What is the Affective Meaning of a Word? Semantics Basics

Connotation, Denotation, and Affective Meaning

Semantics is the study of meaning in the human language. It not only discusses what is meant when we say something, but it also discusses how we imbue what we say with what we mean. When we do a semantic analysis, there are many factors that we must take into consideration. All words have both denotative, or literal, meaning and connotative, or associative, meaning.

When discussing words, you use the denotative definition when you are discussing what a word literally means, and the connotative definition is used when you are discussing what other concepts are associated with a word. For example, the word winter connotates cold, ice, winter clothing, and snow. Related to the concept of connotation is the affective meaning of a word. The affective meaning of a word is a more personalized definition of the word than the generalized concepts associated with connotation.

Emotions and Affective Meaning

It is important to remember that each individual will have a different affective meaning for a word. As such, only the person using a word will be aware of the particular affective meaning that they hold with the word. For example, we can discuss the word winter further. The word winter denotatively refers to a time period during which either the northern or southern hemisphere is furthest away from the sun.

Since we have already discussed the connotative associations of winter, we can discuss how the affective meaning. The affective meaning for the word winter is going to be different for each person who uses the word. For instance, a person who enjoyed going sledding as a child would associate these personal memories with the word winter, and the word would take on aspects of these positive emotions. However, if a child picked on and was the target of snowballs during the winter, then the word would mean something different as the word would take on aspects of these negative emotions.

The Personal Aspect

While semantics is not the most concrete field of linguistics in general, discussing affective meaning is perhaps the least concrete aspect of semantics. This can make for rather abstract discussions. It is difficult to discuss or assume anything about why a person uses a word as far as affective meaning goes.

Each individual will have their own experiences associated with a word, and as such only the person doing a semantic analysis of their own language can properly discuss the affective meaning of their word choice. This does not make the affective meaning a meaningless or useless concept. A person can derive their own affective meaning from a word and choose how to interpret a semantic analysis differently. Through examining the concept of affective meaning, we can see how every person can bring their own unique interpretation to the same set of words.