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LINGUIST 3II3 Semantics

Academic Year: Winter 2016

Term: Winter

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Dr. Ivona Kucerova


Office: Togo Salmon Hall 509

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 23456


Office Hours: Mondays, 4-5pm

Course Objectives:

This course provides a basic introduction to generative semantics. It will cover basics of compositional semantics, the relation between syntax and semantics, types of predicates, referring expressions, basics of intensional semantics and the interaction of semantics and pragmatics. By the end of the course students will be familiar with basic concepts of generative semantics and should be able to apply basic analytic tools to a new set of data and test linguistic hypotheses a particular theory makes. 

The course will be a combination of lectures and problem-solving exercises. In the tutorial-style part of the class, students will have a chance to apply the skills acquired in the lectures to new sets of data, raise questions, and form new hypotheses (either individually or in small working groups). The learning will be reinforced by weekly or bi-weekly problem sets. 

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

There is no obligatory textbook for the class. The recommended reading is: Paul H. Portner. 2005. What is Meaning? Fundamentals of Formal Semantics. Blackwell Publishing.

The class will closely follow the material in the textbook but some parts will be different. For the purposes of examination, the material presented in class will be binding.

If you would like to learn more about formal semantics, I recommend Paul Elbourne’s ‘Meaning. A slim guide to semantics.’ This is a rather dense but a beautifully written and very intelligent and thought provoking intro book. 

Method of Assessment:

5% – Class attendance (based on i-clicker score; see details below)

35% – Weekly or biweekly short homework assignments (online submission)

25% – Mid-term exam (February 10; TSH B106) (testing cumulative knowledge)

34% – Final exam (testing cumulative knowledge)

1% – participation in a research experiment (1 hour; SONA)

100% - Total 

Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:

Late assignments will be graded 0. Only assignments submitted online as pdf files will be accepted. (If you are a PC user and have no pdf converter already installed, please use one of the freely downloadable softwares such as CutePDF.) Even though some class-work will be in small groups, only individual work will be accepted for the evaluation. 

  1. The midterm test will be held at the regular class time. Students who are aware of a conflict should inform Dr. Kucerova as soon as possible so that alternate arrangements can be made. Legitimate requests for alternate arrangements will be accepted only with appropriate documentation, and only if the request is made prior to Friday, January 31. Appropriate documentation includes a note from a coach that the student will be participating in a scheduled team event, or a note from a professor or academic advisor concerning a conflicting test (i.e. a test scheduled at the same time, not merely on the same day, as the Ling 3II3 midterm). The only documentation that will be accepted within two weeks of the midterm is medical documentation.

  2. There will be a short assignment almost every week (about 8-12 for the term in total). Assignments must be submitted electronically through the avenue system. Assignments submitted on paper will be graded as zero.
    Assignments must be typed (not hand-written) and submitted as pdf. Assignments submitted in other formats (such as .doc or .docx) will be graded zero (0).

    We anticipate that there may be one assignment a student cannot complete or in which a student gets a significantly lower score; it is for this reason that the lowest mark of this component of the course will be dropped when final marks are calculated.

  3. The attendance component of the grade is measured by the i-clicker (5%). This is a pass/fail grade (either 0, or 5): a student must attend at least 75% of classes (based on student’s i-clicker record) and in those classes the student must answer at least 75% of the questions.

  4. Every student is required to have her own i-clicker. If you don’t have the machine yet, you can obtain it from the Titles bookstore. In order to get your participation mark, you have to register your machine at You are strongly encouraged to register your machine by the end of the first week. If your clicker is not registered, you will not get your attendance points. Also, attendance points will not be awarded retroactively. It is your responsibility your clicker is properly registered. If it is not registered properly, you will loose attendance points.

  5. 1% of the final grade is allocated toward a participation in a research experiment within the Dept. of Linguistics and Languages (SONA). Details and an alternative option to gain the point to be distributed in the class. 

Please Note the Following Policies and Statements:

Academic Dishonesty

You are expected to exhibit honesty and use ethical behaviour in all aspects of the learning process. Academic credentials you earn are rooted in principles of honesty and academic integrity.

Academic dishonesty is to knowingly act or fail to act in a way that results or could result in unearned academic credit or advantage. This behaviour can result in serious consequences, e.g. the grade of zero on an assignment, loss of credit with a notation on the transcript (notation reads: "Grade of F assigned for academic dishonesty"), and/or suspension or expulsion from the university.

It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty. For information on the various types of academic dishonesty please refer to the Academic Integrity Policy, located at

The following illustrates only three forms of academic dishonesty:

  1. Plagiarism, e.g. the submission of work that is not one’s own or for which other credit has been obtained.
  2. Improper collaboration in group work.
  3. Copying or using unauthorized aids in tests and examinations.

Email correspondence policy

It is the policy of the Faculty of Humanities that all email communication sent from students to instructors (including TAs), and from students to staff, must originate from each student’s own McMaster University email account. This policy protects confidentiality and confirms the identity of the student.  Instructors will delete emails that do not originate from a McMaster email account.

Modification of course outlines

The University reserves the right to change dates and/or deadlines etc. for any or all courses in the case of an emergency situation or labour disruption or civil unrest/disobedience, etc. If a modification becomes necessary, reasonable notice and communication with the students will be given with an explanation and the opportunity to comment on changes. Any significant changes should be made in consultation with the Department Chair.

McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)

In the event of an absence for medical or other reasons, students should review and follow the Academic Regulation in the Undergraduate Calendar Requests for Relief for Missed Academic Term Work. Please note these regulations have changed beginning Fall 2015. You can find information at If you have any questions about the MSAF, please contact your Associate Dean's office.

Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities

Students who require academic accommodation must contact Student Accessibility Services (SAS) to make arrangements with a Program Coordinator. Academic accommodations must be arranged for each term of study. Student Accessibility Services can be contacted by phone 905-525-9140 ext. 28652 or e-mail For further information, consult McMaster University's Policy for Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities.

Academic Accommodation for Religious, Indigenous and Spiritual Observances

Students requiring academic accommodation based on religion and spiritual observances should follow the procedures set out in the Course Calendar or by their respective Faculty. In most cases, the student should contact his or her professor or academic advisor as soon as possible to arrange accommodations for classes, assignments, tests and examinations that might be affected by a religious holiday or spiritual observance.

Topics and Readings:




Reading assignment

Week 1

Jan. 4

What is meaning and compositionality

unit 1

Week 2

Jan. 11

Compositionality & predicates

unit 2 & 3

Week 3

Jan. 18


unit 4

Week 4

Jan. 25

Referring expressions

unit 5

Week 5

Feb. 1


unit 6

Week 6

Feb. 8

review and midterm (Feb. 10)


Week 7

Feb. 15

reading week


Week 8

Feb. 22


unit 7

Week 9

Feb. 29

Tense, Aspect, Modality

unit 8

Week 10

March 7

Propositional Attitudes

unit 9

Week 11

March 14


unit 10

Week 12

March 21


unit 11

Week 13

March 28

More on formal semantics

unit 12

Week 14

Apr. 4

final exam review