Semantic Variation

Linguistics 290B | Fall 2015
Wednesday, 3-6 | 87 Dwinelle

Amy Rose Deal

Course Description

Languages vary in how they encode meaning. Crosslinguistic formal semantics aims to characterize this variation in precise terms. Over the last decade, an explosion of research in this area has shed new light on the meanings of linguistic elements ranging from tense to modality to discourse particles to comparatives to mass nouns and beyond. We will explore a selection of this research in this seminar, focusing on definiteness, countability and modality. In each case, we will first explore the richness of the topic in a well-studied language before turning to questions of semantic variation. Along the way we will discuss the methodological basis of crosslinguistic formal semantics and semantic fieldwork.

This course presupposes a basic acquaintance with formal semantics, and will move toward more advanced topics toward the middle/end of the term. Students with questions about background and preparation should contact me by email.

Syllabus (PDF)


Day Topics, Readings and Assignments
8/26 Introduction. Getting precise about the questions. Form- and meaning- based typologies.
Reading: von Fintel and Matthewson 2008
9/2 How meaning is encoded: theory, methodology, and crosslinguistic results
Readings: Simons 2001, Tonhauser et al. 2013
9/9 No class [ARD at Sinn und Bedeutung]
Reading: Matthewson 2004
9/16 Roundtable: the methodology of crosslinguistic formal semantics
In-class student-led reports and discussion about fieldwork methodology readings.
ARD reports on selected SuB papers.
Readings: selections from Bochnak and Matthewson (eds.) 2015
9/23 Definites and indefinites in English
Reading: Heim 1991
9/30 Article systems
Readings: Schwarz 2013, Arkoh and Matthewson 2013, Matthewson 1999
10/7 Bare nouns
Reading: Dayal 2004
10/14 Countability distinctions in English
Readings: Link 1983, Bale and Barner 2009
10/21 Variation in countability
Readings: Krifka 1995, Lima 2014 [selections], Mathieu 2012
10/28 Modality in Germanic
Reading: Kratzer 1981
11/4 Modal systems
Reading: Rullmann 2008, Deal 2011, Vander Klok 2013, Matthewson 2013
11/11 no class [Veterans' Day]
Paper prospectus due
11/18 Topic TBA
11/25 no class [Thanksgiving]
12/2 Future work on semantic variation: presentation of student projects
12/9 no class [RRR week]
Final papers due