A Course in Semantics

A Course in Semantics

By Daniel Altshuler, Terence Parsons and Roger Schwarzschild

An introductory text in linguistic semantics, uniquely balancing empirical coverage and formalism with development of intuition and methodology.
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An introductory text in linguistic semantics, uniquely balancing empirical coverage and formalism with development of intuition and methodology.

This introductory textbook in linguistic semantics for undergraduates features a unique balance between empirical coverage and formalism on the one hand and development of intuition and methodology on the other. It will equip students to form intuitions about a set of data, explain how well an analysis of the data accords with their intuitions, and extend the analysis or seek an alternative. No prior knowledge of linguistics is required. After mastering the material, students will be able to tackle some of the most difficult questions in the field even if they have never taken a linguistics course before.

After introducing such concepts as truth conditions and compositionality, the book presents a basic symbolic logic with negation, conjunction, and generalized quantifiers, to serve as the basis for translation throughout the book. It then develops a detailed compositional semantics, covering quantification (scope and binding), adverbial modification, relative clauses, event semantics, tense and aspect, as well as pragmatic phenomena, notably deictic pronouns and narrative progression.

A Course in Semantics offers a large and diverse set of exercises, interspersed throughout the text; those labeled “Important practice and looking ahead” prepare students for material to come; those labeled “Thinking about ” invite students to think beyond the content of the book.

Instructor Resources

Downloadable instructor resources available for this title: instructor support, slides, a figure of files in the book


$45.00 X ISBN: 9780262042772 248 pp. | 7 in x 9 in 92 b&w illus.


  • A Course in Semantics is an outstanding introduction to semantic theory. The authors develop a precise but exceptionally straightforward approach to compositional interpretation, and use it to treat a remarkable array of phenomena. Alongside the usual suspects (quantifiers, scope, and binding), the book includes rich and insightful explanations of event semantics, aspect, and narrative discourse.

    Simon Charlow

    Assistant Professor, Department of Linguistics, Rutgers University

  • A Course in Semantics offers a system of formal semantics that is very concrete yet easily customizable, in a truly accessible manner. This motivates students to ask specific questions bearing on concrete data and come up with modifications and extensions to the theory, which is itself a highly valuable exercise.

    Wataru Uegaki

    Lecturer in Semantics, University of Edinburgh

  • A Course in Semantics perfects a balance between a concise, crisp formal semantics  and a dialectic of grammar construction and revision to elicit what it's all about.  A unifying narrative arc that ends in tense and aspect engages a rich, comparative linguistic tradition from within an extensional semantics spare and accessible. The course introduces with astonishing economy the foundations of semantics, its formal methods and empirical results, and the interplay among semantic knowledge, pragmatic context, and narrative progression and coherence, inviting throughout, with teasers and expertly curated readings, prolonged discussion inside the classroom and out.

    Barry Schein

    Professor of Linguistics, University of Southern California