MA Linguistics

Year of entry: 2019

Course unit details:
Meaning in Grammar

Unit code LELA60642
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Linguistics & English Language
Available as a free choice unit? No

Overview

This course unit explores the relation between meaning and grammar, starting from two observations: (i) there are meanings that are grammatically relevant and meanings that are not; (ii) some meanings are grammatically relevant in language x but not in language y. To give but few examples, whereas the colour of the eyes of the speaker has no grammatical reflex in any known grammar, all grammars seem to encode the speech act participants (I/we, you) differently from the non-participants (s/he, they). Although grammars normally have ways to locate events in time, only some languages require that the source of the information being conveyed in an utterance be grammatically encoded. The course unit is designed to stimulate the students’ curiosity about the issues in (i) and (ii), and to enhance their understanding of the syntactic and morphological reflexes of meaning. Particular emphasis will be placed on the meaning of the lexical category verb, the classification of the members of this category in terms of their meaning, the semantic underpinnings of transitivity and intransitivity, the semantic correlates of the syntactic functions subject and object, and the grammatical expression of causation, possession, existence and location.

Aims

The principal aims of the unit are as follows:

  • to differentiate meanings that have grammatical relevance from meanings that do not have such relevance;
  • to reflect on the relation between the meaning and the grammatical properties of verbs and clauses;
  • to introduce a number of semantic criteria for the classification of verbs;
  • to study how the grammatical constructions which express causation, possession, location, and existence differ and how they are alike cross-linguistically, capturing the semantic underpinnings of any relevant cross-linguistic generalizations;
  • to investigate the semantic parameters of transitivity and intransitivity.

Syllabus

Week 1

Introduction to the course unit and to grammatical semantics. Verb classes.

Week 2

Events and Aktionsart.

Week 3

Thematic roles and macroroles.

Week 4

Subjecthood.

Week 5

Transitivity and valence change.

Week 6

Intransitivity.

Week 7

The causative/inchoative alternation.

Week 8

Aspect.

Week 9

Possession, existence and location.

Week 10

Space.

Week 11

Motion typology.

Teaching and learning methods

  • A two-hour lecture per week;
  • Four one-hour tutorial sessions - dedicated to MA students.

Knowledge and understanding

Students who successfully complete this course unit will:

  • have an understanding of what we mean by the grammatical relevance of meaning;
  • have an appreciation of which meanings can be expected to be grammaticalized in language;
  • be able to explain how meaning is relevant to the grammatical coding and behaviour of major lexical categories and grammatical functions.
  • be able to discuss a variety of clause and construction types in terms of the interface between meaning and morphosyntax.

Intellectual skills

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • engage in independent reflection and enquiry;
  • engage in the discussion and critical evaluation of theories in grammatical semantics;
  • analyze theoretical arguments and empirical evidence and use them to support synthetic conclusions and interpretations.

Practical skills

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • extrapolate patterns from complex data sets;
  • apply skills of analysis and synthesis to practical issues and problems.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • engage in independent reflection and enquiry;
  • analyze linguistic data and provide a synthesis of the findings;
  • be able to explain and exemplify an abstract concept in a simple and concise way;
  • write an academic essay which will include an element of original research;
  • engage in discussion on an academic topic.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written assignment (inc essay) 80%
Set exercise 20%

Feedback methods

Feedback on abstract in Week 9 - Formative and Summative

Feedback on essay - Summative

Recommended reading

 

Frawley, William. 1992.  Linguistic Semantics. Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Chapter 1. (Semantics and linguistic semantics: toward Grammatical Meaning).

Levin, Beth. 1993. English Verb classes and Alternations. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, pp. 1-19 (Introduction: The Theoretical Perspective).

Levin, B. & Rappaport Hovav, M. 2005. Argument realization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, Chapter 1, for a discussion of how to correctly identify grammatically relevant aspects of meaning (with focus on verb classes and argument realization), and Chapter 7 for a synthesis of argument alternation patterns.

Frawley, William. 1992.  Linguistic Semantics. Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. §§ 4.1, 4.2 (except 4.23).

Van Valin, Robert Jr. & LaPolla, Randy. 1997. Syntax. Structure, meaning and function. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Chapter 3 (Semantic representation I, Verbs and arguments).

Beavers, John. 2013. Aspectual classes and scales of change. Linguistics 51(4): 681-706.

Rappaport Hovav, Malka. 2008. Lexicalized meaning and the internal temporal structure of events. In S. Rothstein (ed.) Theoretical and crosslinguistic approaches to the semantics of aspect.  Amsterdam: John Benjamins, pp. 13-42.

Frawley, William. 1992.  Linguistic Semantics. Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Chapter 5 (Thematic roles).

Van Valin, Robert Jr. & LaPolla, Randy. 1997. Syntax. Structure, meaning and function. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. §§ 4.0, 4.1, 4.2.

Dowty, David. 1991. Thematic proto-roles and argument selection. Language 67. 3: 547-619.

Van Valin, Robert Jr. & Wilkins, David P. 1996. The Case for ‘Effector’: Case Roles, Agents, and Agency Revisited”. In Shibatani, M. and Thompson, S. (eds). Grammatical Constructions, Oxford: Clarendon Press, pp. 289–322.

Croft, William. 1994. The Semantics of Subjecthood. In Yaguello, M. (ed.). Subjecthood and Subjectivity: The Status of the Subject in Linguistic Theory. Paris: Ophrys, pp. 29-75.

Keenan, Edward L. 1976. Towards a Universal Definition of “Subject”. In Li, Charles N.  (ed.), Subject and Topic. New York / San Francisco / London: Academic Press, Inc., pp. 303–333.

Levin, B. & Rappaport Hovav, M. (2005) Argument realization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 24-32.

Van Valin, Robert Jr. & LaPolla, Randy. 1997. Syntax. Structure, meaning and function. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Chapter 6 (Grammatical relations).

Hopper, Paul & Thompson, Sandra. 1980. Transitivity in Grammar and Discourse. Language 56.2: 251-299.

Haspelmath, M. & Müller-Bardey, T. 2005. Valence Change. In G. Booij & C. Lehmann & J. Mugdan (eds) Morphology. A Handbook on Inflection and Word Formation.

Levin, B. & Rappaport Hovav, M. 1995. Unaccusativity. At the Syntax-Lexical Semantics Interface. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press. Chapter 1 (§§ 1.1., 1.2, 1.3).

Further reading will be recommended on Blackboard and in the class.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Tutorials 4
Independent study hours
Independent study 124

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Delia Bentley Unit coordinator

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