Computational Semantics

Ling “684.03” (795.10), Autumn '07
TR 9:30–11:18, 201 Oxley
Instructor: Michael White


In this course, students will learn how to use Prolog to construct semantic representations for fragments of natural language and perform inference with these representations. At the end of the course, students should be in a good position to appreciate ongoing developments in computational semantics.

The course will be based primarily on two books by Patrick Blackburn & Johan Bos, Representation and Inference for Natural Language: A First Course in Computational Semantics and Working with Discourse Representation Theory: An Advanced Course in Computational Semantics. Topics will include: first-order logic as a tool for computational semantics; using the lambda calculus to construct semantic representations, compared to unification-based approaches; handling scope ambiguities with Cooper storage; first-order inference with theorem provers and model builders; constructing Discoure Representation Theory's DRSs (Discourse Representation Structures) and translating them to first-order logic; resolving pronouns to accessible antecedents; using ontologies in inference; and implementing van der Sandt's algorithm for presupposition projection and accommodation.


Ling 684.01 and Ling 683.01 or permission of the instructor. The course is open to advanced undergraduate and graduate students.



We'll be using the Carmen system for the schedule and for homework and reading assignments. There will also be discussion forums for posting questions and providing feedback (comments, complaints or ideas) during the course, anonymously if desired.


The first Blackburn & Bos book is out in paperback and available from various booksellers. Their second book is only available in a draft form that is somewhat out-of-date with respect to the accompanying slides.

There will also be further readings of primary sources assigned periodically, and listed below.

Semantic composition via unification

Underspecified semantic representations

Rethinking existential quantifiers



Code for Books

Prolog Help

Software Requirements

Students with Disabilities

Students who need an accommodation based on the impact of a disability should contact me to arrange an appointment as soon as possible to discuss the course format, to anticipate needs, and to explore potential accommodations. I rely on the Office of Disability Services for assistance in verifying the need for accommodations and developing accommodation strategies. Students who have not previously contacted the Office for Disability Services are encouraged to do so (292-3307;

Policy on Academic Misconduct

As with any class at this university, students are required to follow the Ohio State Code of Student Conduct. In particular, note that students are not allowed to, among other things, submit plagiarized (copied but unacknowledged) work for credit. If any violation occurs, I am required to report the violation to the Council on Academic Misconduct.


This syllabus is subject to change. All important changes will be made in writing (email), with ample time for adjustment.