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


27 april
SULA 10 practice talks


4 may
No meeting (RRR week)

11 may
No meeting (Finals week)


20 april
Joint meeting with Meaning Sciences Club
Ethan Jerzak (Berkeley)
Two Ways to Want

I present hitherto unexplored and unaccounted for uses of `wants'. I call them advisory uses, on which information inaccessible to the desirer herself helps determine what it's true to say she wants. I show that extant theories by Stalnaker, Heim, and Levinson fail to predict it. I also show that they fail to predict true indicative conditionals with `wants' in the consequent. These problems are related: intuitively valid reasoning with modus ponens on the basis of the conditionals in question results in unembedded advisory uses. I consider two fixes, and end up endorsing a relativist semantics, according to which desire attributions express information-neutral propositions. The truth of a desire attribution depends on the state of information at the context of assessment. On this view, `wants' functions as a precisification of `ought', which exhibits similar unembedded and compositional behavior. I conclude by sketching a pragmatic account of the purpose of desire attributions, one that explains why it made sense for them to evolve in this way.

13 april
Amy Rose Deal (Berkeley)
Compositional paths to de re

In this talk I argue that de re attitude reports arise from multiple distinct LFs, both within and across languages. One type of de re LF features the res argument composing in situ, as advocated in much recent work (Percus and Sauerland 2003, Anand 2006, Ninan 2012, Charlow and Sharvit 2014, Pearson 2015). Another features a res element which is semantically an argument of the attitude verb at LF, potentially having obtained that position by covert res movement.

6 april
WSCLA 23 practice talks

30 march
No Meeting (Spring Break)

23 march
Sunwoo Jeong (Stanford)
Focus, Question Under Discussion, and Epistemic Containment Principle

The Epistemic Containment Principle (ECP) requires that epistemic modals take wider scope than strong quantifiers such as 'every' or 'most' (von Fintel and Iatridou 2003). Although fairly robust in its realization, a few systemic classes of counterexamples to the ECP have been noted. Based on these, previous work has argued for two claims: subjective modals obey the ECP, whereas objective ones don't (Tancredi 2007, Anand and Hacquard 2008); and 'every' respects the ECP, whereas 'each' violates it (Tancredi 2007). In this talk, I argue that explicit Questions Under Discussion (QUDs; Roberts 1996, Ginzburg 1996) and focus also systematically influence the ECP. In particular, scopal orderings that provide relevant answers to the given QUDs are preferred, and this tendency can override the ECP. To support this claim, I present an experimental study. The results corroborate the existence of systematic QUD and focus effects on the ECP, and support the view that the ECP is derived from a confluence of various pragmatic and lexical biases. The resulting account is shown to have broader implications for thinking about the scopal preferences of epistemic modals, as well as how context comes into play in shaping these preferences.

16 march
Magdalena Lemus (Lyon)
Subject cleft clauses in Yukuna: descriptive issues

This paper provides a description of Subject (S) cleft clauses in Yukuna (Arawak, Colombia). In this language, S cleft clauses are used in different, contradicting contexts, which appear to be incompatible with a unified synchronic analysis. In certain contexts, the information structure properties of these clauses corresponds to the prototype of a cleft construction (the clefted constituent is focalized, and the relative clause encodes topical, presupposed information); whereas in others, the information structure is closer to that of a verbal clause (the clefted constituent remains focalized, but the relative clause does not encode presupposed information). This suggests that Yukuna’s S cleft clauses may have been re-analyzed as verbal main clauses, and that synchronically, both the source construction and the result construction are still attested. Such a diachronic pathway is common and well-attested, not only in the languages of the world (Harris and Campbell 1995), but within the Arawak language family as well (Stark 2016). However, a detailed look into the formal properties of Yukuna’s cleft clauses reveals that, beyond the information structure level, they do not show any significant differences. Given this lack of clear evidence of re-analysis, I argue that the various synchronic functions of clefts in Yukuna may be the manifestation of an ongoing change.

9 march
Discussion of Schlenker et al 2017 'Titi Semantics: Context and meaning in Titi monkey call sequences.'

2 march
No Meeting

23 february
Steven Foley (UC Santa Cruz) and Maziar Toosarvandani (UC Santa Cruz)
Variation and uniformity in constraints on clitic combinations

Languages that have clitic pronouns frequently prohibit certain combinations of these clitics (e.g., the Person-Case Constraint). Why do these constraints restrict just clitic pronouns, not arguments more generally? And, why are only some combinations of clitics prohibited and not others? We identify two patterns in the clitic combinations that are allowed across languages and across phi-domains (across person and gender). These patterns arise, we propose, from how clitics are licensed syntactically; certain asymmetries point, in particular, to the universal role played by a cyclic version of Agree in clitic licensing. The attested variation across languages in how they constrain clitic combinations can then be derived entirely from variation in their lexicons.

9 february
No Meeting (44th Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society)

2 february
Deniz Rudin (UC Santa Cruz)
Rising Intonation: Declaratives, Interrogatives, and Imperatives

In this talk, I present an account of the contribution of steep, monotonically rising intonational tunes (L* H-H%) to the meaning of an utterance. Presupposing a tripartite division of utterance meaning into sentence meaning (a.k.a. denotation), proposed update, and speaker commitment (e.g. Farkas & Bruce 2010, Farkas & Roelofsen 2017), I give a treatment of the L* H-H% tune as communicating that the speaker is making no commitments by virtue of their utterance (cf. Truckenbrodt 2006). I show that this account both explains why L* H-H% is the `default’ intonation for interrogatives, and is able to derive the distribution and characteristic biases of rising declaratives (q.v. Gunlogson 2001, Gunlogson 2008, Malamud & Stephenson 2015, Westera 2017, Jeong to appear) entirely from pragmatic reasoning about the speaker’s choice to use a rising declarative instead of a falling declarative or polar interrogative. I close with an empirical discussion of the discourse behavior of imperative sentences accompanied by the L* H-H% tune, which have gone largely ignored in prior literature (though see Bolinger 1989 and Portner 2015), and show that behavior to pose insurmountable problems for the only prior formal account of rising imperatives of which I am aware (Portner 2015), as well as significant problems for prior accounts of the basic meaning of imperatives (especially Kaufmann 2012 and Condoravdi & Lauer 2012). I extend my account of the L* H-H% tune to rising imperatives, proposing a novel tripartite division of the meaning of utterances of imperative sentences building on prior proposals for their denotations (e.g. Kaufmann 2012, von Fintel & Iatridou 2017), update potential (e.g. Portner 2004, Starr to appear), and commitment status (Condoravdi & Lauer 2012, 2017).

26 january
Round Robin

All are welcome to present data, questions, or ideas related to syntax and semantics for discussion and feedback. 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.

19 january
No Meeting