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Connotation

An image of the deceased French philosopher Ja...

An image of the deceased French philosopher Jacques Derrida. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In semiology connotation is the idea that a linguistic or vocal sign contains more than mere descriptive value (called the denotative value). This idea isn’t only known to semiologists. Poets and fiction writers have known about the importance of connotation for centuries. And in the social sciences, the French historian Fernand Braudel wrote in 1963:

[The definition of] most expressions, far from being fixed for ever, vary from one author to another, and continually evolve before our eyes.¹

What many semiologists do stress, however, is the importance not only of the writer but also the reader in the creation of multiple meanings.

Along these lines, Jacques Derrida believes that signs contain an infinite number of possible connotations. So communication is a potentially endless chain of connotative signification, with connotations playing off one another in a discontinuous matrix of linguistically constructed meaning. One of Derrida’s interesting claims here is that denotation plays next to no role in the process. In other words, everything is connotation.

The discussion about the absolute essence of a thing vs. its communal meaning(s) is many layered and goes back at least to the Scholastics of the Middle Ages. And as far back as Aristotle, the distinction between literal and figurative meaning has been discussed. More recent trends are summarized here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Connotation_%28semiotics%29

¹ Fernand Braudel, A History of Civilizations, trans. Richard Mayne, Penguin, 1993 [1963], p. 3.

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Jacques Derrida

Elisabeth Roudinesco - Jacques Derrida

Elisabeth Roudinesco – Jacques Derrida (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) was an influential French philosopher of language born in Algeria who taught at the Sorbonne and the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris.

Derrida and his followers suggest that the semiotic sense of denotation is, for the most part, chimerical and that everything is connotation.

Related Posts » Connotation, Denotation, Marx (Karl)


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Denotation

An image of the deceased French philosopher Ja...

An image of the deceased French philosopher Jacques Derrida. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the general sense, denotation means representing by signs or symbols. In semiotics it means affixing a specific, fixed meaning to a sign, in contrast to connotation. Although some thinkers present this distinction as if it’s a recent development, it was first introduced by J. S. Mill in A System of Logic in 1843.¹

Jacques Derrida and his followers suggest that the semiotic sense of denotation is, for the most part, chimerical and that everything is connotation. From this, one may try to claim that “there is only connotation.” But this claim arguably creates a meta-truth or master denotation that may also endlessly self reference (i.e. be reapplied to itself) in an infinite series of connotation. So this kind of claim would be paradoxically true and false.

¹ See online at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/27942