Semantics 1


This is the first of two courses in formal semantics, designed to introduce students to the core empirical domain of natural language semantics and to familiarize them with the analytical tools involved in the investigation of this domain. The focus of this class is truth-conditional aspects of meaning and the compositional interpretation of phrases and sentences. Students will develop skills in semantic analysis and argumentation by focusing on semantic questions that arise in the context of a particular empirical domain: ellipsis. In the course of our exploration of ellipsis, we will also develop explicit hypotheses about a course set of semantic phenomena, including argument structure, quantification, binding and anaphora.


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 and substantial 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 often 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 Thursday and due at the beginning of class the following Tuesday. Some of the problems will be purely formal derivations, and will not require prose write-ups. However, most of the problems will require analysis and argumentation (as well as derivations), and you will be expected to write them up with appropriate exposition, as though they were short papers. Finally, you are expected to do the work on your own.


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


  • Heim, Irene and Angelika Kratzer. 1998. Semantics in Generative Grammar. Blackwell: Malden, Mass.
  • Supplementary readings posted on the website

The text should be available at the Seminary Coop. The classroom discussion will presuppose familiarity with the text, so it will be important to do the reading in advance. At the same time, much of what we do in class will be independent of the book, and some of our assumptions will modify or go beyond the framework described in Heim and Kratzer.

The Plan

The following is a rough week-by-week plan for the course, though we may end up diverging from it a bit depending on the progress we make. Assignments will be downloadable from the website on the day that they are assigned. In some cases, I have assigned only parts of chapters from Heim and Kratzer (HK), but you are of course encouraged to read beyond what I assign.

  • January 3 (NB: No class January 5!)
    Identifying an issue of semantics: identity and ambiguity in ellipsis
    HK ch. 1

  • January 10-12
    HK ch. 2
    Partee, B., A. ter Meulen and R. Wall (1993), Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3

  • January 17-19
    Type theory and the lambda notation
    HK ch. 3

  • January 24-26
    HK ch. 4 pp. 61-68, ch. 5

  • January 31-February 2
    HK ch. 6 pp. 131-149

  • February 7-9
    Quantification and the lexicon-syntax-semantics interface: LF vs. type-shifting
    HK ch. 7

  • February 14-16
    Syntactic and semantic constraints on quantifier interpretation
    HK ch. 8

  • February 21-23
    The interpretation of pronouns
    HK ch. 9

  • February 28-March 2
    Binding vs. coreference
    HK ch. 10

  • March 7
    E-type anaphora