Linguistics 270: Meaning

Northwestern University
Summer 2004
MW 6.30-9pm
Wiebolt 407


Prof. Chris Kennedy (
Department of Linguistics, Room 19
491-8054 (t), 491-3770 (f)
Office hours after class or by appointment

Course Description

People use sentences to convey information about themselves and about states of affairs in the world. This class provides an introduction to the study of how meaning is encoded and expressed in language. We will examine basic concepts and theoretical approaches to truth-conditional meaning (semantics), the way in which meaning is extended and elaborated contextually (pragmatics), and the ways in which these two aspects of meaning interact.


The written work for the course will consist of weekly homework assignments, which will range from technical exercises designed to develop familiarity with the formal tools we will use, to more open-ended problems in semantic analysis. The assignments will both test your understanding of what we have covered and also serve to introduce new issues that will be discussed in subsequent classes. In some cases, you will not yet have the tools to handle a particular problem; your task here will be to figure out how to extend our system to deal with it. It is important to remember that there is sometimes no 'right' answer; what you should focus on is coming up with at least well-reasoned discussions of the problems you encounter in the exercises, and at best well-argued and clearly explained proposals for how to solve them.

Assignments will be handed out on Wednesday and due the following Monday, except for the last one, which will be handed out on Monday and due on Wednesday.


Assigned readings and class attendance (20%); 5 homework assignments, handed out on Wednesday and due the following Monday (80%).


Unfortunately, there is no good introductory textbook in semantics/pragmatics (in my opinion), so I have put together a selection of readings from different sources. These are all available in pdf format and can be downloaded by clicking on the links below.


The italicized readings (from Bach 1989) are optional, but highly recommended, because they provide pretty clear, informal discussions of some of the more formal material presented in Kearns 2000 (the required reading).
  1. June 21: Varieties of meaning
    Inference types and the semantics/pragmatics distinction (Chierchia and McConnell-Ginet 1990, ch. 1)

  2. June 23: Truth conditions
    Sense, reference and compositionality (Chierchia and McConnell-Ginet 1989, ch. 2, pp 53-73; Bach 1989, ch. 1)
    Assignment 1 (Due June 28)

  3. June 28: Formal semantics
    Propositional logic and truth tables (Kearns 2000, ch. 2, pp. 25-35)

  4. June 30: Formal semantics
    Predicate logic, quantification and scope ambiguity (Kearns 2000, ch. 2, pp. 35-48; Bach 1989, ch. 3)
    Assignment 2 (Due July 7)
    Answers to exercise I from Kearns 2000, ch. 2 (p. 50)

  5. July 5: No Class

  6. July 7: Quantification in natural language
    (Kearns 2000, ch. 4; Bach 1989, ch. 4)
    Assignment 3 (Due July 12)
    Answers to part 1 --- translations into predicate logic

  7. July 12: Restricted quantification

  8. July 14: The processing and acquisition of scope
    The aquisition of scope ambiguity (Lidz and Mussolino 2002)
    Online processing of scope-ambiguous sentences
    Assignment 4 (Due July 19)

  9. July 19: Implicature
    What is said vs. what is meant (Levinson 1983, ch. 3, pp. 97-122)
    The Cooperative Principle and Grice's Maxims

  10. July 21: Implicature and grammar
    Scalar implicature (Levinson 1983, ch. 3, pp. 122-146)
    Explicature (Kearns 2000, ch. 11, pp. 271-280)
    Assignment 5 (Due July 26)

  11. July 26: Presupposition
    What is presumed vs. what is at issue (Levinson 1983, ch. 4)

  12. July 28: The semantics/pragmatics interface
    The grammar of vagueness
    If we have time: Anaphora and the common ground (Jurafsky and Martin 2000, ch. 18, pp. 669-693)


  1. Bach, Emmon. 1989. Informal Lectures on Formal Semantics. New York: SUNY Press.
  2. Chierchia, Gennaro and Sally McConnell-Ginet. 1990. Meaning and Grammar: An Introduction to Semantics. Cambridge: MIT Press.
  3. Jurafsky, Daniel and James Martin. 2000. An Introduction to Natural Language Processing, Computational Linguistics, and Speech Recognition. New York: Prentice-Hall.
  4. Kearns, Kate. 2000. Semantics. New York: St. Martin's Press.
  5. Levinson, Stephen. 1983. Pragmatics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  6. Lidz, Jeffrey and Julien Musolino. 2002. Children's command of quantification. Cognition 84:113-154.