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In
linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. It is called a scientific study because it entails a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise analysis of all aspects of language, particularly its nature and structure. Linguis ...

linguistics
and
philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the systematized study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about existence, reason, knowledge, values, mind, and language. Such questions are often posed as problems to be studied or resolved. Some ...
, the denotation of an expression is its literal meaning. For instance, the
English
English
word "warm" denotes the
property Property is a system of rights that gives people legal control of valuable things, and also refers to the valuable things themselves. Depending on the nature of the property, an owner of property may have the right to Consumables, consume, alte ...
of being warm. Denotation is contrasted with other aspects of meaning including
connotation A connotation is a commonly understood cultural or emotional Emotions are mental states brought on by neurophysiology, neurophysiological changes, variously associated with thoughts, feelings, behavioral responses, and a degree of pleas ...
. For instance, the word "warm" may evoke calmness or cosiness, but these associations are not part of the word's denotation. Similarly, an expression's denotation is separate from pragmatic inferences it may trigger. For instance, describing something as "warm" often implicates that it is not hot, but this is once again not part of the word's denotation. Denotation plays a major role in several fields. Within
philosophy of language In analytic philosophy, philosophy of language investigates the nature of language and the relations between language, language users, and the world. Investigations may include inquiry into the nature of Meaning (philosophy of language), meanin ...
, denotation is studied as an important aspect of meaning. In
mathematics Mathematics is an area of knowledge that includes the topics of numbers, formulas and related structures, shapes and the spaces in which they are contained, and quantities and their changes. These topics are represented in modern mathematics ...

mathematics
and
computer science Computer science is the study of computation, automation, and information. Computer science spans theoretical disciplines (such as algorithms, theory of computation, information theory, and automation) to Applied science, practical discipli ...
, assignments of denotations are assigned to expressions are a crucial step in defining interpreted
formal language In logic, mathematics, computer science, and linguistics, a formal language consists of string (computer science), words whose symbol (formal), letters are taken from an alphabet (formal languages), alphabet and are well-formedness, well-formed ...
s. The main task of formal semantics is to reverse engineer the computational system which assigns denotations to expressions of
natural language In neuropsychology, linguistics, and philosophy of language, a natural language or ordinary language is any language that has linguistic evolution, evolved naturally in humans through use and repetition without conscious planning or premeditati ...
s.


In linguistic semantics

In
natural language semantics Semantics (from grc, wikt:σημαντικός, σημαντικός ''sēmantikós'', "significant") is the study of reference, Meaning (philosophy), meaning, or truth. The term can be used to refer to subfields of several distinct discipline ...
, denotations are conceived of as the outputs of the semantic component of the grammar. For example, the denotation of the word "blue" is the property of being blue and the denotation of the word "Barack Obama" is the person who goes by that name. Phrases also have denotations which are computed according to the
principle of compositionality In semantics, mathematical logic and related disciplines, the principle of compositionality is the principle that the meaning of a complex expression is determined by the meanings of its constituent expressions and the rules used to combine them. ...
. For instance, the
verb phrase In linguistics, a verb phrase (VP) is a syntax, syntactic unit composed of a verb and its argument (linguistics), arguments except the subject (grammar), subject of an independent clause or coordinate clause. Thus, in the sentence ''A fat man quic ...
"passed the class" denotes the property of having passed the class. Depending on one's particular theory of semantics, denotations may be identified either with terms'
extensions Extension, extend or extended may refer to: Mathematics Logic or set theory * Axiom of extensionality * Extensible cardinal * Extension (model theory) * Extension (predicate logic), the set of tuples of values that satisfy the predicate * Exte ...
,
intension In any of several fields of study that treat the use of signs — for example, in linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. It is called a scientific study because it entails a comprehensive, systematic, objectiv ...

intension
s, or other structures such as context change potentials. When uttered in
discourse Discourse is a generalization of the notion of a conversation to any form of communication. Discourse is a major topic in social theory, with work spanning fields such as sociology, anthropology, continental philosophy, and discourse analysis. F ...

discourse
, expressions may convey other associations which are not computed by the grammar and thus are not part of its denotation. For instance, depending on the context, saying "I ran five miles" may convey that you ran exactly five miles and not more. This content is not part of the sentence's denotation, but is rather pragmatic inferences arrived at by applying
social cognition Social cognition is a sub-topic of various branches of psychology Psychology is the science, scientific study of mind and behavior. Psychology includes the study of consciousness, conscious and Unconscious mind, unconscious phenomena, in ...
to its denotation.


Denotation, meaning, and reference

Linguistic discussion of the differences between denotation, meaning, and
reference Reference is a relationship between objects in which one object designates, or acts as a means by which to connect to or link to, another object. The first object in this relation is said to ''refer to'' the second object. It is called a ''name'' ...
is rooted in the work of
Ferdinand de Saussure Ferdinand de Saussure (; ; 26 November 1857 – 22 February 1913) was a Swiss Linguistics, linguist, Semiotics, semiotician and philosopher. His ideas laid a foundation for many significant developments in both linguistics and semiotics in the 2 ...

Ferdinand de Saussure
, specifically in his theory of
semiotics Semiotics (also called semiotic studies) is the systematic study of sign processes (semiosis) and meaning making. Semiosis is any activity, conduct, or process that involves Sign (semiotics), signs, where a sign is defined as anything that commun ...

semiotics
written in the book Course in General Linguistics. Philosophers
Gottlob Frege Friedrich Ludwig Gottlob Frege (; ; 8 November 1848 – 26 July 1925) was a German philosopher, Mathematical logic, logician, and mathematician. He was a mathematics professor at the University of Jena, and is understood by many to be the fath ...
and
Bertrand Russell Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell, (18 May 1872 – 2 February 1970) was a British mathematician, philosopher, logician, and public intellectual. He had a considerable influence on mathematics, logic, set theory, linguistics, ar ...
have also made influential contributions to this subject.


Denotation and reference

Although they have similar meanings, denotation should not be confused with
reference Reference is a relationship between objects in which one object designates, or acts as a means by which to connect to or link to, another object. The first object in this relation is said to ''refer to'' the second object. It is called a ''name'' ...
. A reference is a specific person, place, or thing that a speaker identifies when using a word. Vocabulary from
John Searle John Rogers Searle (; born July 31, 1932) is an American philosopher widely noted for contributions to the philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, and social philosophy. He began teaching at UC Berkeley in 1959, and was Willis S. and Mario ...

John Searle
's speech act theory can be used to define this relationship. According to this theory, the speaker action of identifying a person, place, or thing is called referring. The specific person, place, or thing identified by the speaker is called the referent. Reference itself captures the relationship between the referent and the word or phrase used by the speaker. For referring expressions, the denotation of the phrase is most likely the phrase's referent. For content words, the denotation of the word can refer to any object, real or imagined, to which the word could be applied.


Denotation and meaning

In "On Sense and Reference", philosopher
Gottlob Frege Friedrich Ludwig Gottlob Frege (; ; 8 November 1848 – 26 July 1925) was a German philosopher, Mathematical logic, logician, and mathematician. He was a mathematics professor at the University of Jena, and is understood by many to be the fath ...
began the conversation about distinctions between meaning and denotation when he evaluated words like the German words "Morgenstern" and "Abendstern". Author Thomas Herbst uses the words "kid" and "child" to illustrate the same concept. According to Herbst, these two words have the same denotation, as they have the same member set; however, "kid" may be used in an informal speech situation whereas "child" may be used in a more formal speech situation.


In other fields

* In
computer science Computer science is the study of computation, automation, and information. Computer science spans theoretical disciplines (such as algorithms, theory of computation, information theory, and automation) to Applied science, practical discipli ...
,
denotational semantics In computer science, denotational semantics (initially known as mathematical semantics or Scott–Strachey semantics) is an approach of formalizing the meanings of programming languages by constructing mathematical objects (called ''denotations'' ...
is contrasted with
operational semantics Operational semantics is a category of Formal language, formal programming language Semantics (computer science), semantics in which certain desired properties of a Computer program, program, such as correctness, safety or security, are formal ve ...
. *In
media studies Media studies is a discipline Discipline refers to rule following behavior, to regulate, order, control and authority. It may also refer to punishment. Discipline is used to create habits, routines, and automatic mechanisms such as blind obe ...

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 A metaphor is a figure of speech that, for rhetorical effect, directly refers to one thing by mentioning another. It may provide (or obscure) clarity or identify hidden similarities between two different ideas. Metaphors are often compared with ...
. Here it is usually coupled with
connotation A connotation is a commonly understood cultural or emotional Emotions are mental states brought on by neurophysiology, neurophysiological changes, variously associated with thoughts, feelings, behavioral responses, and a degree of pleas ...
which is the second level of analysis, being what the denotation represents.


See also

*
Connotation A connotation is a commonly understood cultural or emotional Emotions are mental states brought on by neurophysiology, neurophysiological changes, variously associated with thoughts, feelings, behavioral responses, and a degree of pleas ...
* Denotationalism * Linguistic competence *
Principle of compositionality In semantics, mathematical logic and related disciplines, the principle of compositionality is the principle that the meaning of a complex expression is determined by the meanings of its constituent expressions and the rules used to combine them. ...
*
Reference Reference is a relationship between objects in which one object designates, or acts as a means by which to connect to or link to, another object. The first object in this relation is said to ''refer to'' the second object. It is called a ''name'' ...
* Sense and reference


References


External links


Semiotics for Beginners


{{Formal semantics Philosophy of language Lexicology Meaning (philosophy of language) Formal semantics (natural language)