“The logic of ordinary speech provides a field of intellectual study unsurpassed in richness, complexity, and the power to absorb.” (P.F. Strawson)
The goal of semantic theory is to give a precise characterization of the meanings expressible in natural language and of how they are encoded in syntactic structure. Philosophers and logicians have been concerned with these questions since antiquity, and analytical philosophy of the past two centuries has pursued them with unprecedented vigor and success. In the course of the last few decades, this research tradition has been taken over by linguists. With the rapid progress of generative linguistics, it became increasingly inappropriate to theorize about the relation between meaning and structure on the basis of lay conceptions of grammar instead of building on the results of the scientific study of syntax. Today, it is no longer possible to work on the cutting edge of semantic research without a solid background in both linguistics and philosophical logic. The conceptual and formal apparatus that was developed when semantics was the domain of philosophers remains as indispensible as ever, and it must be employed in conjunction with up- to-date knowledge of syntactic theory and its growing basis of cross- linguistic empirical evidence. The area of specialization program in semantics is designed to offer this kind of training.
Relevant Faculty in Philosophy
Students choosing semantics as their Area of Specialization take five advanced-level courses beyond those required by the Common Curriculum. They will also participate in a research forum/discussion group on syntax and semantics.
- Pragmatics in Linguistic Theory (24.954)
- In addition to the Common Curriculum requirement of “an advanced subject with research-paper requirement in syntax/semantics”, an additional advanced subject in the other area covered by this requirement, so that a student in the semantics program will have completed an advanced subject in both semantics (e.g. 24.979) and syntax (e.g. 24.956).
- Three advanced courses in areas of philosophy, logic, and mathematics that are relevant to linguistic semantics. Especially appropriate would be 24.711 (Topics in Philosophical Logic) and 24.729 (Topics in Philosophy of Language). Other possibilities include 24.518J (Problems of Mental Representation), 24.701 (Topics in Logic), 24.242 (Logic II), 18.515 (Mathematical Logic).
Syntax-Semantics Reading Group
All students in the program that have completed the first two years are expected to attend and actively participate in the Syntax-Semantics Reading Group (also known as the “LF Reading Group”), a weekly forum in which students give informal presentations on their own research and on recent literature about the syntax-semantics interface. The readings will be selected by the participants. Active participation is required for third year students, but is highly recommended also for fourth and fifth year students. Students should start attending in their third or fourth semester.