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BA English Language and French

Year of entry: 2020

Course unit details:

Unit code LELA20281
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Linguistics & English Language
Available as a free choice unit? No


This course introduces students to the formal study of meaning. The fundamental assumptions of formal semantics are that the meaning of a complex expression is determined by the meanings of its elements and the way they are combined (compositionality), and that to know the meaning of a sentence is to know under which conditions it is true (truth-conditional semantics). This approach is also known as referential semantics as it is concerned with how language describes situations in the world. Students will learn to apply the basic tools of set theory and predicate calculus to the analysis of natural language phenomena, and, in doing so, will gain an appreciation of how this approach can lead to new insights into these phenomena. We will study meaning aspects associated with noun phrases (quantification, (in)definiteness, count/mass), with verb phrases (tense, aspect, modality), and how these interact with each other.

This course is a pre-requisite for LELA30032 Topics in the Study of Meaning.


Unit title Unit code Requirement type Description
Grammatical Semantics LELA20042 Co-Requisite Recommended
Pragmatics: Meaning, Context, and Interaction LELA20292 Co-Requisite Recommended
English Word and Sentence Structure LELA10301 Pre-Requisite Compulsory
Study of Meaning LELA10332 Pre-Requisite Compulsory


The principal aims of the course unit are:

  1. to introduce students to the basic formal tools used in the analysis of linguistic meaning and to apply these to natural language data;
  2. to introduce the students to the key empirical phenomena in the study of referential semantics.


Preliminary plan (subject to change)

Week 1: Introduction to referential semantics and syllogistic reasoning.

Weeks 2 set theory and predicate logic and their application to common nouns and verbs

Weeks 3: Noun phrase semantics 1: quantification and definiteness

Week 4: no lectures

Week 5: Noun phrase semantics 1 (cntd.):  quantification and definiteness

Week 6: Reading Week

Weeks 7-8: Noun phrase semantics 2: the count-mass distinction, plurality

Weeks 9-11: Verb phrase semantics: tense, aspect and modality

Week 12: Revision

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching takes place across two class sessions per week; these are not formally split into lectures and tutorials, but consist of a combination of lecturing and tutorial-style review of home-work exercises as required. Students will prepare weekly homework exercises and are expected to share their solutions with the class.

For 2019/20: there will be no classes in week 4. The lectures in the other weeks will be adjusted accordingly:  the basic pattern will be 1 x 1.5 lecture and 1 x 2h lecture, with this being reduced in the final weeks.

The course convenor offers two 1hr weekly drop-in consultation hours.

E-Learning: All materials pertaining to this course are made available on Blackboard and students are encouraged to use the discussion board.

Knowledge and understanding

By the end of this course  students will typically:

  • have gained an understanding of  the basic mechanics of set theory and predicate logic and their relevance for the analysis of natural language semantics;
  • have gained an understanding of what type of  language phenomena the referential approach can be applied to, as well as of its limitations.

Intellectual skills

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

  • apply appropriate tests to relevant data to determine the semantic meaning of linguistic expressions;
  • translate simple English sentences into suitable logical representations, and show how these can be interpreted;
  • recognise the limitations of a particular theoretical approach.

Practical skills

By the end of this course students should have developed:

  • the ability to relate empirical data to suitable formal symbolic representations;
  • the ability to identify flaws in logical arguments.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

By the end of this course students should have developed:

  • The ability to manage their own learning self-critically;
  • Critical thinking skills;
  • Time management skills;
  • Argumentation skills;
  • Analytical skills;
  • Abstract thinking skills.

Employability skills

This course fosters the ability to think abstractly and logically and solve analytical problems; the ability to produce predicate logic representations will facilitate the learning of programming languages and coding.

Assessment methods

Assessment task

Formative or Summative


Weighting within unit (if summative)

Final exam (set of exercises)




Mid-term Assignment (take-home, set of exercises)

Formative and summative

3000 words








Assessment task





Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Global feedback during lectures on homework exercises



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



Global feedback on mid-term assignment plus face-to-face discussion if desired (on the understanding that this deanonymises the marking)

Formative and summative


Recommended reading

Kearns, Kate. (2011).  Semantics. Second edition. Basingstoke: Macmillan Press.

Portner, Paul. (2005). What is Meaning? Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Cann, Ronnie. (1993). Formal semantics. Cambridge: CUP.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 2
Lectures 33
Independent study hours
Independent study 165

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Martina Faller Unit coordinator

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