SOAS University of London

Department of Linguistics

Topics in Lexical Semantics (MA)

Module Code:
Taught in:
Term 1
This module will give a fully fledged introduction to the field of lexical semantics.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the module, 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
  • have some familiarity with the resources and research literature in the topic


Total of 10 weeks teaching with 2 hours classroom contact per week.

Scope and syllabus

The module will focus on how lexical semantic meaning components are expressed in the syntax of natural languages. In Part I we will introduce the basic assumptions and goals of different approaches to semantic research.  In Part II the formalism and tools of formal semantics will be introduced and in part 3 we will focus on some current issues in the Lexical Semantics/Syntax interface.

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

Practical questions, data set analysis of 1500 words to be submitted on Monday after the reading week (40%); an essay of 2,500 words to be submitted on day 1, week 1, term 2 (60%).

Suggested reading

Core Readings

Main texts
  • Saeed, John (2011) Semantics (3rd ed), Oxford: Wiley-BlackwellKearns, Kate (2011) Semantics (2nd ed), Palgrave Macmillan
  • Portner, Paul (2005) What is meaning? Fundamentals of formal semantics, Blackwell
Additional texts
  • Cann, Ronnie, Ruth Kempson and Eleni Gregoromichelaki (2009) Semantics: An Introduction to Meaning in Language, CUP.
  • 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.
Supplementary readings

Topic-specific references will be provided as they become relevant to the module.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules