Lexical Semantics

Linguistics 305
Fall 2001
Northwestern University

Instructor: Prof. Chris Kennedy
Office: Linguistics Department, Room 12 (2016 Sheridan Rd.)
Phone: 491-8054
Email: kennedy@northwestern.edu

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, nounds, and adjectives. Topics to be covered include verb classes, aspect, semantic roles, vagueness, gradability, the mass/count distinction, plurality 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 205 or permission of the instructor; for graduate students, the equivalent of Linguistics 205 or permission of the instructor.


Weekly assignments (80\%), take-home final (20\%)

The weekly problem sets will be due on Mondays at the beginning of class, starting Oct. 1. Late homeworks will not be accepted!

The final exam will be handed out on Wednesday, November 28 and will be due in my office by noon on Monday, Dec. 10. (The final may be turned in early.)


The reading load for this class will be fairly heavy, so be sure to keep up. All readings should be completed prior to the class for which they are assigned.

Week 1: Introduction

Weeks 2-4: Verbs

Week 5: Nouns

Week 6: The Noun-Verb Interface

Week 7: Adjectives

Week 8: The Verb-Adjective Interface

Weeks 9-10: The Representation of Lexical Meaning


All of the readings are contained in a course reader which is available at Copy Cat, at the corner of Sherman and Clark.

Bach, E., 1986: The Algebra of Events, Linguistics \& Philosophy 9, 5-16.

Carlson, G., 1977: A Unified Analysis of the English Bare Plural, Linguistics and Philosophy 1, 413-457.

Chierchia, G. and S.~McConnell-Ginet, 1990: Meaning and Grammar, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA. (chapter 1; part of chapter 2)

Chung, S., 2000: On Reference to Kinds in Indonesian, Natural Language Semantics 8, 157-171.

Dowty, D., 1977: Word Meaning and Montague Grammar, Kluwer, Dordrecht. (chapter 2)

Dowty, D., 1991: Thematic Proto-Roles and Argument Selection, Language 67, 547-619.

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

Fodor, J.~and E.~Lepore, 1998: The Emptiness of the Lexicon: Reflections on James Pustejovsky's The Generative Lexicon, Linguistic Inquiry 29, 269-288.

Hay, J., C.~Kennedy and B.~Levin, 1999: Scalar Structure Underlies Telicity in Degree Achievements, Proceedings of SALT 9, Cornell Linguistics Club, Ithaca, NY, 127-144.

Jackendoff, R., 1972: Semantic Interpretation in Generative Grammar, MIT Press, Cambridge. (chapters 1-2)

Karttunen, L., 1971: Implicative Verbs, Language 47, 340-358.

Kennedy, C., 1999: Projecting the Adjective: The Syntax and Semantics of Gradability and Comparison, Garland, New York. (part of chapter 1)

Krifka, M., 1989: Nominal Reference, Temporal Constitution and Quantification in Event Semantics, in R. Bartsch, J. van Benthem, and P. van Emde Boas, eds., Semantics and Contextual Expression, Foris, Dordrecht, 75-115.

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

Pustejovsky, J., 1991: The Generative Lexicon, Computational Linguistics 17, 409-441.

Pustejovsky, J., 1998: Generativity and Explanation in Semantics: A Reply to Fodor and Lepore, Linguistic Inquiry 29, 289-310.

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

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