BA Linguistics / Course details
Year of entry: 2020
Course unit details:
Study of Meaning
|Unit level||Level 1|
|Teaching period(s)||Semester 2|
|Offered by||Linguistics & English Language|
|Available as a free choice unit?||Yes|
This course unit will provide an introduction to the conceptual, empirical and formal foundations of the study of meaning. We will look at how sentence meaning relates to truth and how it is built compositionally, learn about the structure of the lexicon and lexical meaning relations, different meaning across the lexical categories, vagueness and context dependency as well as lexical and structural ambiguity. Students will also be introduced to the different empirical approaches to the study of meaning in the lab and in the field.
The course unit aims to increase students’ awareness of the complexity of learning and analysing the meanings of lexical items and complex expressions, of cross-linguistic differences, and of methods of analysis in the field of semantics. It will serve as a foundation for more advanced study of both semantics and its interfaces in the grammar of natural languages.
The course unit is structured in three parts: Part 1 situates the study of meaning within linguistics and introduces the conceptual foundations of the study of meaning, most notably the principle of compositionality, the distinction between object and meta language as well as different dimensions of sentence meaning (presupposition, assertion, implicature). It also introduces the students to relations between sentences such as entailment, synonymy, tautology, and contradiction. Part 2 develops a very basic set-theoretic semantics by investigating the meaning of the major lexical categories of English and exploring lexical meaning relations. Students will be introduced to phenomena such as referential and quantificational noun phrases, context dependency and vagueness, lexical and structural ambiguity, and negative polarity items. Part 3 showcases different empirical approaches to the study of meaning in the lab and in the field.
Teaching and learning methods
Two 1hr lectures per week; 1hr Seminar per week.
Knowledge and understanding
Students will gain a detailed knowledge and understanding of the following essential semantic notions: (i) dimensions of meaning, (ii) compositionality, (iii) lexical meaning relations, (iv) ambiguity and vagueness, and (iv) the use of set theory in the study of meaning.
Students will develop intellectual skills of
- accuracy of analysis,
- distinguishing between different dimensions of meaning, and
- identifying logical relations between sentences.
Students will develop practical skills of
- defining and explaining meanings at different levels,
- using different sources of data,
- providing concise and precise argumentation orally and in writing.
Transferable skills and personal qualities
Students will develop transferable skills of
- awareness of the communicative impact of word choice and choice of expressions,
- argumentation using empirical evidence, and
- awareness of cross-linguistic differences.
Formative or Summative
Weighting within unit (if summative)
Weekly seminar exercises
2 written assignments consisting
750 words each
2x 25% = 50%
Written exam with
Final written exam
- James R. Hurford, Brendan Heasley & Michael B. Smith (2007), Semantics: A Coursebook, 2nd ed.
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
- Thomas E. Zimmermann & Wolfgang Sternefeld (2013), Introduction to Semantics:
An Essential Guide to the Composition of Meaning (Berlin: De Gruyter).
- Nick Riemer (2010), Introducing Semantics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
- Sebastian Löbner (2013), Understanding Semantics, 2nd ed. (London: Routledge).
- Richard K. Larson (2010), Grammar as Science (Cambridge: The MIT Press).
- Kersti Börjars & Kate Burridge (2019), Introducing English Grammar, 3rd ed. (London: Routledge).
|Scheduled activity hours|
|Independent study hours|
|Vera Hohaus||Unit coordinator|