Denotation and Connotation
Excerpts from Semiotics for Beginners
Denotation: The term refers to the relationship between the signifier and its signified. Denotation is routinely treated as the definitional, 'literal', 'obvious' or 'common sense' meaning of a sign, but semioticians tend to treat it as a signified about which there is a relatively broad consensus. For Barthes, a denotative sign existed within what he called the first order of signification. In this framework connotation is a further sign (or signs) deriving from the signifier of a denotative sign. However, no clear distinction can be made between denotation and connotation.
Connotation: The socio-cultural and personal associations produced as a reader decodes a text. Considered an “expressive value” attached to the sign.The term also refers to the relationship between the signifier and its signified. For Barthes, connotation was a second order of signification which uses the denotative sign (signifier and signified) as its signifier and attaches to it an additional signified. In this framework connotation is a which derives from the signifier of a denotative sign (so denotation leads to a chain of connotations).
Ex: choice of font
Soft focus – sharp focus
Choice of words that mean the same thing, but have different connotations
At the denotative level this is a photograph of the movie star Marilyn Monroe. At a connotative level we associate this photograph with Marilyn Monroe's star qualities of glamour, sexuality, beauty - if this is an early photograph - but also with her depression, drug-taking and untimely death if it is one of her last photographs. At a mythic level we understand this sign as activating the myth of Hollywood: the dream factory that produces glamour in the form of the stars it constructs, but also the dream machine that can crush them - all with a view to profit and expediency. (Hayward 1996, 310)