Reference deals with the relationship between language and the real world.
Take the name Barack Obama, for example. This name refers to a specific person on Earth. In this example, the actual human being is considered the referent.
Let’s look at another example.
In the sentence “I am at my house,” the referent of “I” is the speaker of the sentence (you if you just said it!) and the referent of the word “house” is your specific home.
These relationships between the words (language) and object are called denotations. You can say that the word denotes the object.
Sometimes confusion can occur when two or more people don’t agree or understand who the referent is in a denotation. Imagine a detective that goes into a bar looking for a suspect. He goes up to the bartender and says “I’m looking for a woman.” To him, the referent of “woman” is the specific suspect that he is looking for. To the bartender, the referent of the word “woman” could mean something else, such as a prostitute.
Let’s go back to our example above, Barack Obama. His specific name refers to a specific person; however, we can refer to Barack Obama in different ways, or senses.
Senses are different ways to refer to the same object.
We can refer to Barack Obama using multiple senses including:
- Michelle Obama’s husband
- The 44th president of the United States
- The president before Donald Trump