Spring 2012

LING 331/731: Semantics

TR 9:30-10:45 AM, Malott 2001

Instructor: Clifton Pye (pyersqr (at) ku (dot) edu)

Office Hours M 1-3 pm or by appointment

Semantics is the study of word and sentence meaning, and how sentence meaning may be derived from the composition of word meanings in syntactic and pragmatic contexts. While semantics has traditionally been the province of philosophers, linguists are beginning to apply linguistic methods to the analysis of meaning in natural languages. This course will contrast linguistic, psychological and philosophical approaches to semantics and point out the advantages of each approach. The class will use linguistic techniques to explore meaning in a diverse set of languages and language domains. We will also spend some time discussing formal approaches to meaning that typify the philosophical approach.

Course textbook

Kate Kearns 2011. Semantics, 2nd Edition. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Additional References


Undergraduate students

The course grade for undergraduate students will be calculated as follows

Class participation


Weekly assignments


First exam


Second exam


Final exam


Class participation includes regular attendance and participation in classroom discussions. You should complete the assigned readings by the Tuesday of each week in order to make the most of each class. Part of each week’s class will be devoted to discussing a chapter from the textbook, but many times we will be discussing material from other sources. The class will move pretty quickly through some dense material so regular attendance is necessary to keep up with the discussion. Students cannot earn full credit for participation without coming to class.

There will be ten weekly assignments that count towards 20% of the final grade. The assignments will be graded pass/fail. Two points will be taken off the final grade for each incomplete or late assignment. Late assignments will be accepted up to one week after the due date. Five points will be taken off the final grade for each missing weekly assignment. Absenteeism is not an acceptable excuse.

There will be three in-class exams. Each exam counts towards 20% of the final grade. The exams will have a short-answer format and will cover all material discussed in class, in the readings (whether discussed in class or not), and material from the assignments. The exercises at the end of each chapter provide excellent preparation for the exams; we will work through some of the exercises in class, but students should work through all of the exercises on their own to check their understanding of the lectures and readings.

Graduate students

Graduate students will be required to do all of the reading, assignments and in class exams assigned to the undergraduate students. In addition, graduate students will be assigned additional reading and assignments. The course grade for graduate students will be calculated as follows


Class participation



Weekly assignments



First exam



Second exam



Term paper


Graduate students are required to write a term paper which explores some aspect of natural language semantics. One possibility is to develop an experiment to assess some aspect of natural language semantics. It is not necessary to actually perform the experiment, but your report should contain a discussion of semantics articles relevant to the experiment together with an outline of the method you propose using to test the experimental hypothesis and your interpretation of the possible responses. Throughout the semester the class will discuss experimental approaches to topics in semantics. I will ask students to identify a topic for their project near the middle of the semester. See the additional references listed above for ideas.

On Friday, March 9th you should turn in a one-page description of your final project and how you plan to approach it. Briefly explain the importance of your topic: how does it fit into the study of semantics? You can expect to refine both your experiment and your approach while you are working on the project. This prospectus serves as a rough map of the area you hope to explore. The prospectus constitutes part of your final project; I will comment upon it but will not grade it separately.

Your final project is due in my office by 8 am, Wednesday, May 9th. I have posted some guidelines for the project at project guidelines.

Plagiarism is the presentation of someone else's work as your own. Plagiarism of all or a portion of any assignment will not be accepted. Plagiarism will result in a failing grade for any assignment or report.

Any student who has a disability which may prevent his/her ability to participate fully in the course should contact the instructor as soon as possible so we can discuss the class assignments.




Reading Assignment

Class Exercises

Jan. 17



Jan. 19

Kinds of Meaning

Chapter 1

Ex. 10

Feb. 2

Propositional Logic

2.1 and 2.2

p. 40: 2, 3 and 5

Feb. 9

Predicate Logic

2.3 and Chapter 3

p. 55: 2 and p. 56: 5, 6

Feb. 16

Possible Worlds

Chapter 5

p. 92: 2 and Imperatives

Feb. 23


Propositional and Predicate Logic (Make Up)

Feb. 28

Indefinite Descriptions

Chapter 6: 6.1-6.7

p. 128: 2 and 4

Mar. 6

Definite Descriptions

6.8 and Chapter 7

p. 153: 4 and 7

Mar. 13

Intensional Objects

see lecture notes

Mar. 20


Mar. 27

Other Noun Categories

p. 131: 10 and 11

Mar. 29


Quantification (Make Up)

Apr. 3



Apr. 10

Aspectual Classes

Chapter 8

p. 173: 2; p. 174: 5

Apr. 17

Tense and Aspect

Chapter 9

p. 200: 1; p. 201: 3

Apr. 24


Chapter 11

p. 253: 1 and 2; p. 254: 4

May 1

Implicature and Explicature

Chapter 11

p. 255: 7

May 9


7:30-10 AM

2001 Malott