Ling 106: Knowledge of Meaning


Course Info

Instructor Lecture Day/Time Lecture Hall Email Office Hours Office
Masoud Jasbi Mon/Wed, 3-4:30pm Sever Hall 103 Mon, 1-3pm [Book a Slot!] Boylston Hall G23
Teaching Fellows Section Day/Time Classroom Email Office Hours Office
Shannon Bryant Thu, 10:30-11:30am Boylston 335 Fri, 10:30-11:30am [No booking needed.] Boylston Hall G23
Gunnar Lund Wed 4:30-5:30
Thu, 3-4pm
Sever 210 (Sever 213 after week 4)
Boylston 105 Tue, 3-4pm [No Booking Needed.] Boylston Hall G23
Giuseppe Ricciardi Fri 2:30-3:30pm Sever Hall 101 Wed, 2-3pm Mezzanine, Boylston Hall


Week Month Date Topic Content Readings Assignments Section
1 Jan 28 The Formal Study of Meaning Is language illogical?, Formal approaches to Meaning, Taxonomy of Meaning Textbook Ch. 1
2 Feb 4 Sentence Meaning Propositions, Syntax and Semantics of Propositional Logic, Truth, Entailment, Logical Connectives Textbook Ch. 2 Assignment 1 Sets, Functions, and Relations
3 11 First Order Meaning Individuals, Predicates, Relations, First-order Quantification, Syntax and Semantics of Predicate Logic Textbook Ch. 3 Assignment 2
4 18 President's Day Textbook Ch. 4 Assignment 3
20 First Order Meaning
5 25 The Semantic Lego Compositionality, Typed Lambda Calculus, Function Application Textbook Ch. 5 Assignment 4 Typed Lambda Calculus
6 Mar 4 Quantification in Language Generalized Quantifiers, Scope Keenan 1996: The Semantics of Determiners Assignment 5
7 11 Possibility and Necessity Possible Worlds, Modal Logic, Weak vs. Strong Modal Statements Textbook Ch. 10 Midterm Possible Worlds and Modal Logic
13 Meaning as Vectors Guest Lecture: Ethan Wilcox
8 18 Spring Break
9 25 Presuppositions Common Ground, Semantic vs. Pragmatic Presuppositions, Entailment Canceling Environments, Holes, Plugs, Filters Textbook Chapter 6 Assignment 6 Partial Functions
27 Karttunen (1973): Presuppositions of Compound Sentences
10 Apr 1 Meaning in Conversation Gricean Typology of Meaning, Rationality, Implicatures, Logic and Language Grice (1975): Logic and Conversation Assignment 7 Gricean Reasoning
3 Grice (1978): Further Notes on Logic and Conversation
11 8 Speech Act Theory Rational Speech Act Models (Gunnar Lund) Frank & Goodman (2012): Predicting Pragmatic Reasoning in Language Games Argument Map 1 Basic Probability Theory
10 locution, illocution, and perlocution (Gunnar Lund) Searle (1968): Austin on Locutionary and Illocutionary Acts
12 15 Generics (Michael Henry Tessler) Yoon, Tessler, Goodman, & Frank (Submitted) Argument Map 2 RSA
17 Politeness
13 22 Intonation and Meaning (Shannon Bryant) Assignment 8 Alternatives
24 Social Meaning Personae,
14 29 Matters of Opinion Predicates of Personal Taste and Faultless Disagreement Final Exam
May 1 Lying Imprecision, Vagueness, Deception, Bald-faced Lying, Bullshitting Meibaur (2011): On Lying

Textbook and Learning Tools

Textbook Formal Semantics Boot Camp Tools Canvas, mainly for announcements and assignments.
By Elizabeth Coppock (BU) and Lucas Champollion (NYU) Piazza for (possibly anonymous) questions, comments, and discussions. Search for LING 106 Knowledge of Meaning when you sign in and enroll as a student.

Course Objectives

Objective Course Component
1 Introduce the main topics in formal approaches to meaning Readings, Lectures
4 Practice basic semantic analysis and formal modeling Assignments, Midterm, Final Exam
3 Introduce the connections of topics in formal semantics/pragmatics to real world issues Readings, (Guest) Lectures
4 Practice critical and scientific thinking Argument Maps, Reading Reactions


Attendance 11.1% Lectures 7.5% 25 lectures, 0.3% for each lecture.
Sections 3.6% 12 sections, 0.3% for each section.
Critical Thinking 18.9% Reading Reactions 6.5% Starting on week 2, post short questions or comments about the week's readings on Canvas (Discussion Section). Your comment can also be in response to a classmate's question.
Argument Map 12.4% Two argument maps of the following papers: 1. Frank & Goodman (2012) [5%] 2. Yoon, Tessler, Goodman, and Frank (Submitted) [7.4%]. Take a look at this introduction to argument maps and how we use them in this class.
Analytic Skills 70%
Assignments 40% 8 total, 5% each. Due on Mondays. Details and submission in Canvas.
Midterm 10% Take-home exam. 5 Questions Total. Details and submission in Canvas.
Final 20% Take-home exam. 10 Questions Total. Details and submission in Canvas.
OR, a research paper (6-10 pages). Students who choose this option should meet with Masoud to discuss their research topic and propose a timeline.
Attendance Each unexcused absence results in 0.3% deduction. An absence is excused if it is due to one of the following: personal/family emergency, health issues (physical or mental), or Religious Obligations. Ask your resident dean to contact the instructor in such cases.
Late Submission Late assignments will be graded as though they were not late, but then 5% of the grade earned will be deducted for each day the assignment is late, with a maximum penalty of 50%. All late work must be turned in by the Friday before your final exam. This policy can be waived if lateness is due to medical reasons or other special circumstances. If you you believe such special circumstances apply to you, please put us in contact with your resident dean so that we can discuss the appropriate extension for you.
Submission Format Submit your assignments using Canvas. Files should be in PDF. Typed assignments should use Times New Roman (12pt), 1 inch margins, 1.5 line spacing. Handwritten assignments must follow similar margins and spacing and must be legible. If the answer cannot be determined due to illegibility, no points are assigned to that answer. Do not include your name or any identifying information in the assignment. In order to avoid grading biases, assignments are graded anonymously.
Grading We use the following grading scale:
A = 100-94, A- = 94-90, B+ = 90-87, B = 87-84, B- = 84-80, C+ = 78-77, C = 77-74, C- = 74-70, D+ = 70-67, D = 67-64, D- = 64-60, F = 60-0.
For any submission, if you believe there have been grading mistakes, you can ask for re-grading. The assignment will be graded by a new grader and the second grade will be recorded.
Integrity We follow the Academic Integrity Policy, which discusses collaboration on homework and expectations for reading responses and exams. You are permitted to work together on the assignments (but not for midterm and the final exam). However, you must write up and submit your own unique assignment.
Accessibility Students who may need an academic accommodation based on the impact of a disability must initiate the request with the Accessible Education Office (AEO). Professional staff will evaluate the request with required documentation, recommend reasonable accommodations, and prepare a letter for the faculty. Students should contact the AEO as soon as possible since timely notice is needed to coordinate accommodations.
Addressing the Instructor For names I prefer Masoud, or if you would rather use a formal name Mr. Jasbi. For pronouns he/his/him.
Participation We believe that our class benefits enormously from you sharing your thoughts and questions. Your background, life experiences, knowledge, thoughts, and ideas make you unique, and our classroom diverse. This diversity of perspectives is the foundation of learning in a classroom. At a larger scale and within a scientific community, it is also a major contributor to scientific progress. Therefore, sharing your thoughts and questions can help us learn and build a wider, stronger community of scholars.

Some of you may worry that your classmate's asking questions and sharing ideas may disrupt the class progress. Judging when to ask a question or share an idea is tricky but also part of your education. Instead of discouraging it, we would like to practice it together. Here is flowchart that you might find useful. Ultimately, we trust your judgments.
Questions We genuinly believe that there are no "stupid" questions in a classroom. The point of going to a class is to learn together and questions are our best tool to achieve that. It is easy to show that your question will help us learn no matter what. Your question is either:
(1) not framed well; in which case you give us a chance to explain the topic better. Chances are we did not explain it well the first time and many of your classmates are wondering about it too.
(2) framed well and has an answer we know; in which case we can help you as well as your classmates who have the same question learn it too! You have also helped us consolidate our knowledge by explaining it again.
(3) framed well but has an answer we do not know; in which case we can find the answer together and your question has helped all of us learn!
(4) framed well and does not have an answer yet; in which case you found a research topic someone can start working on and benefit the field!
As you see, your question has helped our learning either way. So please ask! Please wonder!