signification. For Saussure, the relationship of a sign or sign system to its referential reality. Barthes makes much more of the concept, and uses it to refer to the way that signs work in a culture: he adds the dimension of cultural values to Saussure's use of the tern.
Barthes identifies two orders of signification: the first is that of denotation (which is what Saussure calls 'signification'), the second is that of connotation and myth and occurs when the first order meanings of the sign meet the values and established discourses of the culture.
The first order of signification: denotation. This refers to the simple or literal relationship of a sign to its referent. It assumes that this relationship is objective and value-freefor all their differences, the words 'horse', 'steed' and 'nag' all denote the same animal. The mechanical/chemical action of a camera in producing an image of what it is pointed at is denotation. The concept is generally of use only for analytical purposes; in practice there is no such thing as an objective, value-free order of signification except in such highly specialized languages as that of mathematics: 4 + 8 = 12 is a purely denotative statement.
The second order of signification: connotation. This occurs when the denotative meaning of the sign is made to stand for the value-system of the culture or the person using it. It then produces associative, expressive, attitudinal or evaluative shades of meaning. In photography the mechanical/chemical process produces denotative meanings, but the human intervention in the choice of features such as focus, framing and lighting produces the connotative. Connotation, then, is determined by the form of the signifier: changing the signifier while keeping the same signified on the first order is the way to control the connotative meanings. Examples are: two photographs of the same girl, one in sharp focus, the other in soft; the same word spoken in different tones of voice, or printed in different typefaces; or the choice between 'horse', 'nag' and 'steed'. Connotation works through style and tone, and is concerned with the how rather than the what of communication.
The second order of signification: myth. Barthes's rather specialized use of the term myth refers to a chain of concepts widely accepted throughout a culture, by which its members conceptualize or understand a particular topic or part of their social experience. Thus our myth of the countryside, for example, consists of a chain of concepts such as it is good, it is natural, it is spiritually refreshing, it is peaceful, it is beautiful, it is a place for leisure and recuperation. Conversely, our myth of the city contains concepts such as unnaturalness, constriction, work, tension, stress. These myths are arbitrary with respect to their referents, and culture-specific. In the eighteenth century, for example, the city was mythologized as good, civllized, urbane, polite; the countryside as bad, uncivilized, rude. A typical twentieth-century advertisement shows a happy family picnicking in a meadow beside a stream, with their car parked in the background. The mother is preparing the meal, the father and son are kicking a football, and the daughter is pickmg flowers. The ad acts as a trigger to activate our myths of countryside, family, sex roles, work-and-leisure, and so on. To understand this ad we must bring to it our 'ways of conceptualizing' these topics (or our myths): if we do not have these myths, the ad will mean something different to us, or may not mean very much at all. The term myth, then, is not to be used in the layperson's sense of a 'false belief', but in the anthropological sense of a culture's way of conceptualizing an abstract topic'. Myths are conceptual and operate on the plane of the signified; connotations are evaluative, emotive and operate on the plane of the signifier.
Signification and ideology: the third order. Fiske and Hartley (1978) suggest that the connotations and myths of a culture are the manifest signs of its ideology. The way that the varied connotations and myths fit together to form a coherent pattern or sense of wholeness, that is, the way they 'make sense', is evidence of an underlying invisible, organizing principleideology. Barthes identifies a similar relationship when he calls connotators (the signifiers of connotation) 'the rhetoric of ideology'; Fiske and Hartley suggest that it may be helpful to think of ideology as the third order of signification. [from: O'Sullivan, 1994]