The aim of the course is to offer an overview of various approaches to meaning in language and linguistics. Both levels of linguistic analysis, Semantics and Pragmatics, deal with meaning though from a different perspective.
The first part of the course deals with different types of meaning at the level of words and sentences:
Words, meanings, concepts: a word has various meanings (possibly related ones: polysemy) but also a certain concept is expressed by different words (synonyms, near-synonyms). One first aim is the study of how the meanings of words are related to one another (sense relations) and to entities in our world (reference). Various aspects of meaning are defined and investigated, including notions such as deixis and indexicality, as well as distinctions such lexical vs grammatical meaning and literal vs non-literal meaning: word senses can be central or prototypical; they can also extend to less central domains on the basis of cognitive processes such as metaphor and metonymy (which affect both word and sentence meaning, thus challenging notions such as compositionality).
Á further major part of traditional approaches to semantics concerns sentence relations and truth, discussing notions such as paraphrase and contradiction, entailment and presupposition, as well as the semantics of thematic structure, tense, aspect and modality.
The second part of the course deals with usage-based aspects of meaning:
Doing things with words: what do speakers “do” with language when they interact? Communicative intentions, performance of speech acts, various strategies (including the cooperative principle and politeness) are some of the devices employed by speakers of languages to specific situations of use.
Finally, language, culture, mind: language reflects speakers’ conceptual world. The questions to be addressed include: does our language influence the way we think? How deeply do language and culture influence one another? (culture-specific words, culture-specific grammar).