Upcoming course

Linguistics 201C (Graduate Semantics 2) [syllabus]


Past courses

Linguistics 1 (Introduction to Language) [syllabus]

Linguistics 8 (Language in Context) [syllabus]

Linguistics 19 (Fiat Lux seminar: Gossip and facts across languages)

Linguistics 120C (Undergraduate Semantics 1) [course website] [syllabus]

Linguistics 165C (Undergraduate Semantics 2) [syllabus]

Linguistics 200C (Graduate Semantics 1) [syllabus]

Linguistics 218 (Mathematical Linguistics 2): Montague Grammar and Dynamic Semantics [syllabus]

While static semantic theories characterize content in terms of truth conditions, dynamic semantic theories treat meaning as context change potential, or as relations between contexts. Proponents of dynamic semantics have argued that it provides a more natural account of cross-sentential anaphora and other discourse-level semantic dependencies, as well as the distinction between definites and indefinites, among other things. The goal of this course is to acquaint students with the general project as well as several different formal instantiations of it, including Heim's (1982) File-Change Semantics; Kamp's Discourse Representation Theory (DRT); Musken's Compositional Discourse Representation Theory (CDRT); Groenendijk and Stokhof's Dynamic Predicate Logic (DPL); and van den Berg's Dynamic Predicate Logic for Pluras (DPLP).

Linguistics 252 (Graduate Seminar: The semantics of wh-phrases, Winter 2009) [syllabus]

In many languages, wh-phrases are used to form a wide variety of constructions: questions, free relatives, correlatives and exclamatives (and, in some cases, quantifier constructions and equatives). Wh-phrases and/or the clauses containing them have been variably described as having universal quantificational force, existential quantificational force, a definiteness or specificity component, an exhaustivity or maximality component, or "none of the above" (with the same denotation as indefinites). Many people conflate the semantics of matrix questions with embedded questions but distinguish free relatives, while others conflate the semantics of free relatives and embedded questions but distinguish matrix questions. Some conflate exclamatives with free relatives but not questions, others with questions but not free relatives.

The primary goal of this class is to survey and characterize the semantic properties of the constructions in which wh-phrases occur. The secondary goal is to try to determine if it is possible to assign a single meaning to wh-phrases that allows for a compositional semantics of these constructions as a whole.


Linguistics 252 (Graduate Seminar: The semantics of sums & scales, Spring 2010) [syllabus]

The goal of this seminar is to examine the semantic properties of various domains (individuals, degrees, events) and the empirical consequences of these properties. Plural (non-atomic) individuals are thought to form mereological sums of singular (atomic) individuals, forming a (complete) join-semilattice (Link 1983). The domain of degrees, on the other hand, seem to be linearly ordered into scales via a greater-than relation.

Events have been explicitly compared to both individuals and degrees. Like individuals, they can be pluralized (Lasersohn 1995), and an event of turning a page can be thought of as part of a larger reading-a-book event. Like degrees, events can be ordered linearly, if only via a homormorphism to times (Krifka 1989). We thus expect to find events behaving like individuals in some respects, and degrees in other respects. We'll look at how and why for phenomena like pluractionality (plural events), degree achievement predicates (like lengthen and cool), and more.


Linguistics 252 (Graduate Seminar: The semantics and pragmatics of evidentials, Spring 2011) [syllabus]

"In about a quarter of the world's languages, every statement must specify the type of source on which it is based -- for example, whether the speaker saw it, or heard it, or inferred it from indirect evidence, or learnt it from someone else. This grammatical category, whose primary meaning is information source, is called `evidentiality'." (Aikhenvald 2004:1).

In this course, we'll look at evidentiality across languages and across semantic theories. The semantic content of evidentials has been likened to that of modals (especially in German, Salish and Japanese), tense (especially in Korean) and aspect (especially in Turkish). The pragmatic content of evidentials has been likened to parentheticals (especially in Cuzco Quechua and Kalaallisut) and more indirectly to questions (in Cheyenne). Because evidentiality strategies and the particular ways in which they contribute evidentiality vary so much across languages, the study of evidentials is a great starting point for students interested in exploring the semantics/pragmatics empirical and theoretical boundary, including theories of illocutionary mood.


Linguistics 254 (Graduate Seminar: The acquisition of semantics, with Nina Hyams, Spring 2012) [syllabus]

The goal of this class is to use language acquisition to inform semantic theory and vice-versa. For instance, we'll study phenomena in which it appears as though acquisition studies can help determine, of polysemous words or constructions, which meaning is primary. And we'll study phenomena in which it appears as though semantic theory can help explain delays (or the absence of delays) in acquisition.

We'll address a different topic each week. For each topic, we'll suggest some papers from the semantics literature and some from the acquisition literature. We envision a course in which each student alternates which type of reading they do for a given topic. This way, we can use class time to learn cooperatively which considerations are most important for a given debate.


Linguistics 252 (Graduate seminar: The semantics of irreality, with Gabe Greenberg, Fall 2013)

Practical endeavors frequently involve two kinds of reflection: reasoning about matters of fact, known or unknown, on one hand; and reasoning about situations which we know to be purely hypothetical, on the other. This modal distinction tends to be encoded in natural languages as a distinction in grammatical mood, what Elliott (2000) has referred to as 'reality status'. The difference is illustrated by the following pair of conditionals, uttered in a context where we correctly assume that Professor R. is in her office, because we see someone's silhouette through the window.

(1) If Professor R. isn't in her office, someone else is.
(2) If Professor R. weren't in her office, someone else would be.

The first conditional is in the indicative mood, a subtype of realis mood. The second is in the subjunctive or counterfactual mood, a subtype of irrealis mood. This difference in reality status can have truth-conditional effects: (1) is clearly true, given that we know someone is in the office; but (2) is probably false, assuming that Professor R. doesn't have an office-mate. In this class, we focus on linguistic constructions which, like (2), involve irreality. Our goal is to achieve a better understanding of irreality in language: its logical significance, its realization across constructions and languages, and its compositional semantics.

In the first half of the class, we'll investigate semantic theories of counterfactual conditionals in English, with readings by Lewis, Stalnaker, Kratzer, von Fintel, Gillies, and others. Such conditionals are the best studied examples of irrealis constructions, and we'll use this scholarship to establish a baseline semantic framework. In the second half of the class, we'll explore how various languages use irrealis mood outside of conditionals, and the extent to which semantic theories of counterfactuals can inform their treatment (Palmer, Elliott, Farkas, Iatridou). We'll focus on irrealis mood markers as they occur under attitude verbs, modals, and in certain kinds of speech act.


Linguistics 252 (Graduate Seminar: The semantics of speech acts, Fall 2014) [syllabus]

The difference between speech acts like John's home now (an assertion) and John's home now? (a question) has traditionally been characterized as pragmatic (Wittgenstein, 1953; Austin, 1962; Searle, 1969). Linguists have, however, observed that these differences in illocutionary force are often explicitly marked across languages: syntactically; intonationally (as in English); or lexically (as in Cheyenne, Murray 2014). This suggests the need for a compositional semantics of speech act markers (i.e. illocutionary mood), and consequently for a formalization of the semantics/pragmatics interface.

We begin with a review of the philosophical typology of speech acts and some relevant pragmatic and syntactic considerations. We'll then examine a variety of theories that have found the need to represent speech acts compositionally: Krifka's account of quantifiers in questions and Gunlogson's semantics of intonation, along with analyses of attitude markers, tag questions, and answers and other responses in discourse.

Linguistics 252 (Graduate Seminar: The semantics of degree constructions, Spring 2016) [syllabus]

I use the term 'degree construction' to refer to a variety of constructions traditionally associated with gradience: adjectival constructions like comparatives and equatives; intensifiers like very, measure phrases like two feet, and other modifiers; and verb phrases like degree achievements (e.g. the soup cooled). In this course, we'll explore compositional semantic treatments of these constructions, which are generally thought to require more sophisticated machinery than the basics in GQT/Heim & Kratzer. We will focus mostly on degree semantic treatments (beginning with Cresswell 1976), but we'll also look at some alternatives to degrees (in particular, Klein's (1980/1982) comparison classes).