Download the .pdf here: LNG 324 Syllabus Fall 13

Course Title: LNG 324: Semantics 3 hours, 3 credits.
Location:              Speech/Theatre Building  Room 203
Meeting Days:       Tuesday & Thursday
Time:                     9:30-10:45
Instructor:             Michelle A. Johnson
Email:                    mjohnson2 [AT] gc.cuny.edu  **  johnson.michelle.anne [AT] gmail.com

Office Hours:        Tuesdays 12:15-1:15 in the classroom OR(inclusive) by appointment.
Textbook: Kearns, Kate. 2011. Semantics. 2nd Edition. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

There will also be additional readings, podcasts and you tube videos posted to the course website which will help you throughout the course.
Website: https://lng324.commons.gc.cuny.edu

Course materials are available on this website. I will not be using blackboard, and there will not be any materials posted there.

Course Description

 ‘What is meaning?’

This course will introduce students to the study of formal meaning in Linguistics — and attempt to answer the question: how do we create meaning from the utterances we make? Semantics is the branch of Linguistics that studies meaning in a formal way. This is a much more difficult question than it appears on the surface. Since it is impossible to agree on even the meaning of the word ‘meaning’, linguists have adopted a system from logic (the intersection of Mathematics and Philosophy) that can begin to capture the decontextualized relationships between elements in a sentence. This logical system is what this course is about. Of course, there are intersections with Syntax, Pragmatics, and Phonology that will arise throughout the course, since none of these subfields exists without the others in a natural human language. Semantic tools allow us to propose answers to questions such as the following:

  • Why does “He took the pills and went to the hospital” mean something different than “He went to the hospital and took the pills”?
  • Why is “the” such a difficult word to explain to a non-native English speaker?
  • Why you can say “I bought every bottle” but not “I bought every sand”?
  • How there are 2 meanings to “Somebody loves everybody.”?
  • Why it’s funny to answer “Would you like coffee or tea?” With “Yes!”
  • Why you can’t “sleep the baby”?
  • If you pause a marathon, are the runners “running”?
  • Many more…


By the end of this class, you will be able to:

  • Explain why meaning is constructed by shared beliefs and experiences.
  • Group the world into quantifiable and unquantifiable objects and point out the inconsistencies in natural language.
  • Articulate the difference between Sense and Denotation (Reference), and how that relates to how we talk about ideas, objects and the world
  • Explain what truth conditions are, why they are so important and how they relate to extensions and intensions of sentences.
  • Identify how each natural language conjunction relates to predicate logic.
    • Calculate the logic of a natural language sentence.
  • Use first order logic to create proofs of sentential relationships
  • Explain the role argument structure has on sentences.
    • Compare the role a predicate has versus an argument on the structure of a sentence.
  • Identify both of the Logical Quantifiers and articulate at least one scopal ambiguity problem.
  • Analyze natural language quantifiers with respect to first order logic.
  • Identify (an) aspect(s) of human language that are interesting, puzzling, humorous, etc. and analyze it in a formal, logical way.
  • Propose, justify and evaluate an answer to the question “What is meaning?”
  • Identify a naturally occurring language phenomenon, articulate the phenomenon using academic semantic language and provide an academic rationale for why it is interesting, situating the phenomenon with respect to the tools learned during the course.


This is largely a discussion course. Since the class is very small, the format will be mostly guided group discussions. Research on learning theory has shown that students learn best by asking questions and working together (Fagen, Crouch, & Mazur, 2002). This class is based on concepts and ideas – not memorizing content. Education itself is based on questions and answers (& the explanations) (Bain, 2004; Lang, 2010). Therefore, while this course will involve some lecturing by me, but you will [collectively] have to do the majority of the talking, and I will be guiding you along, asking further questions. The beginning of most classes will have a short writing assignment on the assigned reading to help you get your thoughts collected about the topic and then discussion. There will be times when you work in smaller groups i.e., the class will be split into 2 or 3 groups in order to discuss the ideas before discussing it all together. Group work is highly encouraged!


  1. In class writing: 15%
  2. Homework: 20%
  3. Tests: 20%
  4. Presentation: 15%
  5. SQUIB: 30%


95-100% A 83-86% B 71-74% C 60-65% D
91-94% A- 79-82% B- 70-73% C- Below 60% F
87-90% B+ 75-78% C+ 66-69% D+


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