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


Kenneth Baclawski

Virginia Dawson

Erik Hans Maier

previous semesters

fall 2015
spring 2015
fall 2014
spring 2014
fall 2013
spring 2013
fall 2012
spring 2012
fall 2011
spring 2011
fall 2010
spring 2010
fall 2009
spring 2009
fall 2008
spring 2008
fall 2007
spring 2007
fall 2006
spring 2006
fall 2005


University of California, Berkeley
Department of Linguistics


2 may
SULA and CamCos Practice Talks
Monday May 2nd, 11-12 and 1-3 pm in 1229 Dwinelle
11-12 Katie Sardinha (UC Berkeley), The semantics of object case alternations in Kwaḱwala and what it tells us about manner-result complementarity
1-2 Line Mikkelsen (UC Berkeley), Contrastive Topic in Karuk
2-3 Nico Baier (UC Berkeley), The Uniformity of Anti-Agreement and Wh-Agreement


6 may
Joint meeting with CogNetwork (UC Berkeley)
Topic TBA


29 april
Rachel Rudolph (UC Berkeley)
The Language of Appearance

I will discuss some work-in-progress about the language we use to talk about appearances in English. In particular, I investigate what I call 'appearance predicates', which are formed by an appearance verb ('look', 'taste', 'sound', 'feel', 'smell') plus a complement adjective. Examples include 'tastes vegan' or 'looks nice'. I'll argue that appearance predicates can get two different sorts of interpretations. First, they can be used to specify one's source of evidence for an appearance-independent claim, as in:

(1) That cake tastes vegan.

Second, they can be used to characterize an appearance directly, as in:

(2) That cake tastes good.

I will sketch an analysis to capture this distinction, according to which appearance verbs are sometimes raising verbs and sometimes not. I'll close by suggesting some similarities between appearance predicates and two other classes of expressions that have interested philosophers and linguists: predicates of personal taste, like 'tasty', and epistemic modals, like 'might'.

22 april
No meeting

15 april
Rotund Robin
The Robin is back and it's hungrier than ever for your ideas and questions about syntax and semantics! Come join us for an informal discussion where any and all can have up to 5-10 minutes to ask questions, present new ideas, preliminary analyses, or interesting data, or even just rant about the S-side, and get valuable answers, feedback, and commiseration from your colleagues. Following a centuries-old tradition, names will be drawn from a hat to ensure the turns are random. Those writing term papers or QPs on syntax or semantics topics are especially encouraged to come and talk about their work!

8 april
Margaret Kroll (UC Santa Cruz)
Polarity Reversals under Sluicing

Sluicing, first noted by Ross (1969), is an ellipsis phenomenon in which the TP of an interrogative is elided under some identity condition with an antecedent, stranding an overt wh-phrase in the CP domain.

1) Bernie knows that someone in Iowa voted for Trump, but he doesn't know whoi [TP ti in Iowa voted for Trump]E.

This talk presents novel English sluicing data that cannot be captured under existing theories of sluicing. The data supply robust evidence for a previously unobserved phenomenon in which the elided content and the antecedent content in a sluiced construction contain opposite polarity. The phenomenon challenges current accounts of identity conditions on ellipsis by demonstrating that a greater mismatch between antecedent and elided content is possible than previously thought. In this talk, I discuss four categories of corpus and constructed polarity-reversal examples and present a new, pragmatic sluicing analysis that accounts for and unites the data. I show that a complete theory of sluicing must account for the availability of pragmatically and locally enriched meanings to act as licensers for the ellipsis site of sluiced constructions.

1 april
Hitomi Hirayama (UC Santa Cruz)
Apparent parasitic gaps in Japanese

In Japanese, there is an empty category that behaves like a parasitic gap in English. The wh-phrase can bind both the gap inside the syntactic island and the real trace together only when there is overt movement of the wh-phrase, as illustrated by the contrast between (1a) and (1b) in English. What we get the same contrast in Japanese is puzzling because Japanese is a wh-in-situ language and does not exhibit island effects except wh-islands.

(1) a. I forgot which articlesi John filed ti without reading pgi.

b. *I forgot who filed which articlesi without reading pgi.

The aim of this talk is to solve this puzzle: why do we need overt wh-movement to license the bound reading of a real gap and a parasitic gap in Japanese? To answer this question, we also need to identify what the empty category inside the syntactic island is because there are at least three candidates in Japanese: (i) pro (ii) result of Ellipsis (iii) trace of operator movement.

In this talk, I claim that all Japanese parasitic gaps should be analyzed as pro, providing the data that show that Japanese apparent parasitic gaps exhibit peculiar behavior compared to parasitic gaps in other languages. Then I show that obligatory movement can be obtained for free when we exploit a semantics of questions that allows us to interpret a wh-phrase without any movement.

25 march
No Meeting (47th Annual Conference on African Linguistics)

18 march
Amy Rose Deal (UC Berkeley)
Shifty asymmetries: toward universals and variation in shifty indexicality

Indexical shift is a phenomenon whereby indexicals embedded in speech and attitude reports draw their reference from the speech/attitude report, rather than from the overall utterance. For example, in a language with indexical shift, "I" may refer to Bob in a sentence like "Who did Bob think I saw?". The last 15 years have seen an explosive growth in formal semantic research on indexical shift cross-linguistically. In this talk I present three major generalizations that emerge from this work along with a theory that attempts to explain them. This involves saying something about the syntax of indexical shift along with its semantics, and has consequences for the linguistic encoding of attitudes de se. Throughout the talk I will exemplify indexical shift primarily, though by no means exclusively, with my field data on Nez Perce.

11 march
Steven Foley (UC Santa Cruz)
Morphological conspiracies in Georgian agreement

A conspiracy arises when more than one (e.g. phonological) process serves to enforce a single constraint on surface forms. A major theoretical advantage of an Optimality Theoretic grammar is the ability to capture conspiracies: instead of relying on otherwise unconnected rules that just happen to prevent some marked structure, OT allows us to refer directly to it by ranking a markedness constraint above relevant faithfulness constraints.

In this talk I identify a morphological conspiracy in Georgian, and use it to argue that morphology is governed by an OT grammar. Again and again, the language’s agreement system goes out of its way to avoid Multiple Exponence — the presence of more than one morpheme in a word exponing a single feature. Abstractly, when probes X and Y both Agree with a single argument for feature [F], and morphemes α and β can spell out [F] on X and Y respectively, multiple exponence of [F] is avoided by blocking the insertion of either α or β. Within Distributed Morphology (DM; Halle & Marantz 1993), such blocking relationships can be derived through some suite of postsyntactic operations, like impoverishment. However, these operations do not refer to multiple exponence directly, and thus fail to capture the conspiracy.

Instead, building on previous work in OT morphology (Kiparsky 2000, Trommer 2001, Wolf 2008, Caballero & Inkelas 2013), I propose that Vocabulary Insertion — the operation that chooses which morphemes expone which syntactic terminals — is governed by ranked, violable constraints. DM's Subset Principle is decomposed into morphosyntactic faithfulness constraints; highly ranked morphosyntactic markedness constraints (like *MultipleExponence) replace DM's postsyntactic operations. I show that Georgian's conspiracy against multiple exponence, along with other peculiarities of its agreement system, follow from standard constraint interactions.

4 march
Discussion of Legate 2014 Voice and v: Lessons from Acehnese, Ch. 4 "A Cline of Passives"

26 february
Nico Baier (UC Berkeley)
Anti-Agreement, Wh-Agreement, and Impoverishment

In many languages, φ-agreement is sensitive to Ā-extraction of the agreement controller. Crosslinguistically, this sensitivity is exhibited in two ways. In some languages, canonical agreement morphology is replaced by a morpheme expressing agreement with an operator. This has been referred to as wh-agreement in the literature (Chung and Georgopoulous 1988, Chung 1998, a.o.). In other languages, the number of φ-features expressed in Ā-extraction contexts is impoverished, either partially or totally. This has previously been referred to as anti-agreement (Ouhalla 1993).

In this talk, I develop a unified account of these apparently separate phenomenon in which morphological sensitivity to Ā-extraction arises from a process of feature impoverishment in the post-syntax. I argue that φ-probes in some languages may also agree for Op(erator)-features, and that when Op-features and φ-features cooccur in the same feature bundle, partial or total impoverishment of φ-features may take place. I show this process of feature impoverishment is constrained by a feature geometry (in the sense of Harley and Ritter 2002), such that the feature person is deleted before the feature gender, which in turn is always deleted before the feature number.

19 february
Hannah Sande (UC Berkeley)
Particle verbs and focus in Guébie

Particle verbs are well described in Germanic languages, though little work has been done on particle verbs in less well documented languages. Here I describe the distribution of particle verbs in Guébie, a Kru language spoken in southwest Côte d'Ivoire, demonstrating that neither the morphological or syntactic analysis of particle verbs in Germanic accounts for the Guébie data. While particles pattern as a morphological word with the verb in some constructions, there is a focus construction in which the particle undergoes A-bar movement, leaving the verb behind. This focus construction shows that the particle must be independent from the verb inside its own phrasal projection.

In this talk I provide an analysis of the syntactic structure of particle verb constructions, concluding that a particle is introduced in a PP, as complement to V, but that the particle P undergoes morphological merger with V under certain morphosyntactic conditions.

12 february
Rebekah Baglini (Stanford)
How to quote a sensation: The semantics of quotative ideophones in Wolof

Ideophones are marked words which iconically evoke vivid sensory experiences (Dingemanse, 2012). Although neglected in the theoretical literature, ideophones pose a significant challenge for semanticists given the non-arbitrary relationship between their form and meaning. Quotatively-marked ideophones (QMIs), which surface with a quotative predicate marker, are cross-linguistically common (Plank, 2005; Güldemann, 2008) and suggest a compelling link between ideophones and speech reports. Using the extensive ideophone system of Wolof (West Atlantic, Niger Congo; Eth: [wol]) as a case study, I show that QMI sentences and direct speech reports both require that some salient property of the marked utterance (the words used or sound-symbolic features of those words) resemble the described event (a speech event or a sensory experience). I then draw on prior accounts of the semantics of speech reports (Potts 2007) and iconic event demonstrations (Davidson 2015) to formally explain how quotative markers incorporate non-arbitrary meanings into semantic representations. I conclude by discussing directions for future theoretical work on this rich and underutilized empirical field.

5 february
No Meeting (The 42nd Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society)

29 january
Amy Rose Deal (UC Berkeley)
Interaction and satisfaction in phi-agreement

The operation Agree may be decomposed into three more primitive steps:

Search: A probe initiates a search for an element with matching features (a goal).
Copy: Features are copied from the goal to the probe.
Valuation: The probe's features are valued, and the search is halted.

The usual assumption is that the features involved in each step are the same. I argue that the usual assumption is incorrect, and offer an alternative that draws on two influential recent ideas about Agree(ment). First, probes may be specified for particular phi-features, such as [PL] or [SPKR] (Bejar 2003, Nevins 2007, Bejar & Rezac 2009, Preminger 2011, i.a.). Second, the component steps of Agree are subject to at least partially distinct conditions, so that (e.g.) Search is obligatory, but Valuation is not (Preminger 2011). Let us recast this idea in terms of conditions on a probe's INTERACTION vs. its SATISFACTION. Interaction with F means that the probe's domain is assessed (Search) and that, if F is located, F is copied to the probe (Copy). Satisfaction by G means that the probe's [uG] is valued and the search is halted (Valuation). Drawing on a case study of complementizer agreement in Nez Perce, I show that interaction and satisfaction conditions on probes may be differentiated in featural terms. In particular:

A probe may interact with F even if it may only be satisfied by G, where F and G are distinct subsets of the phi set.

In Nez Perce complementizer agreement, the C probe is satisfied only by [ADDRESSEE], but interacts with all phi-features it encounters until the point of satisfaction. This case study shows that interaction with non-satisfying features is possible regardless of feature-geometric relations and regardless of whether Agree results in clitic doubling (pace Bejar & Rezac 2009; Preminger 2011).