Denotation is a translation of a sign to its meaning, precisely to its literal meaning, more or less like dictionaries try to define it. Denotation is sometimes contrasted to connotation, which translates a sign to meanings associated with it.
- In grammar and literary theory, the literal meaning or "dictionary definition" of a term, devoid of emotion, attitude, and color.
- In semiotics, the surface or literal meaning of a signifier.
- In logic, formal semantics and parts of linguistics, the extension of a term.
In other fields
- In Computer science, denotational semantics is contrasted with operational semantics.
- In media-studies terminology, denotation is an example of 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.
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.