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Elective: Meaning between algebra and culture


Admission requirements

BA-level syntax and/or semantics


In this course, we open three windows on the study of meaning. First, we will introduce the notion of field semantics: how can structural semantic notions be studied fruitfully in the description of languages, what variety may be expected and how can semantic judgements be elicited? Secondly, the program and the perspectives of the Natural Semantic Meta-language is introduced and analyzed. NSM is an ordinary-language based, but universalistic program to account for differences and convergences in the semantic structures of natural languages. Thirdly, The algebraic approach to semantics will be discussed by reference to generalized quantifiers, type theory and model-theoretic semantics. Again, the approach is universalistic, but aims at identifying mathematical structures.
These perspectives are presented in the first block. In the second block, students are invited to discuss semantic phenomena in their favourite languages on the basis of one or more of these approaches, or to compare or apply the approaches with respect to some phenomena. It is supposed to be fun and deep. For credits, students will write a paper on their topic(s).

Course objectives

The student is able to compare semantic theories, principles and methods in order to decide what type of semantic phenomena can or should be studied under what angle.


The timetable will be available by June 1st at the website of Linguistics

Mode of instruction


Assessment method

A written paper


Yes. Blackboard

Reading list

To be distributed at the beginning of the course


Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply.

Application for Contractonderwijs

After application, students can register for courses and exams through uSis

Contact information