This course provides an introduction to the study of natural language meaning. It gives an overview of the predominant perspectives on meaning (referential semantics, cognitive semantics, distributional semantics), core methodologies for the study of meaning (set theory and formal logic, as well as computational and experimental approaches), and the integration of semantics with pragmatics, i.e., the study of language use. We will rely on the freely available book ‘Analyzing meaning’ by Paul Kroeger (2019), supplemented with primary research literature as well as additional notes and exercises by the instructor. We will be investigating meaning-related empirical phenomena in various languages.
This is the first course of a two-semester semantics programme. Topics for the first semester include foundational concepts, formal logic, word meaning (lexical semantics) and sentence meaning (compositional semantics). The second semester covers additional active research topics such as modals, conditionals, causation, tense and aspect, and questions, mostly from the perspective of referential semantics.
The student will be able to summarize the predominant approaches to the study of natural language meaning and their differences and commonalities.
The student will be able to read and write logical formulae and compose proofs (propositional logic, predicate logic, modal logic) as used in the study of natural language semantics.
The student will be able to read the primary semantics literature, at the level of summarizing at a conceptual level the core phenomena and explanations in a given paper.
The student will be able, both in writing and in classroom discussions, to creatively explore possible semantic/pragmatic explanations for a given empirical phenomenon.
The timetables are available through My Timetable.
Mode of instruction
There will be two written exams, one halfway and one at the end, with a mix of closed questions, short open questions and potentially essay questions. Throughout the course, additional writing-and-reviewing assignments will be marked on a simple pass/fail basis. Only students with at least 80% of these assignments passed can pass the course.
Your final grade will be computed as the average of the two exams, with a maximum grade of 5.0 (fail) if insufficient writing-and-reviewing assignments are passed.
A single resit will be offered for the two written exams jointly, at the end of the course. Resitting only one of the written exams is not possible. A resit for the writing-and-reviewing assignments will be offered in the form of a substantial written take-home assignment at the end of the course.
Inspection and feedback
How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.
_Paul R. Kroeger (2019). Analyzing meaning: an introduction to semantics and pragmatics [Freely available]: (https://langsci-press.org/catalog/book/231)
In addition, supplementary materials, research articles and exercises will be provided during the course.
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