Super Semantics


(LINGUAE, Institut Jean-Nicod, CNRS; DEC, Ecole Normale Supérieure)

Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris - March-May 2018


Emmanuel Cheml(LINGUAE, LSCP CNRS) Email: chemla at
Salvador Mascarenhas (LINGUAE, Institut Jean-Nicod, CNRS; DEC, Ecole Normale Supérieure) Email:
Philippe Schlenker (LINGUAE, Institut Jean-Nicod, CNRS; New York University) Email: philippe.schlenker at


While formal semantics has been a success story of contemporary linguistics, it has been narrowly focused on spoken language. Systematic extensions of its research program have recently been explored: beyond spoken language, beyond human language, beyond language proper, and even beyond systems with an overt syntax. First, the development of sign language semantics calls for systems that integrate logical semantics with a rich iconic component. This semantics-with-iconicity is also crucial to understand the interaction between co-speech gestures and logical operators, an important point of comparison for sign languages. Second, several recent articles have proposed analyses of the semantics/pragmatics of primate alarm calls, an important topical extension of semantics. Third, recent research has developed a semantics/pragmatics for music, based in part on insights from iconic semantics. Finally, the methods of formal semantics have newly been applied to reasoning and to concepts, which do not have a syntax that can be directly observed. The overall result is a far broader typology of meaning operations in nature than was available a few years ago. The course will offer a survey of some of these results, with topics that will change from year to year.

Time and place

Wednesday, 2-3:30pm (see below for details), Salle Théodule Ribot, Ecole Normale Supérieure, 29, rue d'Ulm.


Students should have an ability to follow formal analyses, and they should thus have taken a serious introduction to formal logic or to formal semantics, or have significant experience with mathematical theories. If in doubt, please check with the instructors.


Participants will be invited to work on small projects (e.g. literature reviews, formal analyses of a set of phenomena, proposals for experiments ). Specifically:
(i) a 2-page squib [= short discussion] will be due early in the semester;
(ii) a mini-term paper (at most 10 pages) will be due at the end of the semester.

Please register online if you wish to attend the course (whether for credit or not) by filling out this ( short!) form. This way we'll have your email address!

Sessions and Readings (still tentative; to be adapted as we go)

Material for the class (readings, slides) will be made available in this Dropbox folder.
(If you have difficulties accessing the folder, please contact the instructors).

Part A. Super Semantics in communication (Schlenker)
1. Sign language semantics
2. Signs vs. gestures
3. Gesture semantics
4. Primate semantics
5. Music semantics

Part B. Super Semantics in thought (Chemla - Mascarenhas)

March 7
March 14
March 21
March 28
April 4
April 11
April 18


May 2
May 9
May 16
May 23
May 30