CCT210 - Lecture 2
Denotation, Connotation and Myth
'Denotation' tends to be described as the definitional, 'literal', 'obvious' or 'commonsense'
meaning of a sign.
The term 'connotation' is used to refer to the socio-cultural and 'personal' associations
(ideological, emotional etc.) of the sign.
These are typically related to the interpreter's class, age, gender, ethnicity and so on.
Signs are more 'polysemic' - more open to interpretation - in their connotations than their
denotations. Denotation is sometimes regarded as a digital code and connotation as an
Besides the 'literal' meaning (its denotation), a particular word may have connotations: for
instance, sexual connotations.
Meaning includes both denotation and connotation. It’s almost impossible to separate the two.
Both denotation and connotation involve the use of codes.
Denotation and connotation combine to produce myths – “ideologies of our time”
(Ideology: the shared set of values and beliefs that exist within a given society and through
which we live our lives)
Myths transform history into >> nature
Signs and codes are generated by myths and in turn serve to maintain them.
Popular usage of the term 'myth' suggests that it refers to beliefs which are demonstrably
But the semiotic use of the term does not necessarily suggest this.
Myths can be seen as extended metaphors. Like metaphors, myths help us to make sense of
our experiences within a culture.
They express and serve to organize shared ways of conceptualizing something within a
Semioticians in the Saussurean tradition treat the relationship between nature and culture as
For Barthes, myths serve the ideological function of naturalization. Their function is to
naturalize the cultural - in other words, to make dominant cultural and historical values,
attitudes and beliefs seem entirely 'natural', 'normal', self-evident, timeless, obvious 'common-
sense' - and thus objective and 'true' reflections of 'the way things are'. CCT210 - Lecture 2
Contemporary sociologists argue that social groups tend to regard as 'natural' whatever
grants privilege and power upon themselves.
Barthes saw myth as serving the ideological interests of the bourgeoisie. 'Bourgeois
ideology... turns culture into nature,' he declares.
George Lakoff and Mark Johnson outline key features of the myth of objectivism which