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


12 may
No meeting (Finals week)

5 may
No Meeting (RRR Week)

28 april
Inge Genee (Lethbridge)
The typology of polysynthesis revisited

Recent treatments of polysynthesis from a variety of theoretical approaches have identified a number of characteristics as contributing to polysynthesis – including morpheme-to- word ratio, holophrasis, polypersonalism, incorporation, verb serialization, and lexical affixation – while disagreeing on which ones are crucial and which ones are peripheral (e.g. Baker 1996; De Reuse 2009; Evans & Sasse 2002; Fortescue 1994, 2016; Mahieu & Tersis 2009; Mattissen 2003, 2004, 2006; Mithun 1996, 2009; Woodbury In press). In particular, there is disagreement on the centrality of polypersonalism vs. lexical affixation. I propose an approach based in Functional Discourse Grammar (Hengeveld & Mackenzie 2008), which builds on its approach to lexical density in treating polysynthesis as a continuum. FDG’s strict separation between the Interpersonal, Representational and Morphosyntactic levels of analysis combined with its approach to morpheme types allows for a principled and detailed examination of the scalar nature of polysynthesis. The analysis draws on FDG’s treatment of morphological typology, which characterizes languages according to two parameters, viz. semantic transparency and synthesis. Inspired by recent treatments of transparency (esp. Leufkens 2015), I propose a set of parameters to characterize (poly)synthesis: (1) lexical density (qualitative and quantitative); (2) anisomorphism between formulation and encoding levels; (3) anisomorphism within the Morphosyntactic level (word-internal layering); (4) alignment restrictions; (5) optionality (availability of analytic alternative).


Baker, M.C. 1996. The polysynthesis parameter. Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press.

De Reuse, Willem. 2009. Polysynthesis as a typological feature: an attempt at a characterization from Eskimo and Athabaskan perspectives. In Marc-Antoine Mahieu and Nicole Tersis (eds.), Variations on Polysynthesis, 19-34. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Evans, Nicholas & Hans-Jürgen Sasse. 2002. Problems of Polysynthesis. Berlin: Akademie Verlag.

Fortescue, Michael. 2016. Polysynthesis, a diachronic and typological perspective. Forthcoming in Nicholas Evans, Michael Fortescue, & Marianne Mithun (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Polysynthesis. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. Preview online: DOI: 10.1093/acrefore/9780199384655.013.152.

Fortescue, Michael. 1994. Polysynthetic morphology. In The Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics, 2600-2602. Oxford: Pergamom Press.

Hengeveld, Kees & J. Lachlan Mackenzie. 2008. Functional discourse grammar: a typologically- based theory of language structure. Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press.

Leufkens, Sterre. 2015. Transparency in language. A typological study. Utrecht: LOT.

Mahieu, Marc-Antoine & Nicole Tersis (eds.). 2009. Variations on Polysynthesis. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Mattissen, Johanna. 2006. The Ontology and Diachrony of Polysynthesis. In Dieter Wunderlich (ed.), Advances in the Theory of the Lexicon, 287-353. Berlin: De Gruyter.

Mattissen, Johanna. 2004. A structural typology of polysynthesis. Word 55.2: 189-216.

Mattissen, Johanna. 2003. Dependent-head synthesis in Nivkh: a contribution to a typology of polysynthesis. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Mithun, Marianne. 2009. Polysynthesis in the arctic. In Marc-Antoine Mahieu and Nicole Tersis (eds.), Variations on Polysynthesis (Proceedings of the Linguistics Session of the 15th International Inuit Studies Conference), 3-18. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Mithun, Marianne. 1996. General characteristics of North American Indian languages. In Ives Goddard (ed.), Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 17, Languages, 137-157. Washington: Smithsonian Institution.

Woodbury, Anthony C. In press. Central Alaskan Yupik (Eskimo-Aleut): A sketch of morphologically orthodox polysynthesis. In Nicholas Evans, Michael Fortescue, & Marianne Mithun (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Polysynthesis. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

21 april
Maria Khachaturyan (Berkeley) and Oleg Belyaev (Moscow State University)
The borders of hypotaxis: correlatives in Mano

In this paper, we will explore relative clauses of the correlative type in Mano, a South Mande language.

The crucial feature of the definition of relative clauses is that it presupposes a syntactic dependency relation (Andrews 2007:206). However, no syntactic or straightforward functional criteria can single out a cross-linguistically valid notion of such “dependency” in correlatives. Focusing on examples from Mano, we will discuss: 1) syntactic arguments against Mano correlatives as generated clause-internally (unlike Hindi, Bhatt 2003, but like Hungarian, Lipták 2005); 2) semantic arguments showing that set intersection semantics of relative clauses does not always apply to Mano correlatives (once again unlike Hindi, but like Ossetic, Belyaev & Haug 2014), 3) pragmatic arguments, specifically, a striking formal and semantic and pragmatic similarity between correlatives and certain information structure constructions in Mano.

Such development of Mano correlatives from a relatively conventionalized, but at the same time optional, pragmatic interpretation of a paratactic construction can be considered a case of cooptation (Mauri & Sansò 2011). Moreover, correlatives are often considered a prime example of an erstwhile paratactic or coordinating construction acquiring subordinating properties (Givón 2009). Evidence from Mano supports this hypothesis and illustrates such development at an early stage.

14 april
Myriam Lapierre (Berkeley)
Relative clauses in South Bolivian Quechua

Several varieties of Quechua have been described as having internally-headed relative clauses (IHRC)s (Cole et al. 1982, Cole 1987). In this presentation, I explore this construction in South Bolivian Quechua (SBQ) using novel data obtained from elicitation. Specifically, this talk discusses the properties of this construction in SBQ and notes a positional restriction, namely that IHRCs may only appear at the left-edge of a matrix clause. This constraint on the structural position of IHRCs in SBQ is not shared by other languages that exhibit IHRCs (Andrews 2007, Basilico 1996). However, this property has been reported as a characteristic of correlative clauses (Srivastav 1991, Bhatt 2003). Given these facts, I discuss the properties of the relevant construction in SBQ and show that so-called IHRCs in SBQ are in fact an intermediate construction between internally-headed and correlative clauses. The analysis aims at explaining why this construction is restricted to the left-edge of matrix clauses by drawing on formal accounts of both internally-headed and correlative clauses.


Andrews, A. D. (2007). Relative clauses. In T. Shopen (ed.), Complex Constructions. Language Typology and Syntactic Description, (Vol. 2). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Basilico, D. (1996). Head position and internally headed relative clauses. Language, 72, 498–532.

Bhatt, R. (2003). Locality in Correlatives, Natural Language and Linguistic Theory, 210, 485–541.

Cole, P. (1987). The Structure of Internally Headed Relative Clauses. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory, 5, 277–302.

Cole, P.; Harbert, W.; and Hermon, G. (1982). Headless Relative Clauses in Quechua. International Journal of American Linguistics, 48, 113–124.

Srivastav, V. (1991). The Syntax and Semantics of Correlatives, Natural Language and Linguistic Theory, 9(4), 637–686.

7 april
No Meeting

5 april
Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine (National University of Singapore)
Extraction and licensing in Toba Batak

Special meeting time and location: Noon-1pm Wednesday April 5th, 1229 Dwinelle

I investigate patterns of preverbal fronting in Toba Batak, a predicate-initial Austronesian language of northern Sumatra. Contrary to the claims of previous work on the language, I show that multiple constituents can be simultaneously fronted, though only in limited configurations. I argue that the heads C and T are present in Toba Batak, with their traditional division of labor (wh/focus-probing by C and subject licensing and fronting by T), but extraction patterns are restricted by the limited means of nominal licensing (abstract Case) in the language. In addition, the features of C and T have the option of being bundled together on a single head, inheriting properties of both C and T and probing together for the joint satisfaction of their probes. Further evidence for this organization of C and T comes from the distribution of the particle *na* in two varieties of the language. This study sheds light on the relationship between western Austronesian voice system languages and the clause periphery in other language families.

31 march
No Meeting (Spring Break)

24 march
Ciara Anderson (Trinity College Dublin)
The adjective in Grassfields Bantu – a misnomer?

The presentation will work towards establishing whether the notion of ‘adjective’ as a discrete category in a selection of Grassfields Bantu languages may in fact be a misnomer. Authors such as Dryer (1992) and Hawkins (1983) have suggested that semantic definitions suffice when it comes to cross-linguistic comparisons of categories such as adjective. Rijkhoff (2002; 2016) has challenged this however, noting that 50% of the languages used in his iconicity research may have to be discounted due to word class miscategorizations on notions such as ‘adjective’. In such cases, loosely defined categories of terms such as adjective may render theories relating to typological predictions of word order unworkable.

Therefore, it is pertinent to establish what types of languages we are dealing with when examining GB in light of his theory. One possible explanation for discrepancies is that there is in fact no distinct class (or a minor closed class) of adjectives in the languages in question. Rather “further measures” may have been taken upon noun and verb-like lexemes in order to function in the role of a modifier.

This examination will lean towards a definition of the adjectival word class as one which takes into account the syntax-semantics interface as per Hengeveld (1992 a, b). An analysis of the modifier deemed as adjective in a selection of Grassfields Bantu Ring languages; Bamunka, Mmen, and Babungo through the lens of Role and Reference Grammar, lends support to Rijkhoff’s (2002;2016) claim that purely semantic definitions for such categories may not be helpful in typological analyses.

17 march
Lidia Mazzitelli (Universität zu Köln)
Impersonality and agentivity in Lithuanian

In my talk, I will review the semantic properties influencing the productivity of impersonal passives in Lithuanian and the consequences that this has for a definition of 'impersonal passive agent'. Seminal studies on German (Primus 2011) and Polish (Bunčić 2015) have shown that in these languages not all predicates are equally suitable for creating impersonal passives. Predicates with a lower level of agentivity (such as 'sweat', 'bleed') are much less acceptable than predicates with a high level of agentivity (such as 'work', 'talk'). At this stage of the research, though, it is not clear yet what the exact features are that define a 'felicitous agent' for the passive impersonals in these languages. A definition based on the simple aggregration of “volitionality”, “sentience” and “motion”, the properties that define proto-Agents in Dowty's (1991) approach has proved unsatisfactory (Primus 2011): non-volitional but moving and sentient agents of 'bleed' and 'sweat' score definitely worse that non-volitional and non-moving agents of 'fear' and 'rejoice'.

In Lithuanian, various types of impersonal constructions are found (cf. Ambrazas 2006). I will focus only on the impersonal passive -ma/-ta construction, where the predicate appears in the non-agreeing (neutral) form of present passive participle (in -ma) or past passive participle (in -ta). Impersonal -ma/-ta constructions from virtually all types of verbs: transitives, unergatives and even unaccusatives; the subject slot, though, must be occupied by a nominative-marked NP. An example is provided in (1):


Mano tėvynėje dirbama nuo gimimo iki mirties
my fatherland.LOC work.PTC.N.SG from birth.GEN
to death.GEN

'In my country one works from birth to death.'

From a semantic point of view, Lithuanian has been claimed to be very liberal in forming and using -ma/-ta impersonals, the only constraint being the humanness of the agent (Shibatani 1998). However, even in Lithuanian not all -ma/-ta forms are equally frequent. According to a corpus search, -ma/-ta forms derived from predicates like 'work' and 'dance', whose agents have all the properties of proto-Agents, are indeed very frequent in the corpus. Mental predicates like 'believe' and 'doubt' – whose agents are volitional, and thus sentient, but not moving– also show a very high frequency of use. Instead, verbs as 'feel', 'bleed' and 'stink' are used much more rarely. As in German and Polish, a definition of agent based on feature aggregation is not adequate. I propose, tentatively, that the productivity scale of Lithuanian -ma/-ta impersonals may be more fruitfully captured by a definition of agent that foregrounds responsability as the most prominent agentive feature.

10 march
Tessa Scott (Berkeley)
Mechanisms of Resumptive Pronouns

Resumptive pronouns (RPs) have been traditionally analyzed as indicating that an A-bar dependency was not derived through movement, but rather that the RP was bound by the head of the A-bar dependency, and that that head was base generated in its surface position (Ross 1967, Kroch 1981, Erteschik-Shir 1992). Conversely, gaps in A-bar dependencies were thought to indicate movement of the XP. McCloskey (2006) paints this exact picture for resumptive pronouns as realization of a non-movement strategy of forming RCs. Many scholars have pointed out that languages often do not adhere to this RP/gap non-movement/movement dichotomy (Sichel 2000, Adger and Ramchand 2005, Aoun and Li 2006). In this presentation I present novel data from Swahili that supports both syntactic motivations for RPs (in the traditional sense), morphological constraints on their form, and phonological reasons for the (non)-optionality of their overt pronunciation, which all contribute to the surface realization of RPs. The multiple forces acting on these pronouns account for the robust variability in the form and behavior of RPs cross-linguistically.

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.

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