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, 3:30-5:00pm


1303 Dwinelle Hall


Nico Baier

Katie Sardinha

previous semesters

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


3 april
Kenny Baclawski (UCB): Topic and Focus Fronting in Cham


10 april
Vera Gribanova (Stanford)

17 april
Erik Zyman (UCSC)

24 april
Special joint meeting with Meaning Sciences

1 may
James Collins (Stanford)

8 may
Ryan Bochnak (UCB)

15 may
Exam Week


27 march
Spring Break

20 march
Maria Khachaturyan (UCB Anthropology)

Reflexives in Mano: less about syntax, more about pragmatics

In this paper I will analyse the syntax and semantics of reflexive markers in Mano (Mande < Niger-Congo). I will try to show that syntactic structure doesn't necessarily predetermine their distribution: other parameters, such as linear precedence and discursive prominence, are in play.

I will begin by the distribution of reflexive markers, I will study local and distant usages with subject controller. I will then show that the subject is not the only possible controller, and, more interestingly, that antecedents lower in the syntactic hierarchy than their anaphors can control reflexivity. I will show that linear precedence may play a more important role than syntactic structure.

I will then show examples of local reflexives used distantly. I will explain them by high discursive prominence of the referents, and show some typological parallels of the same phenomenon.

I will then turn to the distribution of simple and complex reflexive markers. Mano has a 3sg reflexive marker (ē); other persons and numbers don't have designated reflexive markers, but pronouns can also be used reflexively. Intensifier dìè is used to form complex reflexive markers (such as ē dìè). In fact, some verbs used in reflexive construction don't combine with simple markers, only with complex markers; some allow both. I will explain it by semantic particularities of the verbs. My functional explanation with be based on pragmatic factors (the speaker corrects listener's attention with the help of intensifier added to the structure of reflexive marker), in line with some typological literature on intensifiers.

13 march
Sophia Dandelet (UCB Philosophy):

A partial semantics for talking about partial desires

Sally eyes the last piece of apple pie. There is a part of her that wants to eat it, because it looks delicious. But there is another part of her that doesn’t want to eat it, since she believes that it would be rude to take the last slice of pie.

This paper is about sentences that report on desires like Sally’s. More precisely, it is about apparently contradictory desire reports — like “x wants p and x doesn’t want p,” or “x wants p and x wants q, but x doesn’t want both p and q” — and how we can make sense of them, from a philosophical and a linguistic perspective.

I begin by showing how the standard semantics for wants fails to make sense of these examples. Then, I develop an alternative analysis that makes the desired predictions for apparently contradictory desire reports. This semantics differs from its predecessors in two important respects. First, it assumes a situation-theoretic framework instead of the standard possible worlds framework. Second, it is sensitive to a parameter that allows us to set aside certain situations for the purposes of evaluating wants claims. I conclude by noting that my linguistic proposal points towards a philosophical understanding of desire on which wants may be held, so to speak, by parts of an agent — parts that take into account some of the questions and possibilities that the “whole” agent is concerned with, but ignore others.

6 march

27 february
Trio of Talks

Richard Rhodes (UCB) on Ojibwe bipartite verb structure and valence
Spencer Lamoureux (UCB): Multiple Copy Spell-Out as Constraint Interaction in Wandala (Central Chadic)
Nico Baier (UCB): An Overview of Cross-Linguistic Variation in Anti-Agreement

20 february
Syntax Circle Round Robin:

Everyone who wants to can have up to X number of minutes to discuss anything they want to related to syntax/semantics, such as an idea, a question, a problem, a controversy, or an interesting theory (where X = a number between 5 and 10, depending on how many people want to talk). Names will be drawn from a hat, so the order of turns is random. Share whatever's been on your mind!

13 february
No Meeting

6 february
No Meeting

30 january
No Meeting

23 january
No Meeting