Department:       Depto de Lógica, Historia y Filosofía de la Ciencia, Univ. de Barcelona

When?       Wednesdays 11–13.30h, 19 February 2014 – 28 May 2014,

Where?       Room 412, Facultad de Filosofía.

Responsible:        Max Kölbel, ICREA Research Professor at Universitat de Barcelona

Office hour:       Tuesdays 17-18h, room 4051, Philosophy Faculty, UB (or by appointment)


What exactly are natural languages and how can they be studied scientifically? One way of studying them started in the 1960s and 70s, when some philosophers and linguists began using the techniques of mathematical logic in the study of natural language. The field of “Natural Language Semantics” was born. 45 years later, the discipline has become an established part of the philosophy of language as well as of theoretical linguistics. However, there is no consensus about the object of study nor about the methods to be used. In this course, we shall begin by reading some introductory material that will introduce students to the field of natural language semantics. We will then go on to study early contributions to the study of natural language meaning and syntax. Finally, we will study a selection of papers regarding the nature of meaning and the foundations of semantics, as well as its methodology.


  1. 19 February 2014:    Introduction [Barbara Partee: “Formal Semantics: Origins, Issues, Early Impact”.]
  2. 26 February 2014:    Introduction to formal semantics [Josh Dever: “Semantic Value” (2005)]
  3. 5 March 2014:    An early view on empirical methods in semantics [Rudolf Carnap, “Meaning and Synonymy in Natural Languages”, 1955]
  4. 12 March 2014:    Grice’s Account of MeaningNN and Sentence Meaning [Grice, “Meaning” + “Utterer’s Meaning, Sentence-Meaning and Word-Meaning”, pp. 117-128]
  5. 19 March 2014:    Generative Grammar [Noam Chomsky: Aspects of the Theory of Syntax, §§ 1–3, 8.]
  6. 26 March 2014:    Quine’s Skepticism about empirical grammar [W.V. Quine “Methodological Reflections on Current Linguistic Theory”]
  7. 2 April 2014:    Evans’ proposal for an empirical semantics [Gareth Evans: “Semantic Theory and Tacit Knowledge”]
  8. 9 April 2014:    Davies on Evans on empirical semantics [Martin Davies: “Tacit Knowledge and Semantic Theory: Can a Five Per Cent Difference Matter?”.]
  9. 30 April 2014:    Lewis’ account of what it is for a population to use a language [David Lewis, “Languages and Language”, §§I–III]
  10. 7 May 2014:    Laurence’s objections to Lewis [Stephen Laurence: “A Chomskian Alternative to Convention-based Semantics”]
  11. 14 May 2014:    Grice’s theory of Conversational Implicature [Grice: “Logic and Conversation”]
  12. 21 May 2014:    Carston’s objections [Robyn Carston “Linguistic Meaning, Communicated Meaning and Cognitive Pragmatics”.]

28 May 2014:    Essay clinic.


The readings will be available from the “readings” section of this blog, which is password protected. I will tell you the password in class.


In the first two sessions, I will teach formal classes, one to introduce the topics of the course, and one to introduce some basic notions of formal semantics. After that, the course will be run in the style of a seminar. We will study a set text in each session. All participants are expected to study each week’s reading carefully in advance, so as to be prepared for the class discussion. The texts are available online (see above).


The module will be evaluated by a weighted combination of three factors. Participation in class will be evaluated in terms of quality of preparation and of contributions to the discussion. There will be 3 very short exercises, which I will ask you to complete during the course. Their main purpose is to allow you to check whether you are on top of the material, and to motivate you to stay on top. Finally, you will be expected to write a short essay on a question you choose from a list of essay questions, which will be made available towards the end of the course. The word-limit will be 2000 words. The essay will be due 6th of June. The weighting of the three factors is as follows:

Class participation: 15%

3–4 short exercises: 35%

Essay: 50%

Further Reading:

Chomsky, “The Formal Nature of Language.”

Dever: “Formal Semantics”

Lewis: “General Semantics”

Ludlow: The Philosophy of Generative Linguistics, early chapters.

Higginbotham: “On the Nature of Language: A Basic Exposition”

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