• Ling-C Introduction to Formal Semantics

    (Daniel Altshuler, Hampshire College)

    This Seminar is available to all students. No background required.  Recommended for students interested in semantics and meaning

    This course is an introduction to a scientific approach to meaning called semantics. Just like any scientist, a semanticist doesn’t pursue the object of inquiry (i.e. meaning) directly, but rather focuses on related phenomena. We will focus on composition: the idea that the meaning of a whole (e.g. “spotted butterfly”) is composite of the meanings of its parts (e.g. the meaning of “spotted” and the meaning of “butterfly”). The way that meanings are composed is reflective of the syntactic structure and our semantics rules will be constrained by this structure. In addition to composition, we focus on truth: the idea that we understand the meaning of a sentence by understanding what the world would have to be like for the sentence in question to be true. Finally, we will focus on context and ambiguity: the idea that in order to evaluate a sentence for truth, we must assess the surrounding discourse in which that sentence occurs; depending on that discourse, a given sentence may mean different things. To make these phenomena precise, the semantic theory that we develop employs tools from basic math and logic. It allows us to analyze the meanings of nouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, quantifiers, as well as the sentences that contain these expressions. This course develops quantitative and research skills necessary for doing more advanced work in linguistics, philosophy and logic.

    Class 1: Composition, extensions and truth
    Class 2: Sets and functions
    Class 3: Semantics of symbolic logic (part 1): names, predicates and connectives
    Class 4: Semantics of symbolic logic (part 2): quantifiers and predicate conjunction
    Class 5: From syntactic structure to symbolic logic
    Class 6: Quantifier scope
    Class 7: Pronouns
    Class 8: Modifiers