About Denotation

From the Latin denotatio, denotation is the action and effect of denoting (a verb that, said of a word or phrase, mentions its objective meaning). Concept functions as the opposite of connotation.

The denotation is linked to the meaning of the referential mechanism with the information that a linguistic unit transmits. It is an explicit meaning, unlike connotation, whose meaning is suggested since the semantic value is not given by a lexical signifier.

Trademarks provide an example of how denotation and connotation work. A bar named The Old Bridge Pub has a denotative sense (the name that specifically identifies it as The Old Bridge Pub) and a connotative sense (the English phrase suggests that it is a British-style pub). Most of the brands, in general, go beyond the denotation and connote different meanings (El bar del grandfather restaurant does not connote the same thing as the Palais d’or).

The denotation, in short, refers to the direct meaning of a term, the one that is found in a dictionary and that mentions the relationship between the linguistic sign and its referent.

The denotative meaning of dog indicates that it is a domestic mammal of the canidae family, while, from the connotation of the term, it can be pointed out that a soccer player is a dog when he does not have a good level. A rose, to cite another example, also has a denotation (it is an organic vegetable being) and several possible connotations (love, melancholy, etc.).

It should be noted that denotation and connotation complement each other, they are necessary to give richness to a language since our communication is based on the transmission of what we perceive from our environment and the images that we create in our minds; In other words, we use the language to share content with others that is usually not objective, even when we think it is.

Although objectivity and denotation go hand in hand, this association can be looked at from two different angles: by referring to a car using that same term we make sure that our interlocutor understands exactly what we are talking about, without the need to make any abstraction or relationship with elements outside the conversation; it could be said, with all certainty, that we are being denotative.

However, what happens if a month before having this dialogue the interlocutor has lost a loved one in a car accident? This fact, although it is not present in the conversation, cannot go unnoticed by the other person: it will inevitably add a negative connotation to the hitherto innocent noun, and their understanding of the message may be affected. How to be denotative in a world that perceives reality in infinite ways?

No one can ensure the integrity of a message once it leaves our mouths or is captured on paper or in the pixels of a monitor. Through denotation we reduce the chances of misunderstandings, but it is impossible to eliminate them completely.

On the other hand, denotation is always subject to context, and this shows certain subjective nuances within its structure. In the thousands of years that our species has been on this planet, its conception of itself, of other living beings and of the objects that surround it has changed substantially; Likewise, he has learned to create and manufacture endless elements that are impossible to find in nature.

The term “horse”, pronounced at a time when that poor species was used as the only possible means of transportation, necessarily denoted this use; to this day, although they are still being exploited, their objective meaning is different. Similarly, definitions of human products, such as clothing and household appliances, vary: saying computer today and three decades ago denoted appliances that have little in common.