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 at Saarland University.


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.


Lecturers: Noortje Venhuizen and Harm Brouwer
Email: [noortjev/brouwer] at coli.uni-saarland dot de

Time: Tuesday and Thursday 10:15-11:45
Place: Online (Microsoft Teams)
Start date: 15.04.2021

Format and Requirements:

  • The course will be taught online with a strong focus on self-study;
  • Slides and suggested reading materials will be made available each week, and lecture sessions will serve to discuss these in an interactive Q&A style manner;
  • Exercise sheets will be made available after each lecture, and are due before the next lecture slot. During the exercise sessions, we will discuss questions about open exercises, and solutions to completed exercises in a Q&A syle manner;
  • There will be an exam at the end of the semester (22.07.2021). Your grade for this exam will be your grade for the course;
  • To be admitted to the final exam, you may skip or fail at most one weekly exercise;
  • We strongly encourage active participation during all lectures and exercise sessions.

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: Logic in Action, Chapter 4 (Sections 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.


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


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 through Teams.

Week 0

April 13: Orientation Meeting
April 15: Course introduction

Week 1

Reading Material: Logic in Action, Chapter 4 (Sec 4.5 & 4.6), Elements of Formal Semantics (Chapter 2)

April 20: Predicate Logic
April 22: Exercise session 1

Week 2

Reading material: Elements of Formal Semantics (Chapter 3: Part 1 & 2)

April 27: Type Theory
April 29: Exercise session 2

Week 3

Reading material: Elements of Formal Semantics (Chapter 3: Part 3)

May 4: Lambda Calculus
May 6: Q&A/Discussion of exercise 2

Week 4

May 11: Exercise session 3
May 13: No class (Christi Himmelfahrt)

Week 5

Reading material: Lasersohn (2012): Event-Based Semantics

May 18: Event Semantics
May 20: Exercise session 4

Week 6

Reading material: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Generalized Quantifiers (Sec 1-5, 10, 13)

May 25: Generalized Quantifiers
May 27: Exercise session 5

Week 7

June 1: Dynamic Semantics
June 3: No class (Fronleichnam)

Week 8

Reading material: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Discourse Representation Theory (Sec 1-4)

June 8: Discourse Representation Theory
June 10: Exercise session 6

Week 9

Reading material: Van der Sandt (1992): Presupposition projection as anaphora resolution.

June 15: Presupposition
June 17: Exercise session 7

Week 10

Reading material: Venhuizen, Hendriks, Crocker, Brouwer (2021). Distributional Formal Semantics

June 22: Distributional Formal Semantics - PT I
June 24: Distributional Formal Semantics - PT II

Week 11

June 29: Exercise session 8
July 1: Current Issues in Semantic Theory

Week 12

July 6 & 8: No class

Week 13

July 13: No class

July 15: Exam Q&A

Exam Week (July 19 - 23)

July 22: Exam (starts at 10 AM sharp!)