Denotation and connotation
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Denotation and connotation. denotation and connotation are used to different types of value that we attribute to words. denotation. ‘Denotative’ is the term used to describe the way lexical items refer to a ‘referent’ in the real world whether it be a concrete thing or an abstract concept.

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Denotation and connotation

Denotation and connotation

denotation and connotation are used to different types of value that we attribute to words.


  • ‘Denotative’ is the term used to describe the way lexical items refer to a ‘referent’ in the real world whether it be a concrete thing or an abstract concept.

  • However, the denotative term often only covers the core prototype meaning, i.e., the typical example of an entity that is referred to, ad presenting only its typical characteristics of that entity. Such words can often assume a connotative value depending on the context in which they are used. This connotative meaning may be metaphorical, figurative, take the form of metonymies, or be deliberately ambiguous, as in the case of puns.

    Taylor gives the example the word ‘rat’. (p.85) to illustrate the range of connotation of a simple concrete noun, and the need to define the value of certain connotations in order to match them accurately.

    This shows how essential it is for translators to understand the connotations of lexical items or expressions.

Semantic prosody
Semantic prosody

  • The term semantic prosody was coined by the corpus linguist John Sinclair to refer to the way seemingly neutral words can carry negative or positive associations in frequently occurring collocations.

  • Sinclair gives the examples of ‘true feelings’ and shows how this is usually assumes a negative semantic prosody of difficulty or concealing: scared, reluctant to show his true feelings.

  • Another example offered by Sinclair is the unusual verb brook, which is a synonym for ‘tolerate’. But as a synonym it is always negative, and expresses intolerance of the intrusive behaviour of another, usually at a future date, and is often associated with a threat or warning:

    e.g. I will brook no interference

    Taylor examines the semantic prosody of the word ‘routine’. )p.86)

Political correctness
Political Correctness

  • Political correctness is a a direct practical response to the connotations of words.

  • Political correctness is the avoidance of certain words or expressions on the grounds that they are offensive to certain groups because of the unacceptable connotations such words have come to have for those groups or the individuals that identify with them.

    At times the search for alternatives can be so exaggerated or deliberately euphemistic as to actually be equally offensive by parodying political correctness itself, as some recent and notorious examples have shown.

Sensitive areas gender
Sensitive areas: gender

  • Gender is an increasingly sensitive issue in Anglo-Saxon culture, reflecting as it does the attempt to fight inequality and discrimination within the culture, as is reflected in the widespread use of twinning (he/she s/he). This can become tedious and stilted, so one solution is to pluralise the referent and subsequent pronouns, or dispensing with pronouns:

    e.g. the translator must be careful when he translates connotational meaning

    translators must be careful when they translate connotational meaning,

    the translator must be careful when translating connotational meaning. (Taylor p.87)

    Another aspect of this issue is the way in which female nouns are, e.g., neutralised : manageress/ manager.

Political correctness refernces to differently abled people
Political correctness: refernces to ‘differently abled’ people

  • physically and mentally challenged categories

  • When denoting these categories there is a preference for words with a ore positive connotation than traditional ones, which often have negative connotations.

  • Translators must guard against anachronistic and politically incorrect renderings, which involve words that have become taboo in either the source text of target text..

Political correctness race
Political correctness: race people

  • Fewer areas of life are as sensitive as the question of race, and when choosing the politically correct denotative term, translators must be intensely aware of the possible negative connotations of their solutions, using where appropriate (that is when they are not translating subjective, or historical texts or fiction which might well contain utterances all of which are politically incorrect by modern standards, but have to be rendered in undiluted form).

  • One of the problems in translating texts where race is an issue is that the politically correct form in one culture may be regarded as unacceptably patronising and therefore politically incorrect in another.

  • For example the Italian persona di colore (current until quite recently ) could quiet possibly be translated as ‘coloured person’ in British or American English, and this would be regarded as offensive and a denial of dignity, in cultures where ethnic origin is normally made explicit and linked to nationality as in African American.

  • This is also an example of how what might be called a less euphemistic and potentially offensive option, such as ‘black’, is regarded as the more correct and dignified. This may be because the more blunt term has connotations of honesty and even pride and assertion, while the euphemism seems to imply a shameful condition, precisely because it refuses to name it openly.

  • Sometimes one culture is faster to respond to the political aspects of a connotation, only to take the new denotation on board, after a time lag. This seems to be the case with ‘di colore’ which is increasingly giving way to ‘nero’ in Italian journalism.