Sophomore Spoken English Lesson Four (Spring 2019): Connotations

Nimen Hao,

Welcome to lesson four, the third of the four lessons focused on representation concepts.

Representation So Far: A Very Very Brief Summary

Let’s begin today by summarizing some of the main points we’ve learned about representation so far.

  • Language/representation is all around us, we are involved in communicating through many languages:

Languages of fashion, traffic lights, digital (shouji), music, facial expressions and bodily gestures, spoken words/sounds, written words/characters, art(s), …

  • For structuralists/semioticians, language is not natural, not just intentional, but made/produced.
  • Language and representation is made on the basis of codes and rules, which guiding the relationship of signifies to signifieds.
  • Different cultures code (and make guiding rules) differently:

For example, my (Anglo-cultural) “black” may not be your (Chinese cultural) “black”.

Its quite important to also note that representations can be understood differently by different interpreting groups (including speakers and listeners, and different groups of listeners).

We also began to talk about how representations can be understood by decoding/interpreting at the denotative (descriptive) and connotative (levels). If we haven’t already done so, let’s have a look at Roland Barthes second most famous example of semiotic decoding. panzani

Class Discussion: Barthes’s advertising example

  • Tell us what is being represented. What do you think the image does (how does it work)? Analyze the image in terms of its signifiers, signs, denotations and connotations.
  • Does it have what Barthes would call a myth (representing an underlying social ideology) ?

Group discussion: connotating ‘blackness’

We have talked about the way that representations can be understood as a system of signs. In the examples of blackness we can see how different representational systems, using different codes and rules make different relationships between the signifier ‘black’ and the concepts it symbolizes (signifies).

Now let’s look at the meanings of blackness at the connotative levels. Remember, the connotative level involves interpreting the completed signs in terms of ‘social ideology’ – the general beliefs, conceptual frameworks and value systems of society.

Look at the signified meanings within the four different interpretations of ‘blackness’ below (Chinese, Anglophone, Traditional, Contemporary).

  1. Can you group some of the signified meanings together within a connotative level of coding (hint; you don’t need to use all of the words). What kinds of coding are/were being used?
  2. Who do you think the interpreters are/were?

Chinese Black (student version)

Evil ghostly darkness wild beast/animal
serious solemn funeral death
water relentless fair

Anglophone Black (student version)

mysterious/evil/magic funeral death unlucky
anger black people hidden

Traditional Anglophone

Darkness evil devilish savage/primitive
dangerous sinful forbidden black people

Contemporary Anglophone

Cool Beautiful Powerful Black people
Discriminated Naughty

Small group Exercise: Decoding Chinese Spaghetti and its critical responses

OK, let’s do one more semiotic exercise before we move onto begin to discuss representation as discourse.

Have a look at the adverts below. First let’s have a look at a fashion campaign titled DG Loves China.







Group discussions: reading DG Loves China

Now, in your small groups do a semiotic reading of the images, then see if you can identify and discuss the denotative and connotative levels of the campaign’s representations.

Watching ‘Eating with chopsticks’

Next, let’s look at the company’s following advert series, “Eating with chopsticks”.


Video to be played in class ….

Again, working in your small groups, provide a semiotic reading, and identify and discuss the connotative level of the representation.


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