university of california, berkeley


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


Emily Clem

Tessa Scott


University of California, Berkeley
Department of Linguistics

spring 2019


15 may
Special Day (Wednesday) and Location (1229 Dwinelle Hall)
Pauline Jacobson (Brown University)
Direct Compositionality and variable free semantics: The case of 'MaxElide'

10 may
No Meeting (RRR Week)

3 may
Virginia Dawson (UC Berkeley)
Paths to exceptional wide scope: Choice functions in Tiwa

Choice functions have been invoked in the analysis of indefinites and disjunction in order to explain their ability to take wide scope from within islands, and to explain cross-linguistic variation in whether a given indefinite can or must take wide scope (Reinhart 1997, Kratzer 1998, Matthewson 1999, Winter 2002, a.o.). In the last two decades, however, data have been raised that prove problematic for a choice functional analysis of English wide scope indefinites and disjunction (Chierchia 2001, Schwarz 2001, Charlow 2014): the analysis over-generates in downward-entailing environments when there is a bound pronoun in the indefinite restrictor or the individual disjuncts. These data have lead to new theories of exceptional scope that avoid this over-generation problem. In this talk, I revisit the benefits of a choice functional analysis for obligatory wide scope indefinites and disjunction in Tiwa (Tibeto-Burman; India). I show that the a choice functional analysis does not over-generate wide scope readings for these elements in downward-entailing environments, but makes exactly the right predictions. These findings suggest that languages employ different mechanisms in deriving exceptional wide scope.

26 april
Reading Discussion
The interpretation of pronouns: Two accounts.
Jacobson, Pauline. 2014. Compositional semantics: An introduction to the syntax/semantics interface, Chapter 15.

19 april
Madeline Bossi (UC Berkeley) & Michael Diercks (Pomona College)
V1 in Kipsigis: Head movement and discourse-based scrambling

Kipsigis (Nilo-Saharan, Kenya) is a verb-initial language that exhibits a VSO/VOS alternation, in which the felicity of postverbal word orders is dependent on information structure. Specifically, the lexical item occupying the immediately postverbal position is discourse-prominent. We propose that V1 in Kipsigis results from head movement of the verb to a functional projection between TP and CP and that discourse-prominent material raises to Spec,TP. Movement to the immediately postverbal prominence position is a joint EPP/prominence effect (motivated by [D] and [ud] features, respectively). We demonstrate that this prominence movement cannot be reduced to familiar notions like topic and focus, arguing that prominent phrases are highlighted or salient.

12 april
Eva Portelance (Stanford University)
Verb stranding ellipsis in Lithuanian: verbal identity and head movement

This presentation will address the lexical identity requirement on verbs having undergone head movement out of an ellipsis site and how this requirement informs our understanding of head movement. Specifically, it will provide new evidence from Lithuanian to support the claim that there are two types of movements classified as head movement cross-linguistically (Harizanov & Gribanova 2018), one syntactic and one post-syntactic.

I will show that Lithuanian respects the verbal identity requirement (Goldberg 2005) in cases of verb-stranding VP ellipsis. Furthermore, I will demonstrate that the verbal identity requirement in this language must follow from the post-syntactic nature of verb movement and not from requirements on focus structure. These findings confirm the need to distinguish two types of verb stranding ellipsis constructions cross-linguistically: the type with post-syntactic verb movement out of the ellipsis site, where a lexical identity requirement on the extracted head applies, and the type with syntactic verb movement out of an ellipsis site, where no lexical identity requirement applies.

5 april
Amy Rose Deal (UC Berkeley)
Interaction, satisfaction, and the PCC

PCC phenomena involve restrictions on the person of the two objects of a ditransitive. In this talk, I present an account of four types of PCC patterns within the Interaction/Satisfaction theory of Agree introduced in Deal 2015, and demonstrate some advantages of this view over various competitors.

29 march
No Meeting (Spring Break)

22 march
Kenneth Baclawski Jr. (UC Berkeley)
On the existence and non-existence of wh-topics

There is a long-running debate about whether wh-phrases can be topics (Cable 2008, and references therein). On one hand, wh-phrases have non-topical properties: they are generally analyzed as foci (if one assumes a dichotomy between topic and focus) and information-seeking (if one assumes topics must primarily be referential). On the other hand, movement of D-linked wh-phrases (e.g. which book) has been argued to share syntactic properties with topicalization in a variety of languages (e.g. Polinsky 2001; Grewendorf 2012; Pan 2014). Eastern Cham (Austronesian: Vietnam) provides evidence that both views are simultaneously correct. In Eastern Cham, topicalization at its core marks a property of discourse antecedents, through what I call discourse connectedness. I argue that those antecedents are represented syntactically as contextual indices (cf. Jenks 2018; here last month). Wh-phrases can be topicalized if they are pied-piped by contextual indices with topical features, but wh-phrases themselves cannot supply those indices. Data comes from the properties of topicalization, wh-movement, and anaphoric DP’s that overtly spell out their contextual indices, such as partitives, inventory forms, and close appositives.

15 march
Adam Roth Singerman (University of Chicago)
Ergativity and pronominal resumption

We find a curious combination of ergative-absolutive and nominative-accusative properties in the verbal morphology of Tuparí, a Tupían language spoken by approximately 350 people in the Brazilian Amazon. Tuparí appears to offer a counterexample to the claim (originally articulated by Moravcsik 1978 and Dixon 1979) that ergative-absolutive verbal agreement and nominative-accusative case marking cannot cooccur. In this talk I describe and analyze verbal morphology in Tuparí, demonstrating that the prefixes/proclitics (which follow a superficially ergative pattern) do not qualify as agreement. They instead consist of morphophonologically bound pronouns which resume gaps in local A-dependencies rather than in long-distance A'-dependencies. The upshot is that Tuparí does not complicate the crosslinguistic typology of ergativity/accusativity, instead exemplifying a rather unique form of pronominal resumption.

8 march
Samantha Wathugala & Virginia Dawson (UC Berkeley)
In support of a choice functional analysis of Sinhala ðə

1 march
Margaret Kroll & Amanda Rysling (UC Santa Cruz)
The search for truth: Semantic or pragmatic judgments

In this project, we ask whether and how speaker evaluations of truth should inform our formal predictions of semantic and pragmatic truth. While we may believe a priori that speaker judgments of truth should inform our semantic evaluations of truth, the road from speaker representations to semantic representations is not a clear one. We investigate these questions by comparing how appositive relative clauses and conjunction clauses are judged to contribute to the truth of their containing sentence. While some researchers argue that appositive clauses contribute truth-conditional content to their containing sentence in a manner similar to a conjunction (AnderBois et al. 2010, Syrett & Koev 2015), others argue that, because appositives contribute not-at-issue or conventional implicature content, they do not contribute truth-conditional content to their containing sentence (Potts 2005). Two consistent findings emerged across a set of four experiments. The first is the parity of appositives and conjunctions, which were treated comparably across all four experiments. The second finding is that even the truth contributions of conjunctions—whose semantic truth-conditional contributions are not debated—were able to be modulated by an explicit QUD. Unless we are willing to give up our fundamental beliefs about the truth conditions of conjunctions, our findings support a view in which experimental judgments of truth are filtered through pragmatics. Because appositives and conjunctions patterned together, we conclude that appositives contribute a truth value to their containing sentence at the discourse level, but not necessarily at the level of the semantics.

22 february
Jorge Hankamer (UC Santa Cruz) & Line Mikkelsen (UC Berkeley)
CP complements to D

Despite their apparent simplicity, the structure of DPs containing “complement” CPs (what we will call DCs) has long been obscure. One major strand of investigation has attempted to assimilate DCs to (close) nominal apposition, implying that N and CP form a structural unit which then combines with D.

Danish has two kinds of DCs, a bare DC with the superficial structure [D N CP] and a prepositional DC in which the CP is encased in a PP. Exploiting clues provided by the allomorphy of the definite morpheme, we argue that the bare and prepositional DCs have very different structures, neither of which can be assimilated to apposition between N and CP.

We show that the two kinds of DC have different semantic/pragmatic properties, the bare DCs being referent-establishing in the sense of Hawkins (1978) and the (definite) prepositional DC being anaphoric.

We then argue that English also has different structures for anaphoric and referent- establishing DCs, and that they are plausibly parallel to the structures we establish for Danish. We conclude by arguing that if the structure of any DCs in English is to be assimilated to apposition, it must be apposition between DP and CP.

15 february
Peter Jenks (UC Berkeley)
Anaphoric definites as anchored definites

Some languages distinguish between two semantic categories of definites: those which are licensed by uniqueness (e.g. the sun) and others which are licensed by prior mention, anaphoric definites. Contemporary analyses of anaphoric definites have proposed that they involve an additional layer of DP structure, which introduces a discourse-bound index as a syntactic argument. I present new evidence for the existence of discourse-bound indices from Dafing, a Mande language of Burkina Faso, where this discourse-bound index is overt, and must co-occur with the definite article. Yet the Dafing index is in complementary distribution with demonstratives and possessives, a point I take to provide evidence for a further claim, which is that anaphoric definites are a species of a more general category of definite noun phrases I call anchored definites. Anchored definites always involve additional structure and a syntactic argument attached at the DP level which supplies a contextual restriction on the uniqueness presupposition of the definite article. I review evidence for the existence of this category from languages where only anchored definites are marked with an overt definite article.

8 february
No Meeting (BLS Workshop: Countability Distinctions)

1 february
Round Robin