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Word and Meaning


Admission requirements



To understand the nature of language and culture we must understand words. What is in a word? A word is a unit that carries meaning in a language. In this course we focus on the forms and meanings of words in the languages of the world. We explore the question of how we can describe the meanings of words and document the knowledge they embody in the world’s languages. We investigate the relations that words of a language have with each other (lexical relations). Some words in a language have the same form: they are pronounced in the same way or they are written in the same way. Compare for example, the Dutch forms bloem ‘flour’ and bloem ‘flower’: they are pronounced and written in the same way (note also that the English equivalents for them are written differently, but pronounced in the same way). Are the meanings of bloem related, or not? Where the meanings are related we will explore the mechanisms by which the meanings of words are extended to other related meanings, for instance through metaphor or metonymy.
Words are not only an important mirror of the mind (Leibniz), they also provide a guide to the social reality of the users of languages. Connotations and other associated meanings of words form an important window through which we can discover the patterns. In this regard, we will examine the diversity of connotations across languages.
Dictionaries are the storehouse of the words of languages. We will discuss the principles for making explanatory dictionaries that capture the entire worlds of words – from their pronunciations to translation equivalents to definitions to cultural and historical information. We will practice making a mini dictionary of a semantic domain in a language.

Course objectives

  • Students will gain knowledge and insight in different aspects of words in a language, the types of information they carry and convey in interaction and the relations in which they participate.

  • Students will gain knowledge and insight in the documentation of lexical knowledge in languages.

  • Students will acquire the ability to make a modern explanatory dictionary of a language, practiced through participation in group projects.

  • Students will be introduced to current linguistic approaches to the study of word meanings: lexical fields, semantic frames, meaning-text theory and the Natural Semantic Metalanguage approach.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Lecture

  • Seminar/Tutorial

Assessment method


There will be four assignments spread throughout the semester and they will count for 30% of the final grade.
Students are expected to make a thematic mini-dictionary in groups of two or three based on a language and a semantic domain of their choice. This counts for 70% of the final grade.


Assignments 30%
Mini-dictionary 70%


Students can resubmit a revised version of the mini-dictionary

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.

Reading list

The readings for the course will be given in class.


Enrolment through My Studymap is mandatory.

Registration À la carte education, Contract teaching and Exchange

Information for those interested in taking this course in context of À la carte education (without taking examinations), eg. about costs, registration and conditions.

Information for those interested in taking this course in context of Contract teaching (with taking examinations), eg. about costs, registration and conditions.

For the registration of exchange students contact Humanities International Office.


For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar

For questions related to the content of the course, please contact the lecturer, you can find their contact information by clicking on their name in the sidebar.

For questions regarding enrollment please contact the Education Administration Office Reuvensplaats E-mail address Education Administration Office Reuvensplaats:

For questions regarding your study progress contact the study adviser