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 includes associated meanings. The denotational meaning of a word is perceived through visible concepts, whereas connotational meaning evokes sensible attitudes towards the phenomena.

In semiotics

In logic, linguistics and semiotics, the denotation of a word or phrase is a part of its meaning; however, the part referred to varies by context:
  • 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.