BA English Language / Course details

Year of entry: 2020

Course unit details:
Meaning in Grammar

Unit code LELA30642
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Linguistics and English Language
Available as a free choice unit? No

Overview

This course unit is particularly suitable to students who are interested in the grammar of the clause and its underpinnings in meaning. The 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 appear to be 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 differentiate participants that are responsible for the bringing about of situations and events from participants that undergo changes arising from events. 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, change of state, psychological experience, existence, location and possession. 

Pre/co-requisites

Unit title Unit code Requirement type Description
Topics in the Study of Meaning in English LELA30032 Co-Requisite Recommended
English Word and Sentence Structure LELA10301 Pre-Requisite Compulsory

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 and, time permitting, adjectives;
  • to study how the grammatical constructions which express causation, change of state, psychological experience, 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.

Learning outcomes

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.

In addition to the above learning objectives, the following one is specifically intended for level-3 students: 

  • the ability to apply one or a set of theoretical constructs that are part of the course unit syllabus in the study of the grammar of a language other than English.

Syllabus

Week 1
Introduction to the course unit. Verb classes.
 
Week 2
Events and Aktionsart. 
 
Week 3
Thematic roles.
 
Week 4
Macroroles and subjecthood.
 
Week 5
Transitivity and valence change.
 
Week 6
Intransitivity.
 
Week 7
Space.
 
Week 8
Motion typology.
 
Week 9
The causative/inchoative alternation.
 
Week 10
Existence, location and possession.
 
Week 11
Events with an experiencer argument, psych-verbs.

Teaching and learning methods

  • A two-hour lecture per week; 
  • four two-hour seminar session in weeks 5, 7, 9 and 10. The seminars in weeks 7 and 10 will be dedicated to assignment preparation and global feedback on the first piece of assessment. There will be separate seminars for level 2 and level 3 students.

Knowledge and understanding

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

  • understand the difference between meaning that has no grammatical relevance and meaning that does;
  • have an appreciation of which meanings can be expected to be grammaticalized in language;
  • describe a number of grammatical concepts in terms of the semantics-morphosyntax interface.

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 - at level 3 - will include an element of original research;
  • engage in discussion on an academic topic.

Employability skills

Other
The course enhances skills of analysis, synthesis, and formal writing. It strengthens the students¿ command of their own language and, more broadly, their understanding of meaning in language. It has particular benefits for any student interested in pursuing a career in teaching.

Assessment methods

Level 3

Assessment task

Length

Weighting within unit

Definition of a key concept in grammatical semantics (to be submitted in week 8)

500 words

20%

Online test (in week 10)

2 hours

20%

Essay focusing on a language other than English (to be submitted in week 12)

3,000 words

60%

 

ASSESSMENT METHODS for M.A. students

N./A.

Feedback methods

  • Written feedback on both assignments.
  • Additional one-to-one feedback (during consultation hours or online or by appointment).
  • Global feedback on Blackboard and in the seminar in week 10.

Recommended reading

Week 1

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).

Further reading

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.

Those who are interested in language acquisition may want to take a look at

Pinker, S. 1989. Learnability and Cognition. MIT Press.

 

Week 2

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, up to §3.2.2).

Further reading (advanced but important if you want to explore the issue of telicity)

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.

 

Week 3

Frawley, William. 1992.  Linguistic Semantics. Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Chapter 5 (Thematic roles – up to 5.234).

Van Valin, Robert Jr. & LaPolla, Randy. 1997. Syntax. Structure, meaning and function. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. § 3.2.3.

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.

 

Week 4

Frawley, William. 1992.  Linguistic Semantics. Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Chapter 5 (§§5.32, 5.33).

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

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.

Further reading

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.

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

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Seminars 8
Tutorials 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 159

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Delia Bentley Unit coordinator

Additional notes

SCHEDULED ACTIVITY HOURS

Weekly dedicated consultation hours.
Additional consultation hours by appointment.

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