BA English Language and Spanish / Course details

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:

Course unit fact file
Unit code LELA20282
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Linguistics & English Language
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


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
Pragmatics: Meaning, Context, and Interaction LELA20291 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.

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.

Assessment methods

Mid-term Assignment (take-home, set of exercises) 50%
Final take-home assignment (set of exercises and 1 short essay) 50%
Weekly homework exercises NA (formative)


Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Global feedback 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 one-to-one 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
Lectures 33
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Martina Faller Unit coordinator

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