Lexical Semantics

Linguistics C05
Fall 1999, TuTh 1-2.30
Northwestern University

Instructor: Prof. Chris Kennedy
Office: Linguistics Department (2016 Sheridan Rd.), Rm. 19
Phone: 491-8054
Email: kennedy@nwu.edu
Office Hours: Tu 4-5; Th 3-4 (or by appointment)

Course Description

This is a first course in lexical semantics, intended to introduce basic issues and concepts in the linguistic study of word meaning, as well as the relation between the semantics of words and other aspects of meaning, such as truth-conditional (propositional) meaning and context-dependent (pragmatic) meaning. The course is organized as an overview of the core semantic properties of three of the primary word categories in natural languages: verbs, adjectives, and nouns. Topics to be covered include verb classes, aspect, semantic roles, vagueness, gradability, antonymy, categorization, sense and reference, and categorization. Primary emphasis will be placed on elucidating the fundamental empirical issues that must be accounted for, but we will also explore different theoretical approaches to these issues, with an eye towards identifying the role of word meaning in the overall system of meaning in natural language.


For undergraduates, Linguistics B05 or permission of the instructor; for graduate students, the equivalent of Linguistics B05 or permission of the instructor.


Weekly problem sets (70%), take-home final (20%), classroom participation (10%).

Important dates


The reading load for this class will be fairly heavy, consisting of both primary and secondary literature in lexical semantics. All readings should be completed prior to the class for which they are assigned. Readings will come from two sources:


Part 1: Introduction

1.1 Types of meaning in natural language (Saeed ch. 1)
1.2 Entailment, implicature, presupposition (Saeed ch. 4, Grice 1968 (optional))

Part 2: Verbs

2.1 Characterizing word meaning: verb classes (Saeed ch. 3, Levin 1993 intro.)
2.2 Classification by entailments: implicative verbs (Karttunen 1971)
2.3 Classification by event structure: aspect (Saeed ch. 5, Vendler 1967a, Dowty 1977 section 2.2)
2.4 Classification by participants: semantic roles (Saeed ch. 6, Fillmore 1970)

Part 3: Adjectives

3.1 Gradability and vagueness (Sapir 1944 )
3.2 Scales, standards and the A/V interface (Kennedy and McNally 1999 )
3.3 Antonymy (Hale 1971, Lehrer 1985 )

Part 4: Nouns

4.1 Sense and reference (Saeed ch. 2, Frege 1948 (1892))
4.2 The meaning of 'meaning' (Putnam 1975)
4.3 What's in a noun? (Wierzbicka 1988)
4.4 Categories, kinds, and common nouns (Carlson 1991)

Part 5: Conclusion

5.1 Beyond the basic categories (Vendler 1967b , Saeed ch. 9 (opt.))
5.2 Beyond word meaning


Carlson, G. 1991. Natural Kinds and Common Nouns. In von Stechow, A. & D. Wunderlich (eds.) Semantik: Ein internationales Handbuch der zeitgenössischen Forschung. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.

Dowty, D. 1977. Word Meaning and Montague Grammar. Dordrecht: Kluwer.

Fillmore, C. 1970. The Grammar of hitting and breaking. In Jacobs, R. and P. Rosenbaum (eds.), Readings in English Transformational Grammar. Washington: Georgetown University Press.

Frege, G. 1948 (1892). Sense and Reference. The Philosophical Review 57:207-230.

Grice, H.P. 1968. Logic and Conversation. In Studies in the Way of Words. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Hale, K. 1971. A Note on a Walbiri Tradition of Antonymy. In Steinberg, D. and L. Jakobovits (eds.) Semantics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Karttunen, L. 1971. Implicative Verbs. Language 47.2:340-358.

Kennedy, C. and L. McNally. 1999. Deriving the Scalar Structure of Deverbal Adjectives. To appear in Catalan Working Papers in Linguistics.

Lehrer, A. 1985. Markedness and Antonymy. Journal of Linguistics 21:397-429.

Levin, B. 1993. English Verb Classes and Alternations. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Putnam, H. 1975. The Meaning of Meaning. In Gunderson, K. (ed.), Language, Mind and Knowledge. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Sapir, E. 1944. Grading: A Study in Semantics. Philosophy of Science 11:93-116.

Vendler, Z. 1967a. Verbs and Times. In Linguistics in Philosophy. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Vendler, Z. 1967b. Each and every, any and all. In Linguistics in Philosophy. Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press.

Wierzbicka, A. 1988. What's in a Noun? Chapter 9 of The Semantics of Grammar. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.