BA English Language and Japanese / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Study of Meaning

Course unit fact file
Unit code LELA10331
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 1
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
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 is composed from the meanings of the words it contains and how it relates to the situations in the world it describes. We will learn about the structure of the lexicon, lexical meaning relations, and the role of metaphor and metonymy in meaning extension. In addition, we will look at how context contributes to the resolution of lexical and structural ambiguity and the reduction of vagueness Students will also be introduced to empirical approaches to the study of meaning.

This unit is a prerequisite for LELA20281 Semantics and LELA20292 Pragmatics.


The course unit aims to increase students’ awareness of the complexity of 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 semantics and pragmatics.


The course covers the following areas: The Introduction 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, and the relationship between language, the world, and the mind. Students will then be introduced to relations between sentences such as entailment, synonymy, tautology, and contradiction and basic set theory as a tool for investigating the meaning of the major lexical categories of English. This approach will be compared with more cognitive approaches to the study of meaning such as prototype theory.

Students will be introduced to phenomena such as referential and quantificational noun phrases, negative polarity items, context dependency, and vagueness, lexical and structural ambiguity, as well as metaphor and metonymy as cognitive processes for meaning extensions.

Teaching and learning methods

One 2hr lecture per week plus 1hr seminar per week

E-Learning: All course material, including lecture slides, exercise sheets, and links to electronically available readings, and course and assessment information will be made available on Blackboard. Students will be able to discuss all aspects of the course with their peers and the lecturer on the discussion board

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.

Intellectual skills

Students will develop intellectual skills of:

  • Accuracy of analysis
  • Distinguishing between different dimensions of meaning
  • Identifying logical relations between sentences.

Practical skills

Students will develop practical skills of:

  • Identifying different types of meaning in texts
  • 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
  • Awareness of cross-linguistic differences

Employability skills

The ability to discuss meaning differences between individual words and between utterances is relevant to a range of professions including language teaching, speech and language therapy, law, journalism, and any other career involving written texts, spoken argumentation, or intercultural communication. The analytical and problem solving skills developed in this class are a life skill that will be useful in any job.

Assessment methods

Assessment Task

Formative or Summative


Two assignments, consisting of a mixture of multiple choice and short answer questions


25% x 2 = 50%

Written Exam




Feedback methods

Feedback Method

Formative or Summative

Comments on students’ solutions to seminar exercises and their contribution to the seminar discussions


Feedback during individual consultation hours

Formative and summative

Written feedback on assignments and exams



Recommended reading

- Nick Riemer (2010),Introducing Semantics.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

- James R. Hurford, Brendan Heasley & Michael B. Smith (2007), Semantics:  A Coursebook, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

- Sebastian Löbner (2013), Understanding Semantics, 2nd ed. (London: Routledge).  

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 1.5
Lectures 22
Seminars 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 165.5

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