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


28 october
Emily Clem (UC Berkeley)
Decomposing ergativity: Evidence for the featural complexity of ergative case

The question of how ergative case is assigned has been a topic of debate in the literature with two main views: 1) ergative is an inherent case assigned by a transitive v to an agent, 2) ergative is a dependent case assigned to a DP that c-commands another DP within a case domain. What both of these views have in common is the idea that ergative case is one feature assigned on the basis of one syntactic relationship, be it selectional or configurational. In this talk, I argue that ergative case is not exponence of a single feature but rather of a complex of features occurring on a single DP. I examine data from my fieldwork on Amahuaca, an endangered Panoan language of Peru, in which ergative case marking is sensitive to word order. I demonstrate that in situ subjects are not marked ergative while moved subjects are. Following Deal (2010), I argue that ergative case expones features that are received by a DP that has Agreed with both a v that has already Agreed and with T. This analysis is able to account for the sensitivity of Amahuaca ergative case marking to the syntactic position of the subject, while also yielding insights about the switch reference agreement system of the language and the variable realization of nominative case, both of which support the case-as-a-feature-complex view. Crucially, neither an inherent nor dependent analysis of ergative case can account for the distribution of ergative marked subjects in Amahuaca. Instead, the account I pursue captures the generalization of the inherent case literature that ergativity depends on a relationship with a transitive v and the generalization of the dependent case literature that ergativity depends on the presence of another DP in the clause, while also incorporating the importance of subjecthood and the relationship between the ergative DP and T. This work has implications for how we view ergativity more broadly, as it demonstrates that ergativity is not a unified feature but expresses simultaneously several syntactic relationships, yielding the cross-linguistic diversity that we find in patterns of ergative case marking.


4 november
Peter Jenks
Topic TBA

11 november
No Meeting (Veteran's Day)

18 november
Rose-Marie Déchaine (University of British Columbia)
Topic TBA

25 november
No Meeting (Thanksgiving)

2 december
Lev Michael (UC Berkeley)
Topic TBA

9 december
No Meeting (RRR Week)

16 december
No Meeting (Finals)


21 october
No Meeting (CUSP 9)

14 october
No Meeting (NELS 47)

7 october
NELS Practice Talks
Hannah Sande (UC Berkeley): Process morphology in a realizational theory
Virginia Dawson (UC Berkeley): Optimal clitic placement in Tiwa
Emily Clem (UC Berkeley): Two types of binding: Evidence from Tswefap pronominals
Peter Jenks and Hannah Sande (UC Berkeley): Case and caselessness in Moro

30 september
Lelia Glass (Stanford)
An underspecified semantics for (non)distributive predication

A predicate is understood distributively if it is understood to be separately true of each member of a plural subject: Alice and Bob smiled is generally understood distributively, in that we can infer from it that Alice smiled and that Bob smiled. A predicate is understood nondistributively ("collectively") if it is not understood to be separately true of each member of a plural subject: Alice and Bob met generally does not allow us to infer that Alice met or that Bob met. Some predicates can be easily understood in both ways: Alice and Bob lifted the table could mean that they each did so, or did so only jointly.

This talk asks, what should our semantic representation of (non)distributive predication consist of? Equally importantly, what should it not consist of -- what should be explained pragmatically rather than semantically?

Inspired by the principle (Grice 1978) that anything that should be explained pragmatically rather than semantically should be, I propose a highly underspecified semantics for distributive predication, moving many distinctions from the literature out of the semantics. Thanks to an assumption known as lexical cumulativity (Lasersohn 1989, Krifka 1992, Kratzer 2007), I argue that predicates are underspecified between distributive and nondistributive understandings, and that pragmatics comes in to narrow down this underspecification. I argue that this analysis gives world knowledge the starring role it deserves in explaining which predicates can be understood which way(s) and why.

23 september
Filippa Lindahl (University of Gothenburg)
Relative clauses, small clauses, and extraction in Swedish

The mainland Scandinavian languages are known to allow extraction from relative clauses (ERC) (e.g. Erteschik-Shir 1973; Koch Christensen 1982; Engdahl 1997). A typical example from Swedish is given in (1).



`There are many people who speak that language.' (Engdahl 1997, p. 59)

One recent proposal (Kush 2011, Kush, Omaki & Hornstein 2013) argues that the relative clause-like constituents in examples like (1) are not real relative clauses but small clauses. Others (Lindahl 2014, Christensen & Nyvad 2014, Vikner 2016, Nyvad, Christensen & Vikner 2016) argue that examples like (1) involve regular restrictive RCs, and that movement out of RCs in the mainland Scandinavian languages proceeds via an extra specifier in the CP-domain.

In this talk I take a closer look at the RCs in examples like (1) and other ERC sentences, taking as a starting point a collection of 250 extraction sentences from conversation, radio, and written Swedish. Specifically I investigate predictions made by the small clause hypothesis about possible matrix predicates and extraction from non-subject RCs, and provide an argument inspired by Keenan’s (1987) account of existential sentences that the RCs in several ERC sentences attaches inside the DP. This and other observations suggest that the RC in ERC can be a regular restrictive RC.

16 september
No Meeting (Workshop on the Status of Head Movement in Linguistic Theory)

9 september
Round Robin

The summer is over and the Round Robin is returning to roost. Come join us for an informal discussion where any and all can have up to 5-10 minutes to tell us about their summer elicitation or research, ask questions, present new ideas, preliminary analyses, or interesting data, and get valuable answers, feedback, and commiseration from your colleagues. Names will be drawn from a hat to ensure the turns are random.

2 september
Jed Pizarro-Guevara (UC Santa Cruz)
Tagalog voice/agreement morphology and its role in processing filler-gap dependencies

The present study investigates the role of Tagalog voice/agreement morphology (VAM) in real-time sentence processing. Because VAM packages information about the subject's thematic relation and structural position, I hypothesize that it can sharpen the comprehenders' predictions by allowing them to project the structure of vP and thus to guide their interpretation of incoming linguistic material. Using a Stops-Making-Sense task, I tested whether verbs inflected with VAM (i.e., verbs with -um- or -in-) were linked to their arguments any faster than controls without visible inflection (i.e., verbs in the iterative or recent perfective aspect). Results indicated that verbs inflected with -um- facilitated the comprehension of agent wh-questions, but verbs inflected with -in- did not facilitate the comprehension of patient wh-questions. Despite this apparent asymmetry, I maintain that VAM does permit comprehenders to predictively extend their syntactic representations. However, whether it immediately feeds interpretation is mediated by other factors, such as the availability of alternative parses. I conjecture that the syntax of argument wh-questions in Tagalog affects the time-course of parsing, such that they are interpreted less “actively” than comparable constructions in English.

26 august
No Meeting