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


Emily Clem

Tessa Scott


University of California, Berkeley
Department of Linguistics


22 october
Special day (Monday), time (11:00-12:30), and location (1229 Dwinelle Hall)
Ashwini Deo (The Ohio State University)
The emergence of split-oblique case systems: a view from the Bhili dialect continuum (Indo-Aryan)

Indo-Aryan ergativity is aspectually conditioned: the transitive subject, if marked, is marked only in perfective clauses, and verb agreement in most (but not all) such cases, is not with the subject but rather determined by case-marking on the direct object. Existing research has amply noted language-specific variability in overt marking of ergative case on the subject, overt marking of accusative case on the object (differential object marking (DOM)), and concomitant effects on verbal agreement. While Hindi-Urdu presents the best studied system, the systems obtaining in Marathi, Punjabi, Gujarati, Kutchi Gujarati, Nepali, and several dialects of Marathi have also been analyzed (Mahajan 1990, Mohanan 1994, Mistry 1997, Patel-Grosz 2012, a.o. for individual systems, with a comparative treatment in Deo & Sharma 2006).

The case-marking patterns found in several case-marking systems in the Bhili dialect continuum (a set of closely related Indo-Aryan dialects spoken in Western and Central India) present an interesting deviation. In contrast to the split-ergative pattern seen in much of Indo-Aryan (S = O, S ≠ A), these systems exhibit a split-oblique pattern (A = O, S ≠ A) in significant subparts of the case paradigms.

Three properties of the relevant paradigms are worth considering:
a. In several systems, there is syncretism between ergative and oblique marking in much of the pronominal and nominal inflectional paradigms (1pl, 2pl, 3sg, 3pl).
b. In some systems, the bare oblique is further used to mark possessors in lieu of a dedicated genitive case (with num-gen-case features) seen in standard languages like Hindi and Gujarati.
c. In other systems, the bare oblique is additionally used to mark direct objects (DOM) in parts of the pronominal paradigm.

In this talk, I investigate the hypothesis that the oblique form was recruited for marking agents in perfective, transitive clauses as well as patients with high animacy/referentiality properties for those cells in the paradigm that lacked distinct inflectional ergative and accusative marking. The emergence of a split-oblique system from an original split-ergative system can be thus tied to the reduction of the morphological case-inventories of particular languages. I take the first steps towards explaining these synchronic/diachronic patterns by appealing to a constrained interface between abstract and morphosyntactic case of the sort assumed in Kiparsky (2001). On this approach, abstract case features function as constraints on morphosyntactic case and the assignment of morphosyntactic case marking to abstract structural roles is determined by optimizing featural correspondence between the two.


2 november
Amy Rose Deal (UC Berkeley)

9 november
Tom Roberts (UC Santa Cruz)

16 november
Special time: 3:30-5:00pm
Jorge Hankamer (UC Santa Cruz) & Line Mikkelsen (UC Berkeley)
CP complements to D

Despite their apparent simplicity, the structure of DPs containing “complement” CPs (what we will call DCs) has long been obscure. One major strand of investigation has attempted to assimilate DCs to (close) nominal apposition, implying that N and CP form a structural unit which then combines with D.

Danish has two kinds of DCs, a bare DC with the superficial structure [D N CP] and a prepositional DC in which the CP is encased in a PP. Exploiting clues provided by the allomorphy of the definite morpheme, we argue that the bare and prepositional DCs have very different structures, neither of which can be assimilated to apposition between N and CP.

We show that the two kinds of DC have different semantic/pragmatic properties, the bare DCs being referent-establishing in the sense of Hawkins (1978) and the (definite) prepositional DC being anaphoric.

We then argue that English also has different structures for anaphoric and referent- establishing DCs, and that they are plausibly parallel to the structures we establish for Danish. We conclude by arguing that if the structure of any DCs in English is to be assimilated to apposition, it must be apposition between DP and CP.

23 november
No Meeting (Thanksgiving)

30 november
Zachary O'Hagan (UC Berkeley)

7 december
No Meeting (RRR week)

14 december
No Meeting (Finals week)


19 october
Susan Steele (UC Berkeley)
The architecture of inflection

12 october
Round Robin

5 october
No Meeting (NELS)

28 september
NELS 49 practice talks
#1 Emily Clem (UC Berkeley)
Cyclic expansion in Agree: Maximal projections as probes
#2 Schuyler Laparle (UC Berkeley)
Locative inversion without inversion
#3 Tessa Scott (UC Berkeley)
Anti-clitic host requirement on second position clitic in SJA-Mam

21 september
Sabrina Grimberg (Stanford)
Between economy and recoverability: The case of subject doubling in Colloquial Finnish

In Colloquial Finnish (CF), there are three possible syntactic configurations for subjects: (i) the subject is focused and appears postverbally; (ii) the subject is non-focused and preverbal; (iii) the subject is focused and postverbal as in (i) but is also doubled by a preverbal pronoun. In order to derive the cases when the subject is pronounced only once (i.e. (i) and (ii)) and also the doubling instances (i.e. (iii)), I propose a Chain Resolution mechanism. The main intuition behind this operation is that the interplay between a general pressure to pronounce only the highest copy in a chain and the need to satisfy certain phonological requirements leads to the occurrence of a single or double subject copy in CF.

14 september
Ryan Bochnak (Universität Konstanz)
Combining coordination and focus: Towards an analysis of alternative questions in Washo

This talk explores some preliminary data on the interpretation of the coordinator -(i)ŋa in Washo (isolate; northern California and Nevada), which can be interpreted as either contrastive conjunction ('but') or disjunction ('or'). The semantic challenge is not only to uncover a single underlying meaning for -(i)ŋa (assuming that an ambiguity analysis is unattractive), but also to explain its interpretations in combination with other particles in the language. Specifically, when -(i)ŋa combines with the additive focus particle -saʔ 'also', the resulting interpretation is one of exclusive disjunction ('either...or'), while combining -(i)ŋa with -saʔ and the question particle -hé:š derives an alternative question. This latter observation is particularly intriguing, since current theories have yet to resolve the exact way in which focus is implicated in deriving the meaning of alternative questions compositionally.

7 september
No Meeting (SuB)

31 august
Sinn und Bedeutung 23 practice talks
#1 (3:10-3:55): Virginia Dawson & Amy Rose Deal (UC Berkeley)
Third readings by semantic scope lowering: Prolepsis in Tiwa
#2 (3:55-4:40): Rachel Rudolph (UC Berkeley)
A closer look at the perceptual source in copy raising constructions

24 august
Sinn und Bedeutung 23 practice talk
Agnes Bi (MIT) & Peter Jenks (UC Berkeley)
Pronouns, radical pro-drop, and ellipsis in Mandarin