Connotative meaning in Semantics

As we experience, words are human situations, they not only take on certain denotation, but also often acquire individual flavours. They have come to have emotive tone, the associations, and suggestiveness of the situation in which they have been a part. For example let us examine the words “brink”. This denotes on “edge”.

However in the phrase “The brink of the cliff” or” the brink of disaster”, this word suggest danger and its emotive tone is that of fear.

According to Leech connotative meaning is the communicative value an expression has by virtue of what it refers to, over and above its purely conceptual content. It will be clear if we are talking about connotation, we are in fact talking about the “real word experience”. 

Someone associates with an expression when someone uses and hears it. The fact that if we compared connotative meaning with denotative meaning is that connotations are relatively unstable; that is they vary considerably we have seen, according to culture, historical period, and the experience of the individual.

Although all the speaker of particular language speaks the language exactly the same conceptual framework, actually each of them has individual perception of words.

Connotative meaning is indeterminate and open in the same way as our knowledge and belief about the universe are opened-ended. Connotations play a major role in the language of literature, of politics, of advertising, and a greeting card.

Connotative meaning is the communicative value of an expression over and above its purely conceptual content. It is something that goes beyond mere referent of a word and hints at its attributes in the real world. It is something more than the dictionary meaning.

Thus purely conceptual content of
‘woman’ is +human + female+ adult
but the psychosocial connotations could be ‘gregarious’, ‘having maternal instinct’ or typical (rather than invariable) attributes of womanhood such as ‘babbling’, ‘experienced in cookery’, ‘skirt or dress wearing’ etc.

Still further connotative meaning can embrace putative properties of a referent due to viewpoint adopted by individual, group, and society as a whole.

So in the past woman was supposed to have attributes like frail, prone to tears, emotional, irrigational, inconstant , cowardly etc. as well as more positive qualities such gentle, sensitive, compassionate, hardworking etc. Connotations vary age to age and society to society.

For example, Old age ‘Woman’ - ‘Non-trouser wearing or sari wearing’ in Indian context must have seemed definite connotation in the past. Present ‘Woman’---- Kamiz/T-shirt/Jeans wearing.

Some times connotation varies from person to person also. For example, connotations of the word ‘woman’ for misogynist and a person of feminist vary.

The boundary between conceptual and connotative seems to be analogous. Connotative meaning is regarded as incidental, comparatively unstable, in determinant, open ended, variable according to age, culture and individual, whereas conceptual meaning is not like that . It can be codified in terms of limited symbols.
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