81777 - Lexical Semantics (LM)

Course Unit Page


This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.

Quality education

Academic Year 2021/2022

Learning outcomes

The course introduces core concepts and issues in the linguistic study of words and meaning. The course focuses on the following aspects: the structure of the mental lexicon and the internal organization of word classes; lexeme formation processes; the lexicon-syntax interface, including argument realization; the representation of semantic information; the relationship between lexical meaning and grammatical meaning, between lexicon and grammar. Students will become familiar with the main theoretical models within the field, as well as with traditional and applied methodologies for the investigation of semantics and the lexicon, from both an intra-linguistic and a cross-linguistic perspective.

Course contents

The course offers a dynamic and integrated view of the mental lexicon, focusing on its internal architecture and on the main models of representation of lexical,morphological and semantic information.

The following general questions will be tackled:

  • What is the lexicon? What is the relationship between lexicon and grammar? And between lexicon on the one hand and morphology/syntax on the other?
  • What is in the lexicon? What is a lexical item? What types of lexical items do we find in the lexicon?
  • How is the lexicon structured? What relationships and categories do we find?
  • How do we represent lexical meaning? What are the main theoretical models for encoding semantic information?

After a general overview, we will address the following topics: (i) the relationship between the lexicon and cross-linguistic variation through the lense of lexical typology, which aims at understanding how lexical meaning is packaged into words in different languages; (ii) the notion of construction as a complex sign, as intended in Construction Grammar, which proposes a continuum between lexicon and syntax and, ultimately, an 'extended' conception of the lexicon (or, better, constructicon).

Both topics (lexical typology and constructions) will be complemented by a short hands-on session where attending students will be actively engaged.  

During the course, we will introduce some tools and computational resources for the investigation of the lexicon.

NOTA BENE – This is an advanced course in linguistics. A basic knowledge of general linguistics is required. Students who have no prior knowledge of the field are strongly advised to study an introductory linguistics textbook before the classes start (e.g. Graffi & Scalise 2013 or Berruto & Cerruti 2011).




  • Maria Koptjevskaja-Tamm & Ljuba N. Veselinova (2020). Lexical Typology in Morphology. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Linguistics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Maria Koptjevskaja-Tamm (2008). Approaching lexical typology. In Martine Vanhove (a cura di), From polysemy to semantic change: Towards a typology of lexical semantic associations, 3-52. Amsterdam: Benjamins.
  • Masini, Francesca (2019). Multi-word expressions and morphology. In Mark Aronoff (a cura di), Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Linguistics. Oxford: Oxford University Press

All materials used during the course (slides, etc.) are part of the readings for the oral exam for students who attend classes.


Extra readings for students who do not attend classes (in addition to above-mentioned handbooks and articles)

Teaching methods

The course mainly consists in traditional lectures. All topics will be discussed with reference to data from different languages. An illustration of IT tools for the collection and analysis of relevant linguistic data will also be given.

Assessment methods

The final oral exam aims at assessing the theoretical notions acquired by the students during the course, as well as their ability to tackle with specific questions and to analyze concrete cases of linguistic analysis. For students who attend classes, the activities done during the hands-on sessions will be taken into account too. Students who don't attend classes should study one extra book for the oral exam (see bibliography). All students are kindly requested to inform the teacher about their attending classes or not at the beginning of the course.

As for the assessment, the ability of the students to give clearly expressed, correct and complete answers will be considered. Besides, clarity and argumentative rigor will be evaluated. Those students who demonstrate to have a global and harmonious knowledge of the subject and its specific language/terminology, to communicate ideas in a proper and clear way and to have acquired adequate analysis skills will get high grades. A partial knowledge of the subject and its specific language/terminology, an overall fair but not perfect way of communicating, and less refined analysis skills imply average grades. A limited knowledge of the subject and its specific language/terminology and poor communication and analysis skills imply low grades. Those students who prove to have an inadequate and/or insufficient knowledge of the subject (in both its theoretical and applied parts) and its specific language/terminology will fail the exam.

Teaching tools

PowerPoint presentations and/or printed handouts will support the lectures. Computational tools and web resources for data analysis will also be displayed through a projector.

All materials will be published on the Virtuale platform every week and are part of the readings for the oral exam for students who attend classes.

Office hours

See the website of Francesca Masini