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This word has distinct meanings in other fields: see denotation (semiotics) and connotation and denotation. For the opposite of Denotation see Connotation.

  • In logic, linguistics and semiotics, a denotation of a word or phrase is a part of its meaning; however, several parts of meaning may take this name, depending on the contrast being drawn:
    • Connotation and denotation are either
      • in basic semantics and literary theory, the figurative and literal meanings of a word, or
      • in philosophy, logic and parts of linguistics, the intension and extension of a word
    • Denotation can be synonymous with reference in the sense and reference in philosophy of language.
  • In Semiotics, denotation also has its own meaning.
  • In media-studies terminology, denotation is the first level of analysis: what the audience can visually see on a page. Denotation often refers to something literal, and avoids being a metaphor. Here it is usually coupled with connotation which is the second level of analysis, being what the denotation represents

In logic and semantics, denotational always attracts the extension meaning "in the pair", but the other element genuinely varies. See intension for some more discussion.

A denotation is the strict, literal, dictionary definition of a word, devoid of any emotion, attitude, or colour.

Denotation often links with symbolism, as the denotation of a particular media text often represents something further; a hidden meaning (or an Engima Code) is often encoded into a media text (such as the images below).

In order to understand fully the difference between denotation and connotation in the media studies and semiotics uses it is necessary to become familiar with some examples:

Examples

The denotation of this example is a red rose with a green stem. The connotation is that it is a symbol of passion and love - this is what the rose represents.

The denotation is a brown cross. The connotation is a symbol of religion, according to the media connotation. However, to be more specific this is a symbol of Christianity.

The denotation is a representation of a cartoon heart. The connotation is a symbol of love and affection, not in the way of a rose, but a symbol of true love.


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