Course information

Time TuTh 4:15pm - 5:30pm
Location 380-380C (click for map)
Instructor Bill MacCartney Office Hours: Tuesday & Thursday, 3pm-4pm, in Bytes Café
Instructor Chris Potts Office Hours: W 1:00-2:00, Th 12:00-1:00 in 460-101
TA Dakan Wang Office Hours: Mo 10:00-12:00 in Bytes Cafe
All of us (This address should be used for all course correspondence, including assignments.)
Discussion forum

Catalog description Machine understanding of human language. Computational semantics (determination of sense, event structure, thematic role, time, aspect, synonymy/meronymy, causation, compositional semantics, treatment of scopal operators), and computational pragmatics and discourse (coherence relations, anaphora resolution, information packaging, generation). Theoretical issues, online resources, and relevance to applications including question answering, summarization, and textual inference. Prerequisites: one of LING180, CS224N, CS224S; and knowledge of logic (LING130A or B, CS157, or PHIL159).


Class participation

Attendance will be taken daily, with one point assigned for each class attended. Class will begin on time and end on time; we are obliged to finish on time, and you are obliged to arrive on time.

We would like everyone to ask questions, offer ideas, etc., in class. Questions and ideas sent via email to also count as participation, though we would prefer it if everyone got involved during our class meetings.


There are eight homeworks, due before the start of meetings 2-9 of the term. (After that point, the assignment are oriented towards final projects.)

The homeworks will depend on materials from the readings, so you should do the readings before starting the homeworks. With the reading done, each homework should take you 15-20 minutes (longer if you decide to pursue the issues in greater depth, perhaps as a lead-in to a project).

Our goals for the homeworks: (i) to raise important questions, (ii) to foster common ground for the in-class discussions, and (iii) to help you master central NLU concepts.

Final project

The final project is the main assignment of the second half of the course. Final projects can be done in groups of 1-3 people. They are required to be related in a substantive way to at least one of the central topics of the course. The main components are as follows:

  1. Literature review paper (due Feb 14, 11:59 pm): a short 6-page single-spaced paper summarizing and synthesizing 5 papers on the area of your final project. Groups of two should review 7 papers, and groups of three should review 9. The ideal is to have the same topic for your lit review and final project, but it's possible that you'll discover in the lit review that you hate the topic, so you can switch topics (or groups) for the final project; your lit review will be graded on its own terms. Tips on major things to include:
  2. Project milestone (due Feb 28, 11:59 pm): a short overview of your project including at least the following information:
    1. A statement of the project's goals.
    2. A summary of previous approaches (drawing on the lit review).
    3. A summary of the current approach.
    4. A summary of progress so far: what you have been done, what you still need to do, and any obstacles or concerns that might prevent your project from coming to fruition.
  3. Presentations (March 13 and 15): We'll use the last two sessions of the course for in-class final project presentations.
  4. Final paper (due March 19, 3:15 pm): The paper should be 8 pages long, in ACL submission format. Here are the LaTeX and Word templates for the current ACL style. Please email the paper as a PDF file to . What to put in a final project paper:



Your grade is determined based on:

Policy on late work

Each student will have a total of 4 free late (calendar) days applicable to any assignment (including the lit review and project milestone) except the final project paper. These can be used at any time, no questions asked. Each 24 hours or part thereof that a homework is late uses up one full late day. Once these late days are exhausted, any homework turned in late will be penalized 20% per late day. Late days are not applicable to final projects. If a group's assignment is late n days, then each group member is charged n late days.

Policy on submitting related final projects to multiple classes

On the one hand, we want to encourage you to pursue unified interdisciplinary projects that weave together themes from multiple classes. On the other hand, we need to ensure that final projects for this course are original and involve a substantial new effort.

To try to meet both these demands, we are adopting the following policy on joint submission: if your final project for this course is related to your final project for another course, you are required to submit both projects to us by our final project due date. If we decide that the projects are too similar, your project will receive a failing grade. To avoid this extreme outcome, we strongly encourage you to stay in close communication with us if your project is related to another you are submitting for credit, so that there are no unhappy surprises at the end of the term. Since there is no single objective standard for what counts as "different enough", it is better to play it safe by talking with us.

Fundamentally, we are saying that combining projects is not a shortcut. In a sense, we are in the same position as professional conferences and journals, which also need to watch out for multiple submissions. You might have a look at the current ACL/NAACL policy, which strives to ensure that any two papers submitted to those conferences are make substantially different contributions — our goal here as well.

Academic honesty

Please familiarize yourself with Stanford's honor code

We will adhere to it and follow through on its penalty guidelines.

Students with documented disabilities

Students who may need an academic accommodation based on the impact of a disability must initiate the request with the Student Disability Resource Center (SDRC) located within the Office of Accessible Education (OAE). SDRC staff will evaluate the request with required documentation, recommend reasonable accommodations, and prepare an Accommodation Letter for faculty dated in the current quarter in which the request is being made. Students should contact the SDRC as soon as possible since timely notice is needed to coordinate accommodations. The OAE is located at 563 Salvatierra Walk (phone: 723-1066).


Week Date HW due Who Topic and Readings
1 Jan 10   Chris & Bill

History of NLU & course goals

Bill and Chris's slides

PART I: Lexical semantics
1 Jan 12 HW 1 due Bill

Lexical semantic relations: WordNet, synonymy, hyponymy


2 Jan 17 HW 2 due Bill

Word sense disambiguation


2 Jan 19 HW 3 due Chris

Vector-space models of meaning

slides; horoscope data; IMDB word × document matrix; IMDB word × word matrix

3 Jan 24 HW 4 due Chris

Dependency parses for NLU

slides; Gigaword NYT advmod pairs; collapsed Stanford dependencies Brown corpus

3 Jan 26 HW 5 due Bill

Relation extraction


4 Jan 31 HW 6 due Bill

Relation extraction from the web


PART II: Semantic composition
4 Feb 2 HW 7 due Chris

Semantic role labeling


5 Feb 7 HW 8 due Bill

Building semantic representations using lambda calculus

slides; the NLTK Python code for HW 8

5 Feb 9   Percy Liang

Learning to build semantic representations


6 Feb 14 Lit review due Bill

Scope ambiguity and underspecified representations


6 Feb 16   Bill

Natural logic and textual inference


PART III: Discourse and context
7 Feb 21   Chris

Sentiment analysis fundamentals

Sentiment Symposium Tutorial; Sentiment Demos; Demo of Turney & Littman's SOA algorithm

7 Feb 23   Chris

Sentiment analysis and context dependence


8 Feb 28 Project milestone due Richard Socher

Semantic composition with vectors


8 Mar 1   Chris

Textual segmentation and local textual coherence


  • Jurafsky, Daniel and James H. Martin. 2009. Speech and Language Processing, 2nd edition. Chapter 21, Computational discourse, p. 1-15.
  • Prasad, Rashmi; Nikhil Dinesh; Alan Lee; Eleni Miltsakaki; Livio Robaldo; Aravind Joshi; and Bonnie Webber. 2008. The Penn Discourse Treebank 2.0. In Nicoletta Calzolari, Khalid Choukri, Bente Maegaard, Joseph Mariani, Jan Odjik, Stelios Piperidis, Daniel Tapias, ed., Proceedings of the Sixth International Language Resources and Evaluation (LREC'08). Marrakech, Morocco: European Language Resources Association (ELRA).
  • Marcu, Daniel and Abdessamad Echihabi. 2002. An unsupervised approach to recognizing discourse relations. In Proceedings of ACL, 368-375. Philadelphia: ACL.
  • Optional Regina Barzilay and Mirella Lapata. 2005. Modeling local coherence: an entity-based approach. Computational Linguistics 34(1):1-34.
9 Mar 6 Chris


slides; the Cards Corpus

PART IV: Conclusion
9 Mar 8   Chris & Bill


slides; Stuart Schieber on reporting research results; David Goss on math style

10 Mar 13    

Project presentations

10 Mar 15    

Project presentations

  Mar 19 (3:15pm) Final project due