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MA Linguistics

Year of entry: 2020

Course unit details:
Topics in the Study of Meaning

Unit code LELA70032
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? Yes


In this course we will read original research articles on a number of central topics in semantics and pragmatics, such as quantification, definiteness, modality, tense and aspect, plurality, presuppositions, implicature etc, both from an empirical and from a theoretical perspective. The topics will be decided partly in consultation with the students taking the course. Student teams will lead the discussion of one article for the length of one class. The language focus will be English, though data from other languages will also be considered where relevant.



Unit title Unit code Requirement type Description
Semantics LELA20281 Pre-Requisite Compulsory
Pragmatics: Meaning, Context, and Interaction LELA20292 Pre-Requisite Recommended


LELA20281 Semantics or equivalent (set theory, predicate logic, lambda calculus in linguistics)

(recommended: LELA20292 Pragmatics)


The aim of this course is to familiarise students with some of the central debates and topics in semantics and pragmatics, through the close reading of original research articles



Week 1: Introduction and review of pre-requisite notions

Weeks 2 – 3: Meaning aspects associated with Noun Phrases (Quantification, Definiteness)

Week 4 – 6: Meaning aspects associated with Verb Phrases (Tense, Aspect, Modality)

Week 7: Meaning aspects associated with Adjectives (gradability)

Weeks 8 – 11: Topics agreed with students

Teaching and learning methods

  • One 2 hour class per week, 4 MA-specific seminars; students are also encouraged to attend the weekly seminars for the UG version of this course.
  • The course will run as a mixture of teaching by the instructor and student-led discussions. The instructor will introduce the concepts and formal tools required for understanding a set of key research articles in this area; student teams will take responsibility for presenting and leading the discussion of readings in their area of interest.
  • E-Learning: All course material, including lecture handouts, practice exercises, links to electronically available readings, and course and assessment info will be made available on Blackboard. Students will be able to discuss all aspects of the course with their peers and the teaching staff on the discussion board.
  • The teaching staff will have weekly office hours


Knowledge and understanding

By the end of this course students will:

  • have gained knowledge of the empirical phenomena and issues central to the study of the (formal) semantics and pragmatics of natural language, in particular English;
  • have deepened their understanding of the formal apparatus and theoretical concepts used in the study of natural language semantics and pragmatics;
  • have developed their ability to understand formal analyses and test their predictions on novel data.

Intellectual skills

By the end of this course students will have developed:

  • the ability to critically read and synthesize published research articles;
  • skills in problem-solving and abstract and logical thinking;
  • the ability to construct and refine an argument, recognise flaws in arguments, and assessing the merits of contrasting explanations.

Practical skills

By the end of this course students will:

  • be able to present a rigorous linguistic argument;
  • be able to apply formal tools and abstract concepts to empirical data;
  • be able to apply the appropriate diagnostics for distinguishing between different types of meaning

Transferable skills and personal qualities

By the end of this course students will have developed:

  • the ability to formulate abstract generalisations from data and synthesize complex issues;
  • the ability to manage their own learning self-critically.
  • the skill and confidence of leading a class discussion;
  • team working and presentation skills.

Employability skills

Analytical skills
Oral communication
Communication and Presentation Skills
Problem solving
Abstract and Critical Thinking
Argumentation Skills

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 30%
Written assignment (inc essay) 70%

Assessment task

Formative or Summative


Weighting within unit (if summative)

Final Essay


3000 words


Mid-term assignment

Formative and Summative

1,500--2000 words


Team presentation of research article


One class



Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Global feedback on in-class and homework exercises



Comments made during class discussion regarding the relevance and coherence of student responses/participation in discussion


Global feedback on mid-term assignment


Individual feedback on mid-term assignment and final essay




Recommended reading


Barwise, J. & R. Cooper 1981. Generalised quantifiers and natural language. Linguistics

and Philosophy 4, 159-219.

Dowty, D. 1977. Toward a semantic analysis of verb aspect and the English imperfective”

progressive. Linguistics and Philosophy 1, 45-77.

Kratzer, A. 1981. The notional category of modality. In H.-J. Eikmeyer & H. Rieser. Words,

Worlds, and Contexts: New Approaches in Word Semantics, 38–74. Berlin: de Gruyter


Other assigned readings to be selected in consultation with students

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Project supervision 1
Seminars 4
Independent study hours
Independent study 123

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Martina Faller Unit coordinator

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