The Circle is a weekly forum dedicated to discussion of the descriptive, experimental, and theoretical study of syntax and semantics, featuring presentations of ongoing research by members of the Berkeley Linguistics Department and other departments, as well as discussion of previously published works.


Fridays, 3:00-4:30pm


1303 Dwinelle Hall


Virginia Dawson

Erik Hans Maier


University of California, Berkeley
Department of Linguistics


3 march
Kenneth Baclawski Jr. (Berkeley)
What happened to 'What happened'?

The question 'What happened' is typically assumed in the focus literature to elicit a response with broad/sentence-focus. Fanselow & Lenertová (2011) use this as a diagnostic to suggest that German 'Subpart of Focus Fronting' is an instance of optional prosodic movement completely unrelated to discourse context. However, a closer examination of 'What happened' in Catalán shows that the answer may in fact contain overt topic-movement. This leads to the conclusion that 'What happened' is ambiguous between a Narration/discourse coordination question (1) and an Explanation/discourse subordination question (2; using concepts from Segmented Discourse Representation Theory, Asher & Lascarides 2003). With this in mind, we conclude that German Subpart of Focus Fronting is in fact constrained by discourse context, only licensed in discourse subordination contexts. To explain this data, we propose that C has two flavors: a discourse coordination C (CDC) and a discourse subordination C (CDS). Topic-movement is shown to be generally constrained to CDS (López 2009). Cross-linguistic variation in topic-movement is then explained as featural variation in these C heads and their respective cophonologies.

(1) A: First, I went to the store. Then I went to the bank. Then...,
B: What happened? / Then what happened? / #Why?
A: Then, I came back home.

(2) A: John hasn't come to class for the past week.
B: What happened? / #Then, what happened? / Why?
A: He got the flu.


10 march
Tessa Scott (Berkeley)
Topic TBA

17 march

24 march

31 march
No Meeting (Spring Break)

7 april
Guillaume Thomas (Toronto)
Topic TBA

14 april

21 april
Maria Khachaturyan (Berkeley)
Topic TBA

28 april
Inge Genee (Lethbridge)
Topic TBA

5 may

12 may
No meeting (Finals week)


24 february
Nico Baier (Berkeley)
Unifying Anti-Agreement and Wh-Agreement

Many languages exhibit anti-agreement (AA), an effect in which phi-agreement with a DP is disrupted when that DP is involved in A'-dependency. In this paper, I argue against the predominant view that AA derives from a syntactic constraint on the A'-movement of certain arguments or from certain structural positions (Richards 1997; Schneider-Zioga 2007; Diercks 2010; Erlewine 2016). Instead, AA is a form of wh-agreement – dedicated agreement morphology that indexes extracted arguments (Chung and Georgopoulos 1988). The effect is the result of a phi-probe copying both phi- and wh-features from a goal. AA arises when partial or total impoverishment applies to the [phi+wh] feature bundle in the morphological component, blocking insertion of an otherwise appropriate, more highly specified agreement exponent.

17 february
No Meeting

10 february
Round Robin

All are welcome to bring data, questions, or ideas related to syntax and semantics for discussion at this year's first Round Robin. According to hallowed tradition, names of those who want to present will be drawn from a hat and presenters will have up to 5 minutes to discuss their topic.

2 february
Omer Preminger (Maryland)
What the PCC tells us about "abstract" agreement, head movement, and locality

Special meeting time and location: 3-430 PM Thursday Feb 2nd, 1229 Dwinelle

Based on the cross- and intra-linguistic distribution of Person Case Constraint (PCC) effects, I argue that there can be no agreement in phi-features (person, number, gender/noun-class) that systematically lacks a morpho-phonological footprint. That is, there is no such thing as "abstract" phi-agreement, null across the entire paradigm. There is, however, one important caveat: PCC effects arise not only with overt phi-agreement, but also with clitic doubling. This cannot be because clitic doubling is agreement; it behaves like movement (and unlike agreement) in a variety of respects. Nor can this be because clitic doubling, qua movement, is contingent on prior agreement – since the claim that all movement depends on prior agreement is demonstrably false.

I propose that clitic doubling requires prior agreement because it is an instance of non-local head movement, and movement of X^0 to Y^0 always requires a prior syntactic relationship between Y^0 and XP. In local head movement (à la Travis 1984), this requirement is trivially satisfied by c-selection. But in non-local cases, agreement must fill this role.

I conclude by discussing the nature of this no-null-agreement generalization. As a grammatical principle, it would be a classic case of mixing levels, requiring reference to syntax and morpho-phonology at once. I suggest, instead, that it is not a grammatical principle at all – it is the consequence of a conservative acquisition strategy with respect to the placement of unvalued features on functional heads (cf. Biberauer & Roberts 2015).

27 january
Bernat Bardagil-Mas (Groningen)
Postposition-doubling in Panará

In this talk I will discuss ongoing research on the complex verbal morphology of Panará (Jê). An issue in Panará syntax that is a central phenomenon in my research of the language is the syntactic status of certain objects that appear in the form of obliquely-marked participants selected by postpositional phrases. These objects can also be represented on the agreement morphology on the verb, thus exhibiting behaviour akin to that of the verb's direct arguments. After presenting the phenomena as they appear superficially, I will explore an analysis based on agreement and feature-checking relations to derive the opacity of frozen PPs and the transparency of clitic-doubling PPs.

20 january
No Meeting