Semantics and Pragmatics 1


This is the first in a two-course sequence designed to provide a foundation in the scientific study of all aspects of linguistic meaning. The first quarter focuses primarily on pragmatics: those aspects of meaning that arise from the way that speakers put language to use, rather than through the formal properties of the linguistic system itself, which is the domain of semantics. However, a central goal of the course will be to begin to develop an understanding of the relation between pragmatics and semantics, by exploring empirical phenomena in which contextual and conventional aspects of meaning interact in complex but regular and well-defined ways, and by learning analytical techniques that allow us to tease these two aspects of linguistics meaning apart.


The written work for the course will consist of weekly reaction papers, three or four larger and more comprehensive written assignments, and a take-home final. The reaction papers should choose one article from the list we will be reading each week and provide a one page overview of its central points: what is the main issue that it addresses, what are the core proposals, and what arguments are brought to bear to support the proposals?

You are encouraged to discuss the assignments with each other, but the final analysis and write-up should be done individually. You are also expected to do all the reading for the course, and as there will be a fair amount of it, you should make time accordingly.


Your evaluation will be based on performance on the assignments and participation in class.


Levinson, S. (1983) Pragmatics. Cambridge University Press. (Available at the Seminary Coop.)

The Levinson book should be available at the Seminary Coop. We will in addition have a fair amount of reading from primary literature, which will be available for downloading from the class website. The classroom discussion will presuppose familiarity with the text, so it will be important to do the reading in advance.

The Plan

The following is a rough week-by-week plan for the course as of August 23; please note that we may end up diverging from it a bit depending on the discussion and interests of the class. I have listed the chapters of Levinson that correspond to each chunk here; please see the class website for other assigned articles to read (that will provide the basis for your reaction papers) and for optional background and supplementary readings.