87424 - Semantics and Pragmatics

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 aims to present the main theoretical models dealing with the analysis of meaning and of the mechanisms underlying its comprehension. After the course, students will be aware of the main problems concerning the explicit and implicit dimension of meaning, in written text, but also in spoken interaction. Faced with linguistic data, students will be able to apply different models developed in the fields of semantics, cognitive linguistics and pragmatics, and to identify all the levels on which signification occurs, integrating lexical and discourse components with variables of the context. They will be able to retrieve and compare data from different languages, and to explain phenomena of understanding, translation and misunderstanding both at the intralingual level and at the interlinguistic level. They will also be able to organize a small research project (identifying a research question, identifying data and the methodology that is necessary to answer the research question, analyze the data and formulate a scientific answer, elaborated on an empirical basis).

Course contents

Module 1 - Prof.ssa Caterina MauriUnderstanding meanings

 1. Semantics and pragmatics of linguistic comprehension

- Introduction to semantics, pragmatics and text linguistics. Definitions and theories in comparison.

- Towards a linguistics of comprehension: production vs. understanding, misunderstanding, literal and non-literal meaning, semantic and pragmatic level, cooperation.

- Within the text and outside the text: text, co-text, con-text .

- Communication of meanings and communication of categories: the role of categorisation in semantics and pragmatics

2. To produce and understand utterances: speech acts and the communication of the implicit

- The speech act: the theory of speech act and performativity.

- Exchange of texts, exchange of statements: the logic of conversation and the interpretation of the unsaid, coding vs. inference. The mechanisms underlying mutual (mis)understanding.

- Overt and covert meanings

- Grice and conversational implicatures

- Neo-Griceans andate principle of informativity

- Post-Griceans: Relevance theory

3. Text and context

- How to recognize a 'text': the criteria for textuality

- Consistency and coherence, anaphora, informativity, accessibility of referents

- Levels of analysis and information structure.

4. A glance at linguistic diversity

- Topic and focus

- Different grammars, universal pragmatics: between language and cultures



Module 2 - Prof.ssa Alessandra Barotto: The perspective of spoken language

5. The spoken language: communication in real time

- The units of analysis of speech, its functional and sociolinguistic correlates

- Spoken communication: real time syntax and low definition semantics

- From speech to grammar

- Elements of conversation analysis and discourse: shifts, breaks, repairs, courtesy, compliments, expression of agreement and disagreement.

6.Tools for the analysis of spoken data

- Observing written and spoken language: the use of corpora

- Digital resources for the analysis of spoken language

- How to elicit and collect data: the creation of a corpus

7. Insights

- Vagueness in language and its interpretation

- Ad hoc categories in discourse

- Discourse markers

- Intercultural pragmatics: courtesy and face



Further readings for those who do not attend

All these books are available online.

Further resources

The slides will be published every week on the e-learning website, and it is highly recommended to read them - both for those who attend the class and for those who cannot attend.

• Further references on specific topics will be provided during the lessons.

Teaching methods

All classes will have a strong empirical component: we will introduce and use online resources and techincal tools for the analysis and collection of linguistic data.

In addition to traditional lectures, students will be involved in a laboratory, where they will learn to collect new data and analyze existing corpora. Moreover, there will be seminars, during which students will read scientific articles and guide the relevant discussion in class.

Assessment methods

The exam is aimed to assess the level achieved by the student in the understanding of the theoretical tools provided during the course and their application to real language data.

The assessment of the knowledge and skills acquired will be done through an oral exam. For students who attend classes, the teacher will also take into account their activity during the course (seminars and lab sessions) in determining the final grade. 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. The evaluation will be based on:

  • the number of correct responses
  • formal and exhibition adequacy
  • expressive clarity and the ability to organize the argumentation

An excellent rating will be given to those who show that they have a thorough knowledge of the program, expressive and expository mastery, precision in data analysis and in the use of specialist terminology, critical thinking skills.

Intermediate evaluations will be given to those who show that they have studied, but will restrict to a partial knowledge of the issues addressed, will use the terminology loosely, and will show themselves insecure in the data analysis.

Sufficiency will be given in the presence of a mnemonic studio, partially incomplete, that reveals a poor command of the terminology and basic concepts of the language, along with an imprecise and inaccurate analysis of data.

The assessment will be insufficient in the presence of significant deficiencies, inability to argue a theoretical discussion and / or properly analyze the data.

Teaching tools

PowerPoint presentations, digital resourses and printed handouts will support most of the lectures.

The laboratory sessions will require the students to actively use digital tools and web resources for the analysis of data.

Office hours

See the website of Caterina Mauri

See the website of Alessandra Barotto