Denotative meaning depends on the culture of the people while connotative meaning is universal. Denotative meaning is the true meaning of a word. For example, the word, kill – to quench something. Connotative meaning is the meaning of a word taking the context into consideration. For example, the ship is at the bank. This couldn’t be a place where money is kept, as in banking institution, but beside the river side.
Thus, most of the words used do not have denotative meaning but rather connotative meaning. For example, she is a dog (meaning she is promiscuous or licentious). English words have various shades of meaning. A word may denote one thing and connote another. The denotation of a word is the specific, exact and primary meaning of a word independent of its emotional or secondary meaning.
It is the specific person, object, sensation, idea, action or condition it signifies or names. It could also be called “referential meaning”. For instance, white denote colour ‘all white”. The denotation of words like bottle, book, or cup is the objects or things which these words literally refer. Denotative words therefore correspond directly in the meaning to the exact words which they point in the usual and obvious sense. It is possible to have a single lexical item to denote different things or types of objects in which the denotation are logical extension of the basic meaning of the word. For example, the word head, body, branch and bar.
The denotative meaning of a word is universal because it is fixed and it is the same all over the world. The connotative meaning of a word is implied meaning of a word brought about through feelings, emotions and value judgment. It can also be referred to as emotive or affective meaning. It is culture and time-bound and has to do with the attitude of the language user, that is, the emotional reaction of a language user to the use of a word.
For instance, white by denotation is a type of colour but has purity as a connotative meaning. Connotation refers to the meaning which a word suggests in addition to the basic or fundamental meaning. The word man in addition to it denotation connotes maturity, strength, masculinity and courage. A woman on the other hand denotes female human adult and has its connotative meaning to be feminine, fragility and tenderness.
The word house denotes a dwelling place or residence, but it connotes a place of refuge and security. Home on the other hand denotes a dwelling place or residence, but connotes family, affection, childhood memory, re-assuring sense of welcome.
Connotative meaning is more concern with attitude of language use and emotional reactions to the use of words based on previous experience. In other words, connotative shows the relationship between words and people and its meaning depends on culture, society, experience and environment which can vary from one part of the world to the other. Many words do have widely accepted connotation and these determine the electrical charge of a word i.e. positive or negative, favourable or unfavourable, generous or harsh.
Some people’s mindset about the connotative meaning of the word man is that it means wickedness, inconsiderate, callous, uncaring, devil, etc. To others, however, it may mean caring, loving, cheering, considerate, etc. It depends.