Syntax and Semantics
The study of syntax and semantics at Berkeley takes place in a uniquely lively and open environment, where the diversity of theoretical orientations and points of view encourages students and faculty to continually engage with their core assumptions.
A hallmark of the Berkeley program is its emphasis on the study of syntax as it relates to semantics, pragmatics, and the lexicon—a perspective that originated with the development of Construction Grammar and Cognitive Linguistics here in the 1980s and 90s. It continues to inform the research of faculty and students today, as they work within a number of different theoretical frameworks, including Minimalism, Construction Grammar, and Cognitive Linguistics.
In addition to these particular theoretical approaches, research on syntax and semantics at Berkeley is informed by historical, typological, and cognitive approaches, promoting a well-informed view of language as a whole.
Syntacticians and semanticists at Berkeley are committed to making contributions to linguistic theory that are grounded in rigorous empirical work. Most are actively involved in the in-depth study of individual languages—which, frequently, are traditionally understudied and require on-site fieldwork.
On the faculty side, Line Mikkelsen specializes in Germanic syntax and her current research clusters on VP anaphora and, with Jorge Hankamer at UCSC, NP-internal structure in Scandinavian. She also collaborates with Andrew Garrett on the analysis of syntax and semantics in Karuk (Hokan; northern California). With funding from the National Science Foundation "Documenting Endangered Languages" program, they are building a parsed corpus that will enable research on word order, argument structure, subordination, non-verbal predication, the internal structure of noun phrases, and other aspects of Karuk syntax about which relatively little is known. Lev Michael's work on evidentiality and reality status (realisness/ irrealisness) in Amazonian languages has contributed to clarifying the typological validity of these categories, and to better understanding their pragmatic import in interaction. Richard Rhodes brings insights from his extensive fieldwork on Ojibwe (Algic: North-central North America), Métchif (French-Cree mixed: Northern Plains), and Sayula Popoluca (Mixe-Zoque: Southern Mexico) to bear on linguistic typology and analytical issues in better-studied languages.
Illustrative student projects include Thera Crane's dissertation work on tense and aspect in Totela (Bantu: Zambia). Crane describes temporal and extra-temporal uses of tense and aspect markers, arguing that their temporal contributions are just one facet of broader information-structuring functions. Jessica Cleary-Kemp's dissertation research examines the structure and function of serial verb constructions in Papitalai (an Oceanic language of Manus Island, Papua New Guinea), from a typological and historical perspective. Closer to home are Lindsey Newbold's investigation of word order and configurationality in Hupa (Athabaskan, northern California) and Russell Lee-Goldman's elucidation of the effects of context on syntax in well-trodden and overlooked areas of English grammar.
Beyond the usual elicitation methods, a keen interest also exists in usage-based methodologies that involve psycholinguistic experiments and the creation and analysis of corpora. Susanne Gahl has helped pioneer methods exploring the relationship between language usage and linguistic structure. Eve Sweetser's research on conditional structures draws on and contributes to theories of stance and the syntax-semantics interface.
The foundation for the study of syntax and semantics at Berkeley is the core courses (Linguistics 120, 220A, 220B, and 205), while seminars allow students to deepen their understanding of specific topics. Faculty and students also engage at the weekly meetings of the Syntax & Semantics Circle, which features presentations and discussion of on-going research by students, faculty and visiting scholars at UC Berkeley, Stanford University, UC Davis, and UC Santa Cruz.