• Ling-C: Introduction to Formal Semantics

    (Daniel Altshuler, University of Oxford)

    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”). We also 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. The core material for the course (including exercises that will be assigned after each session) will come from the textbook "A Course in Semantics" (2019, MIT Press): https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/course-semantics