Introduction to Formal Semantics

Linguistics C72
Winter 1999, MW 2.30-4
Northwestern University

Instructor: Prof. Chris Kennedy
Office: 2016 Sheridan Rd., Rm. 12 (Linguistics Department)
Phone: 491-8054
Office Hours: After class or by appointment

Course Description
This is a first course in formal semantics, designed to introduce participants to the core empirical domain of natural language semantics and the analytical tools used in the investigation of this domain. After constructing a broad picture of the study of meaning in natural language, we will turn our attention to the core areas of formal semantics: the study of the truth-conditional aspects of meaning and the compositional interpretation of phrases and sentences. Participants will learn how to use the tools of formal semantics (such as propositional and predicate calculus) and how to apply these tools to construct explanations of (among other things): inference patterns, quantification, scope ambiguities, and anaphoric relations. We will conclude by exploring some current issues in semantics, including generalized quantifier theory, dynamic semantics, and (time-permitting) tense, mood, and modality.

The class will be conducted through lecture and discussion, as well as weekly problem sets. There will be a take-home midterm, due at the end of the 7th week, as well as a short paper, due at the end of the quarter. The paper can focus on any issue involving the formal interpretation of linguistic expressions, but the topic should be approved by the instructor by the end of the 8th week.

For undergraduates, Linguistics B05 or permission of the instructor.

Weekly problem sets (30%), take-home exam (30%), 8-12 page squib (30%), classroom participation (10%).

Important dates

  • The weekly problem sets will be due on Mondays at the beginning of class, starting 1.11.98. Late homeworks will not be accepted! Model answers to the weekly problem sets will be made available on the web after the homeworks are handed in. They can be accessed by linking to the following pages:

  • The exam will be handed out on 2.10.98 and due at the beginning of class on 2.17.98.
  • A brief (1 page) abstract describing your squib topic will be due on 3.1.98.
  • The squib will be due in my office on 3.18.98 by 5pm.

  • Syllabus

    Week 1: Setting the stage
    Meaning in natural language: lexicon, utterance, discourse [de Swart ch. 1, Bach ch. 1]
    Truth-conditional aspects of meaning [de Swart ch. 2]

    Weeks 2-3: Building a formal theory of meaning
    Inference patterns and propositional logic [de Swart ch. 3]
    Semantics vs. pragmatics 1: entailment vs. implicature [Grice 1968]
    Semantics vs. pragmatics 2: entailment vs. presupposition [Karttunen 1973]

    Weeks 3-4: Extending the theory
    Predication and quantification [de Swart ch. 4]
    Model-theoretic semantics [Bach ch. 2 pp. 19-25; Bach ch. 5]

    Weeks 5-6: Quantifier scope and logical form
    Scope ambiguities [de Swart ch. 5 ]
    The syntax-semantics interface [Farkas 1981]

    Weeks 6-7: Dynamic semantics
    Anaphora and problems with donkeys [de Swart ch. 6, Bach ch. 7]
    Discourse referents and dynamic semantics [Karttunen 1976, Heim 1982 (opt.)]

    Week 8: Generalized quantifiers
    Limits of first-order predicate logic [de Swart chs. 7-8]
    Types of quantifiers [Bach chs. 3-4]

    Week 9: Worlds and times
    Intension and extension [de Swart ch. 9]
    Time, tense, modality, and counterfactuality [Bach ch. 2 pp. 25-32]


    Available at Great Expectations Bookstore (911 Foster St., Evanston)

    de Swart, Henriette. 1998. Introduction to Natural Language Semantics. Stanford: CSLI Publications.
    Bach, Emmon. 1989. Informal Lectures on Formal Semantics. SUNY Press.

    Available for photocopying in the Linguistics Department

    Farkas, Donka. 1981. Quantifier scope and syntactic islands. In Hendrick, R. C. Masek, M. Miller. (eds.), Papers from the Seventeenth Regional Meeting of the Chicago Linguistics Society. Chicago: University of Chicago.
    Grice, H. Paul. 1968. Logic and conversation. In Grice, H.P. Studies in the Way of Words. Harvard University Press: Cambridge.
    Karttunnen, Lauri. 1971. Presuppositions of compound sentences. Linguistic Inquiry 4.2:169-193.
    Karttunnen, Lauri. 1976. Discourse referents. In McCawley, J. (ed.) Syntax and Semantics 7. Academic Press: New York.
    Heim, Irene. 1982. Ch. 1 of The semantics of definite and indefinite NPs. Ph.D. thesis, UMass Amherst.