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Peter Hess, Chair 2505 University Avenue, Burdine Hall 336, Mailcode C3300, Austin TX 78712-1802 • 512-471-4123

Spring 2010

GER 393K • Frame Semantics

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
38150 TTh
3:30 PM-5:00 PM
BUR 232

Course Description

This course provides extensive insights into the structure and analysis of word meanings. Introducing Fillmore's theory of Frame Semantics, the first part of the course discusses the openness and richness of word meanings, reflecting the rich variety of human experiences. Consider words such as Tuesday, barber, and alimony. These words necessitate an understanding of concepts (or frames) such as repeatable calendar events, grooming and hair, and marriage and divorce. By investigating the types of references to diverse practices, processes, and objects in the physical and social world, we learn how a theory of word meaning needs to include more than the small linguistically significant set of primitive concepts proposed by Dowty, Jackendoff, Levin, Pustejovsky, and Wierzbicka. The second part of the course presents the concept of a semantic frame as developed by Fillmore and his associates. Frames offer rich conceptual backgrounds against which word meanings are understood. Their primary role in an account of text understanding is to explain how our text interpretation can leap far beyond what the text literally says. They may be evoked by words such as alimony, or they may be introduced by patterns among the facts the text establishes. Consider the sentence We never open our presents until morning, which evokes the Christmas frame by describing a situation that matches salient facts of Christmas practice, even though no word in it is specific to Christmas. In this part of the course we learn (1) how frames are discovered and described, thereby providing an organizing principle for a rich open lexicon, (2) how they are distinguished from and linked to other frames (frame-to-frame relations), and (3) how frame-semantic information is syntactically relevant. More specifically, we apply Frame Semantics to discover (1) the kinds of syntactic constructions lexical meanings are compatible with, (2) the kinds of participants that become subjects and objects, (3) regular semantic patterns of oblique markings and valence alternations, and (4) Regular patterns of inference licensed by category, syntactic construction or closed class lexical item. Finally, we discover how semantic frames can be applied to cross-linguistic analysis. The third part of the course employs the FrameNet database ( to analyze the meaning of a given word as a network of interrelated senses. Some of these senses are more central, or basic, and others are less central, or peripheral. In this approach, the processes of metaphor and metonymy are central in describing the full range of meanings which a particular word can evoke. Finally, we look at how results from research in Frame Semantics have been applied in a variety of computational applications. This course is taught in English. No knowledge of German is required.

Grading Policy

(1) Homework: 10% (2) Two in-class presentations of book chapters / articles (15% each): 30% (3) Final paper: 60%


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