BA English Language

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:
Topics in the Study of Meaning in English

Course unit fact file
Unit code LELA30031
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course unit will allow students to engage directly with the research literature on some of the core phenomena in the study of meaning and learn about different theoretical and empirical approaches in semantics and pragmatics. Possible topics, to be decided on in consultation with the students, include quantificational determiners like every, presuppositions and implicatures, tense and aspect, modal expressions such as should and must, focus-sensitive particles like only, and comparison constructions such as the highest mountain.


Unit title Unit code Requirement type Description
Semantics LELA20281 Pre-Requisite Compulsory
Pragmatics: Meaning, Context, and Interaction LELA20291 Pre-Requisite Recommended


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.

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

Oral communication
Through the deep engagement with challenging research articles, students taking this class will further develop their reasoning and argumentation skills. By taking responsibility for the presentation and discussion of one article as part of a team, students develop their confidence in speaking in front of an audience and engaging in discussion in response to on-the-spot questions.
The rigorous formalization of empirical insights from language data prepares students for jobs that involve data analysis and their understanding of formal representations of meaning in language will be useful in the development of software applications for natural language processing as well as for general coding.

Assessment methods

Final Essay 50%
Mid-term assignment 30%
Group presentation in-class 20%
Weekly reading assignment with a short problem set NA (formative)


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

Selected readings:
  • Angelika Kratzer (2012), Modals and Conditionals (Oxford: Oxford University Press).
  • Paul Portner and Barbara Partee (2002, eds.), Formal Semantics: The Essential Readings (London: Blackwell).
  • Jon Barwise & Robin Cooper (1981), “Generalised Quantifiers and Natural Language,” Linguistics & Philosophy, 4(2): pp. 159-219.
(Further readings to be decided on together with the students.)

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Seminars 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Martina Faller Unit coordinator

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