What is meaning? How do we assign meaning to words? How do children learn the meaning of words? Can computers interpret words as well as humans can? And how much meaning can be extracted from language?
The goal of this course is to provide an overview of theories of meaning from different perspectives, such as linguistic, psychological and computational views. At the end of the course students will be able to:
- critically think and to evaluate scientific literature,
- apply psychological and computational theories of meaning to areas as diverse as data journalism, business communication and digital media,
- review major theories of meaning,
- understand psychological methods of measuring meaning,
- understand computational methods of measuring meaning,
- identify, understand and evaluate the relationship between linguistic, psychological and computational approaches to meaning.
No course prerequisites
We perceive people and objects in the world around us. We see, hear, smell, taste and touch. When it comes to perceptual experiences, it is quite clear who and what we are dealing with. A dog is a four-legged animal, because we see the four legs and can hear its barking. But when we read or hear words we do not have the same experience: we see random characters or hear random sounds and yet we understand these combinations of letters or sounds. How do we do this?
Questions related to meaning can be addressed from the perspective of linguistic, psychological and computational theories. This course will take a different approach: it will provide an interdisciplinary perspective to meaning. We will investigate how language is processed in the mind of the language user and whether computers can simulate this process. We will look at computational theories of extracting meaning from language and ask ourselves whether the human brain uses similar algorithms. Furthermore, we will answer the question how much meaning can be extracted from language.
The course will cover a broad spectrum of theories, research, and issues in areas relevant for business communication and digital media, data journalism, human aspects of information technology, and text and communication. No specific strong background is needed in linguistic, psychology or computer science, yet a strong interest in interdisciplinary research is advisable.
The final grade will be based on two sources of points, I) an individual research paper (60%) and its preparations, and II) 5 of 6 random in-class pop quizzes on text readings assigned (40%). For the pop quizzes, there are no make-up dates. The average of the highest 5 pop quizzes will be used toward the final grade.