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Cross-linguistic Variation in Semantics


Admission requirements

The course is open to students who followed an introduction to formal semantics AND to students with a solid background in descriptive linguistics and/or typology.


The main topic of this course is cross linguistic variation in the domain of semantics. How do different languages express similar meanings? Where do similarities between languages come from? And does language shape cognition, or is it rather the other way around?

To limit our domain of research, we will mainly focus on noun phrases, number and quantity expressions. We will read, for instance, about the use of so-called numeral classifiers that are used in counting structures in for instance Mandarin as well as in many other, possibly unrelated, languages around the world. Rather than just combining a numeral and a noun, noun phrases containing numerals in these languages need an extra element, a classifier, which classifies the noun in the sense that it reflects a property of the noun (a classifier for a noun meaning ‘pen’ could be a word meaning ‘long object’). We will consider claims made in the literature according to which speakers of numeral classifier languages and speakers of languages like English perceive the world differently. Is this really the case, or is it possible to explain the data in a different way?

This course is related to the NWO project On the representation of quantity: how our brains shape language.

Course objectives

  • Students can critically apply analytical and descriptive linguistic research methods to cross-linguistic data;

  • They understand how semantic theory can be used to predict and explain linguistic data;

  • They are able to critically evaluate scientific arguments and methods within the sub-domain of semantics and cross-linguistic variation;

  • They are capable to carry out research on a topic related to the course and report about it in the form of a research paper.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Research seminar

Assessment method

  • Assignments, presentations, and participation: 40% (partial resit possible)

  • Paper: 60% (resit possible, minimum grade 5,5)

The final paper can be expanded to meet the Extra Requirement for Research Master students.

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

  • To be distributed viaBrightspace wordt gebruikt voor:

  • course information, including program and reading list

  • course documents and assignments

  • grades


Enrolment through My Studymap is mandatory


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 studyprogress contact the Coordinator of Studies