BA English Language and English Literature / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

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

Course unit fact file
Unit code LELA30032
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
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, tense and aspect, modal expressions such as should and must, focus-sensitive particles like too and only, presuppositions, implicatures and speech acts.


Unit title Unit code Requirement type Description
Semantics LELA20282 Pre-Requisite Compulsory
Pragmatics: Meaning, Context, and Interaction LELA20291 Pre-Requisite Recommended
Pre-req of LELA20282

Compulsory Pre-requisite: LELA20282 - Semantics. Students who do not meet the pre-requisite must have academic approval in order to be enrolled on this unit.


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.


Part I: Introduction and Background Formal and Conceptual Foundations in the Study of Meaning

Part II: Topics in the Interpretation of Noun Phrases (e.g., quantification, focus-sensitive particles)

Part III: Topics in the Interpretation of Verb Phrases (e.g., aspect, modality)

Part IV: Topics in Discourse Semantics (e.g., how do declarative andinterrogative sentences update the common ground?)

Teaching and learning methods

One two-hour class per week, one one-hour seminar per week.

The course will run as a mixture of teaching by the instructor and student-led discussions. The instructor will introduce the concepts and formal tools required for understanding a set of key research articles in this area; student teams will take responsibility for presenting and leading the discussion of readings in their area of interest.

E-Learning: All course material, including lecture handouts, practice exercises, links to electronically available readings, and course and assessment info will be made available on Blackboard. Students will be able to discuss all aspects of the course with their peers and the teaching staff on the discussion board.

The course convenor offers two consultation hours every week.

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

Assessment TaskFormative or SummativeWeighting
Weekly reading assignment with a short problem setFormative0%
Final EssaySummative60%
Mid-term assignmentSummative40%
Leading class discussion of a research articleFormative or Summative0%



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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