SOAS University of London

Department of Linguistics, School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics

Meaning and Interpretation

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 2
Taught in:
Term 1


Introduction to Linguistics

Sounds, grammar and meaning in language

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

This course is an introduction to the multifaceted aspects of semantics and pragmatics involved in the knowledge, use and interpretation of meaning natural languages.

At the end of the course, the student should:
  • be familiar with basic concepts and issues in the study of Semantics at the lexical, sentential and discourse level
  • appreciate the various (lexical, grammatical and logical) relations which structure the semantic domains relevant to natural languages
  • be able to apply relevant data, tests and argumentation to the investigation of specific semantic phenomena
  • understand how linguistic meaning interacts with other knowledge systems: cognition, general (encyclopaedic) knowledge, contextual and cultural knowledge


The course is taught over 10 weeks with a 1 hour lecture and a 1 hour tutorial per week. In term 3 there are 2 hours of revision.

Scope and syllabus

The course is intended to convey:
  • a sense of how words, sentences and utterances are associated with meaning, interpretation and language use in the broader context
  • an introduction to the basic concepts and issues in semantics and pragmatics
  • a greater understanding of the ways in which linguistic structures relate to semantic interpretation and to our more general conceptual knowledge about the world.
Topics covered include
  • Lexical and phrasal meanings and the logical and semantic systems they may participate in, including quantificational systems, predication, tense, aspect and modality
  • Contextual dimensions of interpretation, including information structure, deixis, pragmatics and discourse domains
  • The cognitive/conceptual models on which natural language semantics is based: event- types,plurality and count/mass distinctions, semantic components and lexical-conceptual structures.

Method of assessment

  • One essay of 1,500 words to be submitted in the term the course is taught (40%)
  • One essay of 1,500 words to be submitted in the term after the course is taught (60%)
  • The exact assessment deadline dates are published on the relevant module Moodle/BLE page

Suggested reading

Core Readings

Main text
  • Saeed, John (2011) Semantics (3rd ed), Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell
Additional texts
  • de Swart, Henriëtte (1998) Introduction to Natural Language Semantics, CSLI
  • Hurford, James R, Brendan Heasley and Michael B Smith (2007) Semantics: A coursebook (second edition), Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
  • Löbner, Sebastian (2002) Understanding Semantics, Arnold Publishers.
  • Kearns, Kate (2011) Semantics (2nd ed), Palgrave Macmillan
  • Portner, Paul (2005) What is meaning? Fundamentals of formal semantics, Blackwell
Supplementary readings

Additional references will be provided as they become relevant to the course.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules