Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Thoughts on semantics

Today was the final lecture in my semantics module. There's still an assignment to mark, but apart from that I'm all done with it for this year.

I've had a good time teaching it, even though it was a lot of work. It was the first course I've taught at this university so I didn't know what the students would be like in terms of their knowledge, ability or motivation, and that makes a huge difference to what you can do with them. Some of them had done a module in their first year that introduced them to semantics, but others had done nothing at all, so we basically started from scratch. I soon found that the students were quite highly motivated to learn and to understand the material, and they've been good at grasping new ideas and thinking about them properly. This makes the course so much easier to teach and so much more fun as well.

The module was a sort of introduction to various aspects of formal semantics, using Kearns (2011) as a starting point and supplementing where appropriate. Given that most students doing English Language degrees didn't sign up for the kind of thing we make them do in formal linguistics (they almost all come from an arts background), you can't tell how they're going to react to mathematical stuff like operators and functions. We didn't get too heavily into all that, but we did cover the basics, and they liked it! Or at least didn't hate it. Some comments from today's lecture were that they were pleased that they can now write logical expressions using these operators for sentences of English. They're proud of themselves and rightly so.


  1. Your textbook (Kearns 2011) looks interesting. I can imagine that operators and functions would be difficult for (anyone, much less novices) your students. Did you spend time on thematic relations? I've found that topic to be accessible and really useful as it helps students understand syntax.
    Thanks for the interesting blog.

  2. Hi Unknown, and thank you! The book is good but some parts of it are too hard for them. We didn't spend a lot of time on thematic relations as they get plenty of syntax on other modules so I didn't want to stray too far into it, but I brought it up as and when it was appropriate (when writing logical forms, for instance, I referred to the various roles of the arguments).