denotation and connotation

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Roland Barthes (1915—1980) French writer and critic

Gottlob Frege (1848—1925) German philosopher and mathematician, founder of modern logic

Louis Hjelmslev (1899—1965)

pictorial semiotics

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Two interrelated orders of meaning operating simultaneously in a single cultural object: the first order, denotation, functions to state ‘what is’; the second order, connotation, functions conceptually and ideologically. French literary critic Roland Barthes, who transformed these concepts into a full-blown semiotic system by adapting the work of Danish linguist Louis Hjelmslev, offers an extended example of how this dual system works in his afterword to Mythologies (1957), translated as Mythologies (1970) in the form of a meditation on the cover page of a random issue of Paris Match. The image in question is of a uniformed black soldier saluting the French flag—at the level of denotation, the image signifies or can be read as simply that, a black soldier saluting a flag; but the same image also offers another order of meaning, or connotation, which Barthes muses might be that it is an answer to the critique of colonialism (what could be more patriotic and thus less inclined to insurrection than a soldier in uniform saluting a flag?). Within that analysis, the same dual function is clearly at work: the French flag denotes the national flag of France, but connotes patriotism, belonging, identification, and so forth. This dialectical way of reading cultural texts was especially influential in film and media studies in the 1970s and 1980s.

Subjects: Linguistics — Literary Theory and Cultural Studies.

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