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The dominant meaning, or representation, of a word or a thing. The generally accepted view of denotation is in relationship to the secondary meaning (connotation), although some scholars dispute their distinct separation. Denotation is shaped by the cultural context in which language is constructed as a set of codes rather than by individual subjectivity. Significantly, denotation has been elaborated on in the work of the linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, the semiotician Roland Barthes, and the media critic John Fiske. Barthes sees denotation as the first order of signification. Ultimately, ideological meaning is determined by both connotation and denotation.

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