Semantic Theory 2020


07.07.2020: This week's slides on Current Issues in Semantic Theory are now online. The pptx version is available on Teams.

06.07.2020: The practice exam as well as the accompanying supplementary materials are now online. For Thursday's Q&A session, please prepare questions!

02.07.2020: Exercise sheet 8 is now available on Teams. The exercise is due next Wednesday, July 8th.

Course Overview

Semantic Theory is a core course of the Master of Science programme in Language Science and Technology (LST), taught at the department of Language Science and Technology (formerly: Computational Linguistics and Phonetics) at Saarland University.

Course content: This course focuses on the theoretical study of natural language meaning, but will also address practical applications. In the first part of the course, we will study sentence-level (Montague) semantics: starting out from first-order predicate logic, moving to (typed) lambda calculus. In the second part of the course, we zoom in to the level of lexical semantics, in particular focusing on verbs (event semantics) and quantified noun phrases (generalized quantifiers). In the third part of the course, we move to discourse-level semantics: we use the framework of Discourse Representation Theory to study discourse-level phenomena such as anaphora and presupposition. In the final part of the course, we discuss recent advances in semantic theory. In particular, we will look at Distributional Formal Semantics, which extends formal semantics with a distributional component, providing compositional and probabilistic meaning representations that are also suitable for use in contemporary deep learning approaches.

Noortje Venhuizen (email: noortjev at coli.uni-saarland dot de) and
Harm Brouwer (email: brouwer at coli.uni-saarland dot de)

Course format: For the Summer Semester 2020, this course will be offered digitally, with a strong focus on self-study. Due to child-care responsibilities, we will not be able to offer weekly online lectures. Instead, we plan to provide reading material as well as annotated lecture slides for each topic (see the schedule below). We will also plan a weekly online Q&A session, in which you can ask any questions about the course materials, and discuss the weekly exercises. In addition, we will be available for questions asked through email.

Prerequisites: Familiarity with first-order predicate logic. Specifically, we expect you to be familiar with the content described in the first two sections of this chapter (Section 4.1 & 4.2).

Registration: To register for this course, please send an email to noortjev at coli.uni-saarland dot de. Registration through LSF is not necessary.

Literature: We will provide weekly reading material for each topic, which will be updated throughout the semester. Some important online resources:

Exercises and Exam: There will be an exam at the end of the semester (details TBA). Your grade for this exam will be your grade for the course. In the course of the semester, there will be weekly exercises that must be submitted electronically (through email). These exercises are meant to optimally prepare you for the final exam; they can be considered of the same difficulty level. To be admitted to the final exam, you may skip or fail at most one weekly exercise.


Note that this is a preliminary schedule, which may change during the course of the semester. All course materials (slides, reading material, exercises) will be made available before the beginning of each week.

New slot for weekly Q&A meetings: Tuesday/Thursday between 12:30 and 14:00, using Microsoft Teams. In general, we will use Tuesday's session discuss questions about the slides and reading materials, and possibly discuss the previous week's exercise. Thursday's session will be more focused on the exercises of the current week. These sessions will also be recorded and posted on Teams. However, we strongly encourage active participation by everyone!

Week 1 (May 4 - 8): Predicate Logic

Week 2 (May 11 - 15): Type Theory

Week 3 (May 18 - 22): Lambda Calculus

NB: No Q&A session on May 21 (Christi Himmelfahrt)

Week 4 (May 25 - 29): Event Semantics

Week 5 (June 1 - 5): Generalized Quantifiers

Week 6 (June 8 - 12): Dynamic Semantics

NB: No Q&A session on June 11 (Fronleichnam)

Week 7 (June 15 - 19): Discourse Representation Theory

Week 8 (June 22 - 26): Presupposition

Week 9 (June 29 - 3): Distributional Formal Semantics

Week 10 (July 6 - 10): Current Issues in Semantic Theory

Week 11 (July 13 - 17): Exam preparation

  • no class

Exam Week (July 20 - 24)

  • Exam Date: July 23, 10-12 (starts at 10 AM sharp!)