Types of meaning
Geoffrey Leech (1974, 1981). Semantics: The
Study of Meaning. Seven types of meaning:
Conceptual meaning
Connotative meaning
Social meaning
Affective meaning
Reflected meaning
Collocative meaning
Thematic meaning
1. Conceptual meaning
Also called ‘denotative’ or ‘cognitive’
Refers to logical, cognitive or denotative
Concerned with the relationship between a
word and the thing it denotes, or refers to.
2. Connotative meaning
The communicative value an expression has by
virtue of what it refers to, over and above its
purely conceptual content.
A multitude of additional, non-criterial
properties, including not only physical
characteristics but also psychological and
social properties, as well as typical features.
Involving the ‘real world’ experience one
associates with an expression when one uses
or hears it.
Unstable: they vary considerably according to
culture, historical period, and the experience
of the individual.
Any characteristic of the referent, identified
subjectively or objectively, may contribute to
the connotative meaning of the expression
which denotes it.
3. Social meaning
What a piece of language conveys about the
social circumstances of its use.
Dialect: the language of a geographical region
or of a social class.
Time: the language of the 18th c., etc.
Province: language of law, of science, of
advertising, etc.
Status: polite, colloquial, slang, etc.
Modality: language of memoranda, lectures,
jokes, etc.
Singularity: the style of Dickens, etc.
domicile: very formal, official
residence: formal
abode: poetic
home: general
steed: poetic
horse: general
nag: slang
gee-gee: baby language
The five clocks by Martin Joos
Formal Consultative Casual
Formal <------------------------------> Informal
4. Affective meaning
Reflecting the personal feelings of the speaker,
including his attitude to the listener, or his
attitude to something he is talking about.
You’re a vicious tyrant and a villainous
reprobate, and I hate you for it!
I’m terribly sorry to interrupt, but I wonder if
you would be so kind as to lower your voices a
little. or
Will you belt up.
‘Colorful’ meaning
 tough-minded
 resolute, firm
 shrewd
 childlike
 wiseman
 man of usual talent
portly, stout, solid, plum
 slender, slim
sly, crafty
fleshy, fat, tubby
lean, skinny, lanky, weedy,
5. Reflected meaning
Arises in cases of multiple conceptual
meaning, when one sense of a word forms part
of our response to another sense.
 When you hear ‘click the mouse
twice’, you think of Gerry being
hit twice by Tom so you feel
 Many taboo terms are result of this.
6. Collocative meaning
The associations a word acquires on
account of the meanings of words which
tend to occur in its environment.
pretty: girl, boy, woman, flower, garden,
colour, village, etc.
handsome: boy, man, car, vessel, overcoat,
airliner, typewriter, etc.
I got on horseback within ten minutes after I got
your letter. When I got to Canterbury I got a chaise
for town; but I got wet through, and have got such a
cold that I shall not get rid of in a hurry. I got to the
Treasury about noon, but first of all got shaved and
dressed. I soon got into the secret of getting a
memorial before the Board, but I could not get an
answer then; however, I got intelligence from a
messenger that I should get one next morning. As
soon as I got back to my inn, I got my supper, and
then got to bed. When I got up next morning, I got
my breakfast, and, having got dressed, I got out in
time to get an answer to my memorial. As soon as I
got it, I got into a chaise, and got back to
Canterbury by three, and got home for tea. I have
got nothing for you, and so adieu.
7. Thematic meaning
What is communicated by the way in which a
speaker or writer organizes the message, in
terms of ordering, focus, and emphasis.
Mrs Bessie Smith donated the first prize.
The first prize was donated by Mrs Bessie
They stopped at the end of the corridor.
At the end of the corridor, they stopped.