Meanings. We create meaning from information we already know, concepts. However, what about the several literal meanings we can make? Things like denotations and connotations may jam up our thoughts about literal meanings, but Sean Hall can help us understand them a bit better in his book, This Means This This Means That. Hall’s book focuses on semiotics and serves almost as a semiotics guide for dummies.
Denotation and connotation can be difficult to understand. Maybe it’s the struggle of remembering which is which or just that we do not know them at all. Hall defines these terms easily in chapter six.
First, let us look at denotations. This is the easiest of the two and pretty much the first step to reading any sentence. Denotations refer to “what is said.” This means the literal, dictionary definition of the word. The comic below introduces denotations and connotations rather well, take a look…
As we see in this comic, Jeremy is telling his father he is not late. This line expresses simply that, it denotes the timeliness of Jeremy. However, the connotation refers to something different.
Connotations are defined by Hall as “how it is said.” This refers more to the mental, emotional, and social connections made with the words. Hall explains that there are literal and non-literal meanings produced through connotations. One easy way I like to think of it is the truth compared to the sarcastic meaning. Since, of course, sarcasm is my second and fluent language.
Let’s look back at the comic above. The connotation of Jeremy’s “I’m not late” can be taken literally, that is, that Jeremy is not late getting home. The non-literal meaning can be more easily understood by his second line, “I’m just not quite as on time as I could be.” This line verbally expresses the connotation of his first line.
Many of these Zits comics illustrate denotation and connotation. If you would like more examples, follow the link to see more: http://zitscomics.com/
Another example is this comic. It perfectly shows the difference between denotation and connotation. We can think of it more easily as what is said compared to what we hear. Just as Hall’s book introduces denotation and connotation with punctuation, we can also think of it in terms of tone and voice. How is it said? Can that directly determine the connotation we make of the phrase?
Since Hall’s book also wants us to decode images with every page, let’s think of denotation and connotation in terms of photography.
On the left is the original photo. We can see a lack of lighting, a boy standing on a brick wall of some sort, and we understand that the day is cloudy and overcast. On the right, the same image is presented of a boy standing on a wall. However, since the lighting has been changed and edits have been made, the photo has a different connotation than that of the original. The connotative meaning I take away from the original deals with depression and possibly suicide. While the edited photo holds a connotation of possibly God and heaven due to the uplifting clouds and sun, or just simply a happier day for the boy.
As Hall explains in This Means This This Means That, “denotation is concerned with what is photographed, while connotation is concerned with how it is photographed.”
And if you still do not understand the difference between denotation and connotation, maybe this corny video will help:
In this GoAnimate video, Captain English! helps to define and exemplify the common troubles in understanding denotation and connotation all while wearing a mask and standing awkwardly in his underwear. But I must admit, if you can get past his strange superhero attire, this video gives concise explanations that are easy to understand as well as ways to remember the two meanings.