Logic and Conversation: Fall 2020

Amsterdam Master of Logic, University of Amsterdam

Traditionally, logic is concerned with the characterization of valid reasoning and argumentation, and therefore identifies the meaning of a sentence with its truth conditions. When analyzing the meaning of sentences in conversation, however, other notions become of interest as well. The course focuses on the important role of alternatives in linguistic interpretation. The first part of the course concentrates on the role of alternatives in the semantics of questions, as analysed in the framework of inquisitive semantics. The second part focusses on the role of alternatives in the interpretation of indefinite referential expressions, as analysed in dynamic semantics and related frameworks.

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Term papers

The course has ended and has led to some very interesting term papers:


Good working knowledge of first-order logic is required, and some background in formal semantics is convenient, though not really necessary. For students of the Master of Logic, it is typically best to take this course in the second year of the programme (although there may be exceptions of course, depending on your specific background).


The first part of the course uses a textbook. The book is open access, so everyone can download a pdf for free. If you prefer a hardcopy, you can order one for about $17 at amazon or other online bookstores.


The grade will be based on two homework assignments (each counting for 20%) and a final paper (60%).


  • A latex template for drawing inquisitive semantics diagrams can be downloaded here.
  • Assignment 1 was posted on 26/10 and was due on Monday 9/11 before class.
  • Assignment 2 was posted on 9/11 and is due on Friday 20/11 before class.

Instructions for final paper

The final paper must written individually. Please discuss possible topics with us early on in the course. Topics should be determined by November 27 at the very latest and should be communicated to us by that date. A preliminary version of the paper is to be presented during the last lecture, December 11, and the final version is due after the exam week, on December 18, 6pm. See Appendix B of the textbook for pointers to some relevant literature, which may help in finding an interesting topic. We strongly encourage students to discuss their projects with each other and give each other feedback.

Grading criteria for final paper

The grading criteria for the final paper are the same as for a master thesis, though of course here we do not expect as much as in the case of a thesis.

  1. Correctness All claims should be correct, precisely formulated and carefully argued for.
  2. Writing The paper should be well-structured; the writing should be clear and concise. Typically, papers are around 10 pages. There is no official upper or lower bound, but quality is preferred over quantity: a single idea or result that is clearly explained in 7 pages is better than a collection of multiple half-baked ideas discussed in 15 pages.
  3. Difficulty Both conceptual and technical difficulty are taken into account.
  4. Originality The paper should contain some new results. This can take many forms: establishing previously unknown properties of one of the logical systems discussed in class, or closely related ones; further enriching the theories discussed; testing the predictions of the theories; developing new applications; developing a theory of your own that solves some of the remaining challenges for the theories discussed.

Late policy

Deadlines are strict. Late submissions will be accepted until three days after the deadline, but 0.5 points will be subtracted from the grade per day.


Mondays 9.00-11.00 (online), Fridays 9.00-11.00 (online)

# Date Material Content Lecturer
Alternatives in the semantics of questions
1 26/10 Book chapter 1 Motivation and overview (slides) Floris
2 30/10 Book chapter 2 Basic notions (slides) Ciyang
3 2/11 Book chapter 3 Operations on propositions (slides) Floris
4 6/11 Book chapter 4 First-order inquisitive semantics (slides) Floris
5 9/11 Book chapter 5-6 Question semantics (slides) Floris
6 13/11 Book chapter 8 Propositional attitudes: inquisitive epistemic logic (slides) Ciyang
7 16/11 Book chapter 9 Comparison with other frameworks
(slides Floris, slides Mateo, slides Lorenzo)
Alternatives in the semantics of indefinite reference
8 20/11 Kratzer and Shimoyama 2002 Alternative semantics for indeterminate pronouns (slides) Ciyang
9 23/11 Charlow 2020
Ciardelli et al 2017
Composing alternatives (slides) Ciyang
10 27/11 Groenendijk et al. 1996 Indefinites in dynamic semantics (slides) Floris
11 30/11 Dotlacil and Roelofsen 2019 Dynamic inquisitive semantics, Part 1: anaphora (slides) Floris
12 4/12 Dotlacil and Roelofsen 2020 Dynamic inquisitive semantics, Part 2: multiple-wh (slides) Floris
13 7/12 Charlow 2020 Unifying dynamic and alternative semantics (slides) Ciyang
14 11/12 Project presentations