LING-GA 3340.002
Seminar in Semantics (Algebraic semantics and mereology): Spring 2013



LING-GA 3340.002
Professor Lucas Champollion (homepage)
Thursdays, 12:30PM - 3:15PM (first session 1:50PM-3:15PM, on Thursday Jan 31)
Room 104, 10 Washington Place (find on Foursquare)

Units: 4
Prerequisite: LING-GA 1340 (aka Semantics I) or permission of the instructor.

Note: The system lists LING-GA 2370 (Semantics II) as a prerequisite, but Semantics I or exposure to an equivalent amount of semantics (e.g. self-study of Heim and Kratzer 1998, chapter 1-6) is de facto sufficient.

Auditors are welcome, as are students from other departments, schools, and universities.

Course contents:

Expressions like John and Mary or the water in my cup intuitively involve reference to collections of individuals or substances. The parthood relation between these collections and their components is not modeled in standard formal semantics of natural language, but it takes central stage in what is known as algebraic semantics, a subfield that relies on mereology (the theory of parts) as its formal underpinning.
This course starts with a gentle introduction into algebraic semantics, and presents selected applications involving plural, mass reference, measurement, aspect, and distributivity. We will encounter issues involving natural language metaphysics and philosophy of language, and how these issues interact with semantic theory depending on how they are resolved.
A syllabus is available here (PDF). The lecture notes of this course are available here (PDF).
This course was based on recent and current research by the instructor, in particular Champollion (2010). A summary of this dissertation is available here (PDF). For the complete dissertation, please contact the instructor.

Students were asked to write and present one 10-15 page paper, one 2-page abstract of that paper, and three short reviews of abstracts of their fellow students. Submission of these abstracts to a semantics conference was encouraged.

Selected topics:

Mereology - algebraic semantics; axiomatization of classical extensional mereology; comparison to set theory

Metaphysics - events, intervals, degrees; thematic roles, measure functions, homomorphisms; sums and groups

Nouns - semantic theories of singular and plural; dependent plurals; cumulative reference, divisive reference, quantized reference; group nouns; mass nouns; atomicity

Measurement - temporal and spatial trace; measure functions and degrees; measure nouns; pseudopartitives; monotonicity; the measurement puzzle

Verbs - event semantics; thematic roles; aspectual composition; temporal vs. spatial aspect

Distributivity - lexical and phrasal distributivity; meaning postulates; D operator; leakage; nonatomic distributivity; covers; each vs. all; distance distributivity; cross-linguistic similarities and differences 

Putting it all together - higher-order parametrized properties; cross-domain generalizations; stratified reference; open questions


Champollion (2010). Parts of a whole - Distributivity as a bridge between aspect and measurement. Penn Ph.D. dissertation.

Heim and Kratzer (1998). Semantics in generative grammar. Blackwell.

Updated on 12/06/2012
Back to top