences with a referentrepresented by the sign. Although they are two opposite modes of signification, both denotationand connotation constitute the foundation of communication. Denotation is the most fundamental basis of communication. In effect, however, connotation is what determines the potential successor failure of communication. Although all signs have both denotative and connotative meanings,the denotation to connotation ratio is different depending on the type of communication.For example, science is a type of communication that relies on denotation and art is a type of communication that involves connotations. Needless to say, we must properly figure outdenotation in our day communication. However, the more important thing is to grasp appropriateconnotations in messages delivered through communication, that is, connotations that areappropriate for a given context. Occasionally, connotation may be mistakes as denotation by thereceiver. If this occurs, the communication will be problematic. The difference betweendenotation and connotation can be easily understood as follows. Denotation is concerned withwhat, whereas connotation is concerned with how. In most cases, the connotative meaningscontingent on forms belong to human unconsciousness. Hence, many people fail to catch theconnotative meanings of a certain sign. Connotative meanings of things are buried in thecollective unconscious of people. Although we see things, their connotations are by and large beyond our comprehension.

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