Denotative: Naming names

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While it is impossible to neatly separate connotation from denotation, we found it useful to term anchors that refer to names of nodes or other portions of the hypertext "denotative." Denotative anchors are primarily found in efferent sites and in menus or maps of artistic works. At times, embedded links can be denotative (such as this hypertext paper uses) but these are rare. Our survey did not find an artistic work that consistently used embedded denotative links.

In efferent sites

Denotative anchors are the primary anchors in efferent sites, which very rarely use embedded connotative links. Denotative anchors in efferent sites such as Doonesbury [64]Idea Line [67], FirstGov [18], and Nevada Division of Environmental Protection [50] go to the pages that they name. In FirstGov, for example, the anchor "find government benefits" leads to a database search engine to locate specific government benefits. Even embedded links in efferent sites such as PeopleSoft [53] tended to be denotative, going to more information:

get the latest updates link to peoplesoft connect
From PeopleSoft, used by permission.

The graphic menu in Poems That Go Archives [54] serves as a bridge between strictly denotative anchors (listing the poems published in each year) and an almost connotative snapshot icon of each work.

Web designers for efferent sites advocate not only denotative anchors, but clear denotative anchors: text or icons clearly labeling the function or subject the link will go to. Constance Peterson complains about an unclear anchor in garden.com in 2000: "No guessing games. Garden.com hides its order check-out process behind an unexplained text link labeled wheelbarrow. Most shopping websites use a shopping cart or basket icon (or a checkout link), placed prominently at the top of the page. Yours should, too." [105]

In aesthetic works

In aesthetic works, the denotative meanings become a bit murkier. Chandler rightly warns that "whilst theorists may find it analytically useful to distinguish connotation from denotation, in practice such meanings cannot be neatly separated. [79] " Denotative anchors in these works may lead to the name of the node, but the name is evocative and can have underlying connotations itself.

Denotative menus. while most common in efferent sites, can appear in artistic works, such as Marble Springs' [36] Directory which lists the poem titles and cards of denizens or High Crimson's [11] menu which lists the main sections.  They can be even be misleading: Afterimage [7] gives us a denotative menu (January/February/...), but no indication that the action in these nodes occurs in the months named. Afterimage has another psuedo-denotative anchor structure: the link termed "end" brings us to to a screen about the author. The month anchors in the menu do not truly coincide with months in the narrative, yet December has an ending note: "Afterimages of the imagination can persist for decades." Tan reports that one of her readers felt closure in Afterimage because she "feels have read all because of “The End” and reached December" while another "felt did not reach conclusion; surprised at lack of closure. [115, Appendix H]"

Maps can also be denotative in aesthetic works, such as Victory Garden's [48] denotative map which leads to subsections. Yet these denotations often have underlying connotations. U Turns, for example, is the name of the space, but is a pun on Uruquhart, who is considering his reflections, and a pun on U (you) as the node asks: "Is this you?"

Storyspace [13] has a built in denotative system as each link shows the path name and node that it anchors to. Again, each author has provided a different connotative twist on the node names and link names. Sea Island [16] and Samplers [37] both use the denotative link names to provide a connotative overlaying commentary.

Sand Loves and Ferris Wheels [33] provide denotative anchor structures where the anchor names the title of the node it connects to. But these denotations form part of a larger connotative whole. In both cases, the anchors form a poem that comments on the action. The nodal titles on the denotative map of Sand Loves: "castles and crabs/ wet buckets of beach sand/ scrunching squarely through our toes forever/" form the memory that the text comments on "This is what you will tell your children you remember. And we will laugh through the sand for centuries to come." [38]

When denotative becomes connotative

Names of nodes have connotations as well, which can be interpreted in context with the content of that node and in the overall context of the hypertext. Thus while denotatively naming the node they link to, these anchors can be overlaid with semiotic potential.

  • Afterimage [7]. While Afterimage uses embedded links with a denotative function (to go to the next screen), the link is connotative.
  • Joe's Heartbeat in Budapest [49]. Forced responses are denotative to indicate a conversation, but the nonchanging nature shows the connotative differences within the context of each node.)
  • Six Sex Scenes [14] links us to the names of the nodes, but these names too are provocative and evocative. "Mind Disorder" for example, leads to a node that insists the narrator is fine.