LING-GA 3340 Seminar in Semantics: Spring 2016


Seminar in Semantics : The interaction of compositional semantics and event semantics
Professor Lucas Champollion
Wednesday, 3:30PM - 6:15PM
Place: NYU Dept. of Linguistics, 10 Washington Place, 1st floor, room 104
First day: Wednesday, January 27, 2016
Instructor: Lucas Champollion (
Units: 4

Dynamically updated syllabus:
Lecture notes (PDF):

It is sometimes believed that the marriage of (Neo-)Davidsonian event semantics and compositional semantics is an uneasy one. And indeed, in many implementations of event semantics, standard treatments of scope-taking elements such as quantifiers, negation, conjunctions, modals, etc. are complicated compared to the simple accounts they get in semantics textbooks. A typical graduate Semantics I course will introduce students to the main idea and motivation of event semantics, and will then go on to describe phenomena like quantification and negation in an event-free framework. While specialists who wish to combine the two frameworks will know where to look for ideas, there are currently no easy-to-use, off-the-shelf systems that puts the two together, textbook-style. An aspiring semanticist might be discouraged by this situation, particularly when a given language or phenomenon that seems to be well-suited to event semantics also involves scope-taking elements that need to be analyzed in some way. For example, event semantics is a natural choice for a fieldworker who wishes to sketch a semantic analysis of a language without making commitments as to the relative hierarchical order of arguments or the argument-adjunct distinction. Yet the same fieldworker would face significant technical challenges before being able to also use such standard tools as generalized quantifier theory or classical negation when encountering quantifiers and negation.

The first half of this course aims to remedy this situation. We will start by reviewing the basic empirical motivations for event semantics. We will review two influential but arguably problematic proposals (Krifka (1989); Landman (1996)) on how to combine the two frameworks, as well as a novel implementation of event semantics that combines with standard treatments of scope-taking elements in a well-behaved way.

Ideally, it will contribute to overcoming the tendency in the formal semantics literature to compartmentalize, noted e.g. by Szabolcsi (2010) in this connection: "It is remarkable [...] that even leading neo-Davidsonians like [Angelika] Kratzer do not incorporate events into the discussion of all semantic phenomena; compare for example her work on choice functions and on Hamblin-quantifiers (no events) with her practically simultaneous work on argument structure (all about events)."

As part of the class, we will collectively implement this framework as a fragment. We will attempt to use the iPython Lambda Notebook by Kyle Rawlins if possible, and fall back on the lambda calculator if needed. A basic lambda calculator implementation of the fragment can be seen in this video.

The second half of the course will be centered around class projects by registered participants. These class projects will focus on the compositional semantics of a natural language phenomenon that can profitably analyzed in one of the event-semantic frameworks discussed in class. A typical project will discuss how the chosen framework adds value to the compositional semantic analysis of this phenomenon. Participants are explicitly encouraged to choose this framework independently of the instructor’s own preferences and prejudices. The topic can but need not be one of those traditionally viewed through an event-semantic lens. Some sample topics include adverbs, causation and causatives, conditionals, coordination, distributed morphology, focus, implicatures, modality, nominalizations, negation, perception reports, the progressive, quantification, resultatives, temporal modification, and tense. (Quantification, conjunction, and negation have already been treated in Champollion (2015a), and temporal modifiers in Champollion (2015b).)

As part of the class project, participants will lead one class discussion presenting one or more relevant papers; implement their project by extending of the fragment in the iPython Lambda Notebook; write a squib or short paper and a 2-page abstract of that paper; write three short reviews of abstracts of fellow participants; and present their projects and implementations at the end of class.

Submission of the abstracts to semantics conferences will be encouraged.

Auditors are welcome, as are students from other departments, schools, and universities. Auditors may join either for individual sessions or for the whole course. If you'd like to take this course or if you're planning to audit it, please send a short email to the instructor. Please include your NYU netID (if you have one) to be added to the course mailing list and to get access to the course materials.

Syllabus and grading information:

Updated on 01/17/2014
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