LINGUIST List 6.1388

Tue Oct 10 1995

Sum: Semantics texts

Editor for this issue: Ann Dizdar <>


  • William Eggington, Sum: Semantics Texts

    Message 1: Sum: Semantics Texts

    Date: Mon, 09 Oct 1995 14:47:46 Sum: Semantics Texts
    From: William Eggington <EGGINGTWBYUH.EDU>
    Subject: Sum: Semantics Texts

    Last week I sent out a request for information concerning suitable semantics textbooks for undergraduate level students. Thanks to all those who replied.

    Steve Seegmiller provided a summary of responses to this list from a similar request in June 1994. I have added the responses I received to his summary. They are listed in alphabetical order by textbook author. Respondent?s comments follow each listing. I have done a little editing. Considering the types of students I will be teaching, I am leaning towards either Hatch, Hoffman, Hurford and Heasley. Which leaves just two questions -- why, after all these two sets of responses are all the recommended texts written by authors whose last names are at the front half of the alphabet? And what?s with the ?h?es?

    Bill Eggington Languages, Literature and Communications Division Brigham Young University-Hawaii Laie, Hawaii 96762

    Ph (808) 293-3624 Fax (808) 293-3662 e-mail:

    ****************************** Recommended Undergraduate Semantics Texts

    1. Keith Allan, Linguistic Meaning, 2 vols. Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986.

    Claudia Brugman finds this the most successful text for undergraduate semantics that she has found. Its shortcomings are (1): it is very light on formal semantics and almost as light on the topics covered by formal semantics; (2) both volumes are necessary for a complete class, which means that the students have a lot of reading and that they have to buy two expensive books.

    2. Allworth, Anderson, and Dahl's *Logic for Linguists* (Cambridge U. Press) in conjunction with Emmon Bach's *Informal lectures on formal semantics* (SUNY Press).

    Steve Seegmiller suggests: The former is excellent but too brief for an entire course. The latter (see below) is a set of lecture notes and badly needs rewriting, but has a lot of good information in it and works pretty well if you fill in the blanks. I know of nothing better.

    3. Emmon Bach, Informal Lectures on Formal Semantics, SUNY Press.

    Nancy Goss used it for a short time in a course in which the main text was Frawley's (see below). She found that three weeks was too little time to cover formal semantics.

    4. Ronnie Cann, Formal Semantics, Cambridge U. Press, 1993.

    David Adger liked teaching from it, "although it has a billion misprints," but his students found the course hard.

    Steve Seegmiller found this text -- "to be a disaster because of the huge number of errors. I think it would be at best a mediocre text without any errors because it gets so caught up in the formalism that it forgets to relate them to semantic problems. As it is, it is unusable. Maybe Cambridge will issue a new edition, but I don't know."

    5. Gennaro Chierchia and Sally McConnell-Ginet, Meaning and Grammar, MIT Press, 1990.

    Nancy Goss used it as an undergraduate at Cornell and found it to be a good textbook.

    Barbara Abbott recommends this text for higher level students.6. William Frawley, Linguistic Semantics, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1992.

    Nancy Goss used it as a graduate student in a course that also contained undergraduate students. She still consults it regularly for basic information on semantic topics and relevant literature. It contains no formal semantics.

    Lynne Murphy suggest this is a suitable text for advanced students.

    Recommended by Tim Clausner for a cognitive linguistics approach.

    Steve Seegmiller states: I have never tried it because I don't like the approach, but some people like it.

    7. Evelyn Hatch. 1992. Discourse and language education. Cambridge Language Teaching Library. Cambridge University Press.

    Mary Ellen Ryder states: I don't know about a straight lexical semantics book, but if general semantic/ discourse topics like speech acts, scripts, general information about communication constraints, coherence, pragmatics, etc are important or useable, I recommend this text. It's geared towards teachers (or _very_ advanced learners) of ESL, but I found it quite appropriate for a bunch of English majors who had one course in linguistics. It's pretty readable and has a lot of interesting exercises for the students to try with real data.

    8. Th. R. Hofmann (1993) Realms of meaning: an introduction to semantics. London & New York: Longman. (ISBN 0 582 02886-8)

    Lynne Murphy states this is a good text. It's totally a-formal and does have some cross- linguistic commentary. Good for TESL-type semantics classes.

    Patrick Griffiths offers the following assessment: This is a 339-page paperback written in a slightly idiosyncratic, but highly accessible style. There are lots of discussion and quiz questions throughout the text (with suggested answers at the end). He has plenty of examples and some of them come from languages other than English, including a fair number from Japanese. The book underplays theory, and when I read the first chapter I thought that theory might be beyond the author's ken, but in fact it later becomes clear that he knows quite a lot of theory, but is keeping it in the background. Apart from accessibility, the book's big virtue is that it presents lots and lots of descriptive detail (mainly of English).

    9. Hurford and Heasley, Semantics: A Coursebook.

    David Adger was taught from it as an undergraduate and hated it, but when he taught from it, his students really liked it, probably because it's mainly taxonomic and fairly easy.

    Rob French liked it and so did his students, since it covers a lot of ground and is easy to supplement with material that goes deeper into particular topics.

    Lynne Murphy states I can't see how people use this as a text--it's more of a self- teaching book to my mind.

    Barbara Abbott responded that this text is pretty good. It's pitched at a low level (I think for British first year students), but it's sound and covers a lot of territory.

    Rich Hirsch suggests this text in combination with F.R. Palmer "Semantics" (second edition). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England.

    Adele Abrahamsen describes the text as: Short stretches of text are followed by practice exercises and feedback; then another short stretch of text, etc. The book seems to provide a relatively friendly introduction to semantics, so if you like the content as well as the pedagogical features you might decide to use it. Possibly you would supplement this with some introductory readings on cognitive linguistics (Lakoff, Langacker, etc.) or other more contemporary topics of your choice.

    10. Lakoff, G. and Johnson, M. (1980). Metaphors we live by. Chicago, Mass: University of Chicago Press.

    Recommended by Tim Clausner for a Cognitive Linguistics approach.

    11. Geoffrey Leech's (1981) "Semantics: The study of meaning" (Second ed.).

    Apisak Pupipat states how this text is used in Thailand at a graduate level, so it should be OK for undergraduates where Englishes their first language. The good thing about it is that it covers, I think, everything in semantics from the traditional sense & reference stuff to the more current stuff like pragmatics.