HG8011: Detecting Meaning with Sherlock Holmes

Francis Bond: (凡土.フランシス) 2016, 2018, 2019

Course designed with help from: Jane Wong, Yeang Chui (黄仰翠) , Brian Bergen-Aurand, Uganda Sze Pui Kwan (關詩珮) .

Time and Place: Tue 16:30–19:30 (LT25: SS2-B2-01)

Projects not yet updated for this year!

In this elective we will detect how language conveys meaning, using examples taken from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories. The course considers meaning from the smallest levels of words and morphemes, up through sentences to the stories as a whole. Finally, we consider how Sherlock Holmes stories have entered into popular culture, both through translation into other languages and into other media, such as films and TV.

In the first half of the course, we will look at how words convey meanings and how they can be combined to express richer meaning (semantics). We will show that meaning does not only come from the words themselves, but also from our own understanding of them, and that words can convey much more than simple truth-conditional meanings (pragmatics).

In the second half of the course, we will show how the stories (and other works adapted from them) convey meaning to the reader, as well as how the meaning becomes part of our cultural heritage.

Course Content

This course introduces basic skills in semantic and literary analysis, such as:

Course Page: http://compling.hss.ntu.edu.sg/courses/hg8011.

There is no set text-book, all the material is covered in the lectures. As a result, you need to actually come to the lectures. General guidelines to the course are given in lecture one. You must read at least three of the Sherlock Holmes' short stories as well as the Hound of the Baskervilles, and will carry out detailed analysis of the meaning at various levels — this course has homework. However, it is designed to be as interesting as possible, and the stories are some of the most popular in the world.

Course Outline

Review and Feedback
LectureDateContent (click to download) Misc Assessment
1 01-15 Introduction, Organization: Main Issues Sherlock Deduces (REDH, Granada)
Blackberry One Ronnie
2 01-22 Theories of meaning and the meaning of words
What is a dog-cart?
Dead Parrot Monty Python
Simple Writer XKCD
3 01-29 Sentence meaning and compositionality
the windows were blocked by old-fashioned shutters
I want to cook with you IT Crowd Series 2 - Episode 3

- Chinese New Year
4 02-12 The Great Game: Sherlock in Popular Culture; Sherlock Holmes and Herlock Sholmès Notes on Copyright Sherlockian.Net
Holmes and Watson That Mitchell and Webb Look

5 02-19 Quantification, Truth and Sentiment
Julia and I had no great pleasure in our lives
Argument Sketch Monty Python
Project 1: Disambiguation task
Due: 2019-03-01 23:59 (Fri)
6 02-26 Idioms and Metaphors
to cross someone's path
Unique Alas Smith and Jones (1986)

- Recess
7 03-12 The Annotated Holmes
8 03-19 Pragmatics and Discourse The Apology Insufficiency The Big Bang Theory (S4E7) Project 2: Comparison Task
Due: 2019-03-29 23:59 (Fri)
9 03-26 Reading Sherlock Holmes (detective fiction as a genre)
(Jane's slides)
Deducing the Timeless Popularity of Sherlock Holmes CBS News January 19, 2014, 9:48 AM
A Scandal in Bohemia Granada Television (1984)
10 04-02 Reading Sherlock Holmes
(Jane's slides)
Project 3: TBA
11 04-09 Screening Sherlock Holmes
(Brian's Notes)

The Speckled Band (1979 Polish-British TV show) (1/2) (2/2)
The Adventure of the Dancing Men Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century (s1x11)
12 04-16
Holmes in translation
The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter (GREE) (alternate)
13 04-23 Quiz and discussion
Room: TBA

Quiz 40 Multiple Choice Questions 5:00–6:00

Required Reading

Other Resources


My mind rebels at stagnation, give me problems, give me work! The Sign of Four

At the start of the semester you will be given a short passage from one of the stories that will be used by you throughout the course to study meaning. In the three projects you will examine and annotate different levels of meaning using on-line tools provided. This may be slightly harder if you are not a native speaker of English, but we will try to link to translations of the stories in as many languages as possible.

Project 1: Disambiguation (20%: individual work)

Identify and annotate word meaning for your own passage of one of the stories using wordnet as the sense inventory.

Project 2: Comparison (20%: group work)

Compare and contrast your annotations with other annotators; re-annotate based on your discussion and leave comments for at least five words.

Project 3: More meaning (20%: individual work)

Quiz (40%: 40 MCQ)

Demonstrate a general understanding of the material, including not limited to:

This quiz is mainly based on materials from the lectures on Sherlock Holmes (but will have a few questions on from the earlier materials on Semantics). If you miss the quiz for some reason, please follow the standard procedures.

I would like to use the results of your analysis in projects 1–3 to help further in research on meaning. If you would like me not to use your input, you may email me at any time up to one week after you get your results for this semester. If you do so, I will discard your input. Otherwise, I will use it to find out more about meaning, and you will be credited as 'students of HG8011'. I will also make it available for others to use under the same license as the materials I create (CC BY 4.0).

Creative Commons License
Course materials created by us are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.