Word meaning and concepts, Spring 2011

Spring 2011 | Instructor: Katrin Erk | Tuesday and Thursday, 2-3:30 | PAR 10 | Blackboard

Word meanings are hard to characterize. There are cases in which word meanings are systematically related and can be derived systematically, in particular through metonymy. But beyond metonymy, dictionaries do not even agree on how many senses different words have.

There has been work on characterizing word meaning in different areas: lexicography, theoretical linguistics, cognitive linguistics, psychology, philosophy of language, computational linguistics, and artificial intelligence. In this graduate seminar, we will study approaches to word meaning characterization from these different areas, looking at their commonalities and differences.

Some of the topics of the readings will be:

    • In what ways can word senses be related, systematically or otherwise?

    • Is it reasonable to assume that each word has a true number of senses that can be detected?

    • What is the relation between word meaning and human concept representation?

    • Can word meaning be represented through prototype representations?

    • How are the senses of polysemous words represented in the mind, and what can we learn from this about polysemy in general?

    • To what extent can word meaning be decomposed into features?

    • What facets of word meaning can be represented through geometric models?

    • In representing word meaning, do we need to look beyond individual words to events and argument structure?

Note that this is not a computational seminar, though we will include computational approaches in the discussion. The main part of the grade will be determined through a course project, which may be theoretical, a corpus study, or a computational study.

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