Fall 2016 - LING 802 G100

Semantics (4)

Class Number: 7114

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Sep 6 – Dec 5, 2016: Mon, Wed, 10:30 a.m.–12:20 p.m.

  • Instructor:

    Nancy Hedberg
    1 778 782-3554
    Office: RCB 9101



An introduction to formal approaches to meaning. Topics include truth conditions, compositionality, quantification, variable binding and relationship between semantic aspects of meaning and pragmatic aspects of meaning. Formal approaches are also compared to cognitive approaches.


This course will explore the topic of linguistic semantics from the truth-conditional perspective. Background in set theory, propositional logic, and predicate logic will be introduced or reviewed early on. For the main part of the course, we will sample topics in formal, compositional semantics by working through most of the Heim and Kratzer 1998 textbook. Some of the interesting topics that we will cover are how the notion of a mathematical function can be used to explain how sentences with verbs that have different numbers of arguments can be interpreted bottom-up following the syntactic tree, how different types of adjectives can be identified and handled formally, how different types of quantifiers can be accounted for using the theory of generalized quantifiers, how scope ambiguity and pronoun interpretation can be handled through quantifier movement, and how it is useful to consider different possible worlds to interpret propositional attitude verbs like ‘believe’ and ‘hope’.

To supplement the classic Heim and Kratzer textbook, we will also explore an influential recent (‘Question Under Discussion’ and ‘At-Issue Meaning’) approach to the problem of how to relate semantic and pragmatic components of meaning: i.e., entailment, presupposition and implicature, focusing on intriguing current experimental work, e.g. on definite article phrase existence presuppositions and the exhaustivity condition on cleft sentences. Finally, we will close with an exploration of an even more critical approach to the distinction between semantics and pragmatics through a comparison of the standard view of formal semanticists that we will have studied with pragmaticist challengers who advocate Relevance Theory.  


  • Practical exercises 35%
  • 3 very short reaction pieces (3-4 pages each) & discussion in class 30%
  • Attendance 10%
  • Final paper idea in-class presentation 5%
  • Final short paper (9-12 pages) 20%


Students should familiarize themselves with the Department's Standards on Class Management and Student Responsibilities at http://www.sfu.ca/linguistics/undergraduate/standards.html.

Please note that a grade of “FD” may be assigned as a penalty for academic dishonesty.

All student requests for accommodations for their religious practices must be made in writing by the end of the first week of classes or no later than one week after a student adds a course.

Students requiring accommodations as a result of a disability must contact the Centre for Students with Disabilities (778-782-3112 or csdo@sfu.ca).



Heim, Irene and Angelika Kratzer. 1998. Semantics in Generative Grammar. Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN 0631197133 (pbk.) Textbook available for purchase at the SFU Bookstore, Burnaby campus only.  Several additional supplementary readings will also be made available to the class.  

Graduate Studies Notes:

Important dates and deadlines for graduate students are found here: http://www.sfu.ca/dean-gradstudies/current/important_dates/guidelines.html. The deadline to drop a course with a 100% refund is the end of week 2. The deadline to drop with no notation on your transcript is the end of week 3.

Registrar Notes:

SFU’s Academic Integrity web site http://students.sfu.ca/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating.  Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community.  Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the University. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the University. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html