The Denotational Theory describes a direct relationship between expressions and things in
the world. Its roots are in the ‘Naturalist Approach’ and ‘the correspondence theory’ of
meaning. The theory states that all words denote something, such as verbs denoting
actions. Hence, we know the meaning of linguistic expressions because we know what
they stand for. One advantage is that it explains arbitrariness in languages, like the term
‘dog’ refering to the object ‘dog’ in the world. There is no reason as to why the object ‘dog’
is called as such, except for it being arbitrary. Problems with this theory include some
words not denoting anything and so having no concrete reference. For example, words
that describe emotions like ‘sadness’ and predicates applied to subjects like ‘fat’ in ‘John is
fat’ denote nothing. Furthermore, figurative expressions are not accounted for.
The Prototype Theory states that members of a conceptual category fit more into a concept
than others. Hence, membership of a concept has gradience as some entities are central
while others are peripheral. An example is the concept MAMMAL, having features like
+FUR, +WARM BLOOD, -FINS. One might say that HORSE is more a MAMMAL than
DOLPHIN, even though they are both part of the concept. This theory makes aquisition
and categorisation of concepts easier and also tackles psychological plausibility. Two
problems are prototypical primes and that complex concepts are rarely a function of its
components. As an example, the concept SAUSAGE DOG has the terms SAUSAGE and
DOG, but has nothing to do with the concept SAUSAGE.
In my opinion, the Prototype Theory is more plausible as it tackles the problem of non-
existent objects like mythical creatures. Moreover, it clarifies which objects are a part of a
concept by prototyping and determining whether the overlap of features is sufficient.