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This is an advanced graduate-level course in formal semantics. It presupposes knowledge of the material covered in the Heim & Kratzer (1998) textbook at least through chapter 8, including basic set theory, propositional logic, predicate logic, type theory, and the lambda calculus. The course has a bipartite structure: half is focused on expanding the student's basic semantic toolkit, and half is focused on discussing classic papers. Throughout, we focus on a small subset of the major areas of interest to classic and contemporary research in formal semantics. The topics can be broadly categorized according to the types of new entities they introduce, namely worlds, times, pluralities, eventualities, and… stuff.
Human languages pair 'sounds' with 'meanings'. But what are 'meanings'? We approach this difficult question by focusing on what speakers know about how meaning is expressed in language. Of primary interest is the traditional model that characterizes semantic competence in terms of knowledge of compositional truth conditions. Here, we pay close attention to which aspects of speakers' knowledge that this model captures well, and those that it has more difficulty with. Along the way, we probe different types of meaning 'indeterminacy', and the distinctions between: semantics and pragmatics, sense and reference, and meaning and truth. A good deal of the course is geared towards developing proficiency with the mathematical and logical tools used in formal semantics.
Research falling under the heading 'experimental semantics' comes in two important varieties: (i) research designed to test the predictions of truth-conditional theories (this is most often what's meant by "experimental semantics"), and (ii) research designed to explore finer-grained aspects of meaning, in particular the relationship between meaning and non-linguistic cognition (I've heard this called "psychosemantics", but we need a better name). These two categories of research have importantly different scope, limits, and methods, but (at least in terms of the research we will cover) both are strongly intertwined with the tradition of compositional formal semantics. In this course, we will develop an understanding of the state of contemporary experimental research in meaning through readings, lecture, and discussion. Specific topics to be covered include presupposition, the mass/count distinction, plurality, event semantics, quantification, numerals, and presupposition.
Reading classic and contemporary works on the structure and interpretation of reciprocal sentences.
The ability to use language to communicate meaning is one of the most fundamental aspects of being human. But what is `meaning'? We approach this question by investigating what speakers know about how meaning is conveyed in language, including the distinction between what expressions literally mean, and the different shades of meaning that expressions can take on in different contexts of use. In carrying out this study, we plumb the linguist's toolkit (which includes tools borrowed from mathematics, logic, language acquisition, and cognitive neuroscience) to discover how linguistic scientists determine, in a rigorous way, what a given word or sentence means, and whether that word or sentence means the same thing across occasions of use. This inquiry will lead the student to an understanding of the scientific study of language, by examining how it plays out in the domain of linguistic meaning. And by the end of the course, students will have gained a deeper appreciation for one of the most important, yet still most elusive aspects of the human capacity for language.
Investigating the relationship between lexicon, syntax, and semantics in linguistic theories of argument structure.
Discussing the syntax, semantics, processing, and acquisition of comparative structures.
This course investigates first language acquisition, with an emphasis on how children acquire knowledge of syntax and semantics. We discuss the poverty of the stimulus, the roles of input and intake, and how children infer grammatical properties from data. Along the way, we become familiar with a variety of analytic and behavioral methods deployed by developmental linguists. Students will learn how to define a learning problem surrounding a linguistic phenomenon, to identify the potential roles of prior grammatical knowledge and experience in learning the grammar of that phenomenon, how to identify potential extralinguistic contributions or barriers to acquisition, and to design an experiment to test children’s knowledge.
Linguists, psychologists, and philosophers love to talk about 'events.' What are they? Are they like or unlike 'objects'? Are they out there in the world, or merely ways we think about things in the world? In this course, we investigate the logic of the sentences we use to talk about events, and other potentially mysterious entities like 'states.'' We begin by considering the traditional semantics for sentences like 'Juliet kicked Romeo,' in which it expresses a relation between two entities. Next, we examine evidence that there is more structure to the logical form of such sentences, involving quantification over events. As the course goes on, we look at more phenomena that the event analysis has been recruited to explain, and the greater elaborations to logical form that these phenomena have been taken to suggest. Throughout, we consider the significance of the event analysis to the relation between language and mind.