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Experimenting with Meaning

Experimenting with Meaning

Convenor: Dr Napoleon Katsos

Experimental data have an increasingly important role in linguistic theory. The main motivations are the need for a reliable data-set, especially as regards cases where intuition and introspection cannot offer clear-cut judgments, as well as cases where the predictions of linguistic theories extend to the psychological process involved in deriving a certain form or interpretation. This seminar will consider the uses and abuses of experimental research, scrutinising the link between theoretical claims and how these are ‘translated’ into testable predictions. From the linguistic perspective the focus is on semantics and pragmatics, and from the experimental perspective we will consider evidence from typical monolingual and bilingual language acquisition, developmental and acquired disorders (e.g. autism, specific language impairment, aphasia) as well as neuro-typical adults with emphasis on behavioural measures (off-line judgments, reading- and reaction-time studies and eye-tracking).

In the introductory session we will discuss overview papers on the role of experimental data in semantic and pragmatic theory. From then on, we will examine case-studies in which the participating students have a particular interest (for example, quantification, implicature, presupposition, metaphor, speech acts among others).

The seminar will consist of 8 two-hour sessions in Lent Term. It is presupposed that participating students will have intermediate to advanced knowledge of semantics and pragmatics and some familiarity with experimental research. Students who pick this option should have attended Li10 Semantics and Pragmatics and either First and Second Language Acquisition (Li15) or Psychology of Language Processing and Learning (Li16) in Michaelmas Term. Students who do not meet all these conditions but have relevant knowledge from previous courses of study are invited to contact the seminar convenor to discuss their eligibility.