Course information

Time MW 4:15pm - 5:30pm
Location 320-105 (click for map)
Instructor Bill MacCartney Office Hours: MW, 3:00pm - 4:00pm, in Bytes Café
Instructor Chris Potts Office Hours: Thu/Fri 11:30am - 12:30pm 460-101
TA Sam Bowman Office Hours: Thu 3:00pm - 4:00pm 460-030A
TA Milind Ganjoo Office Hours: Wed 11:00am-12:00pm Bytes Cafe
TA Andy Mai Office Hours: Tues 11:00am - 12:00pm 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 seven weekly homeworks, due at the beginning of class on Wednesdays of weeks 2 through 8. 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 about 30-40 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 May 5, 11:59pm): a short 6-page single-spaced paper summarizing and synthesizing several papers on the area of your final project. Groups of one should review 5 papers, 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 May 19, 11:59pm): 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 (June 2 & 4): We'll use the last two sessions of the course for in-class final project presentations.
  4. Final paper (due at the end of our scheduled exam period: Tuesday, June 10, 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 Mar 31   Chris & Bill

Outlook for NLU & course goals


1 Apr 2   Chris

Major concepts and goals of (computational) semantics and pragmatics


  • Beaver, David and Joey Frazee. To appear. Semantics. In Ruslan Mitkov, ed., The Oxford Handbook of Computational Linguistics, 2nd edition. Oxford University Press.
  • Potts, Christopher. To appear. Pragmatics. In Ruslan Mitkov, ed., The Oxford Handbook of Computational Linguistics, 2nd edition. Oxford University Press.
2 Apr 7   Chris

Distributional word representations

slides [code and data]

2 Apr 9 HW 1 due Chris

Distributed word representations and neural nets

slides [shallow neural net starter code]

3 Apr 14   Bill

Relation extraction 1


3 Apr 16 HW 2 due Bill

Relation extraction 2

4 Apr 21   Chris

Dependency parses for NLU


4 Apr 23 HW 3 due Bill

Workshop 1: Project planning & system evaluation


5 Apr 28   Bill

Introduction to semantic parsing and lambda calculus


5 Apr 30 HW 4 due Bill

From utterances to logical forms


6 May 5 Lit review due Chris

From utterances to denotations

slides [reference implementations]

6 May 7 HW 5 due Bill

Interpreting queries with structure at Google

7 May 12   Bill

Natural logic and textual inference


7 May 14 HW 6 due Sam Bowman

Recursive neural networks for semantic interpretation


8 May 19 Project milestone due Chris

Sentiment analysis


8 May 21 HW 7 due Chris

Dialogue agents


9 May 26    

[Memorial Day — no class]

9 May 28   Bill & Chris

Workshop 2: Writing up and presenting your work


10 Jun 2    

Project presentations

10 Jun 4    

Project presentations

  Jun 10, 3:15 pm Final project due