Crosslinguistic semantics



This module explores the extent and nature of semantic variation in natural languages and its relationship to syntax and acquisition.

Our understanding of the reasons why languages vary is dependent on understanding the limits of variation and its locus (in the syntax, the lexicon, the morphology). In this module we look at cases that argue in favour of at least some variation being associated with the semantics of expressions. This controversial position has very far reaching consequences which we formulate clearly and examine in detail.

By the end of the module the students will:

  • have an understanding of the issues in semantic variation
  • be able to define the conditions under which variation can be considered semantic in nature
  • be able to discuss the morpho-syntactic reflexes of semantic variation
  • be able to appreciate and discuss the consequences for acquisition of semantic variation and variability

Note that a Research Extension module can be taken alongside this module, for students who wish to write a dissertation.

This module will be capped at 35.



Students must have successfully completed:

  • L11I Intermediate Semantics



Contact hours

One two-hour seminar per week.

Teaching programme

The following topics will be covered:

  • The nature of variation
  • Variation in the syntax and the lexicon
  • The Borer-Chomsky conjecture
  • The semantics of functional heads
  • Denotation and variation
  • Variation and nominals
  • Variation and quantification
  • Variation in tense/aspect systems
  • Variation in modal complementation
  • Semantic variation and language acquisition

Assessment and feedback

Assessment and feedback

Feedback on formative work

  • Feedback will be provided in class and individual meetings. Students will have to submit a 500 word outline of the essay on which individual feedback will be provided.

Summative assessment and feedback

  • A 5000-word essay due in Week 5 of the summer term
    • Weight: 100%
  • Written feedback available at the end of the summer term


Transferable skills developed in this module

All modules provide an opportunity to work on general oral/written communication skills (in class and in assessments) and general self management (organising your studies), alongside the specific skills in language or linguistics that the module teaches.

In addition, this module will allow you to particularly develop skills in:

  • research design
  • argumentation
  • critical thinking
  • presentation skills
  • You will have ample opportunity to exercise critical thinking and will also be required to evaluate competing approaches (syntactic, semantic etc.) to the explanation of intricate sets of data.

Follow this link to hear how past students use transferable skills from their degree in their current jobs.

About this module

  • Module name
    Crosslinguistic semantics
  • Course code
    L56H (LAN00056H)
  • Teacher
    George Tsoulas
  • Term(s) taught
  • Credits