Syntax and Semantics

Jenks in Ithaca

April 7, 2019

This Thursday Peter Jenks will give a colloquium at Cornell University, entitled Anchored definite descriptions.

Clem to UCSD

April 4, 2019

Congrats to fifth-year grad student Emily Clem, who has just accepted a tenure-track position in the linguistics department at UC San Diego! 

LSA proceedings published

March 25, 2019

The 4th volume of the Proceedings of the Linguistic Society of America has just been published, showcasing research presented in January at the 2019 Annual Meeting. In the collection are three papers by students and faculty: 

Congrats all!

Linguists keep busy

March 21, 2019

Last weekend was a busy one for Berkeley linguists, with department members at conferences in Dwinelle Hall dedicated to Celtic and Amazonian languages as well as attending conferences in other locations! 

Numerous Berkeley attendees at the Symposium on Amazonian Languages (SAL III)

Symposium on Amazonian Languages III

Virginia Dawson and Samantha Wathugala at Formal Approaches to South Asian Languages 9, Reed College, Portland (after presenting their paper, In support of a choice functional analysis of Sinhala ðə)

Dawson and Wathugala at FASAL

And to cap things off with some true linguistics in action: here's Susan Lin presenting Linguistics: making sense from noise at the East Bay Science Cafe, last Thursday (March 14). 

Susan Lin presenting

Open house colloquium

February 27, 2019

This Monday we will have a series of presentations by current graduate students in the colloquium spot -- 3:10-5pm, 370 Dwinelle: 

  • Alice Shen Pitch cues in the perception of code switching
  • Amalia Skilton: Speaker and addressee in spatial deixis: Experimental evidence from Ticuna and Dutch
  • Emily Clem: The cyclic nature of Agree: Maximal projections as probes
  • Myriam Lapierre: Two types of [NT]s in Panãra: Evidence from production and perception

Jenks in Germany

February 27, 2019

Peter Jenks will be giving two talks in Germany next week. First, he will give an invited talk at Universität Potsdam on March 5, entitled Pronominal distinctions as definiteness distinctions. Then, he will be an invited speaker at the "Sorting out the concepts behind definiteness" workshop at the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Sprachwissenschaft in Bremen on Wednesday, March 6, with a talk entitled Anaphoric definites as anchored definites.

Linguistics events this week (Feb 22-Mar 1, 2019)

February 22, 2019

In and around the linguistics department in the next week:

  • Syntax and Semantics Circle - Friday Feb 22 - Dwinelle 1303 - 3-5pm
    Jorge Hankamer (Santa Cruz) & Line Mikkelsen (Berkeley): CP complements to D
  • Phorum - Monday Feb 25 - 1303 Dwinelle - 12-1pm
    Jeremy Steffman (UCLA): TBA
  • Linguistics Dept Colloquium - Monday Feb 25 - 370 Dwinelle - 3-5pm
    Jessica Coon (McGill):  Mayan Agent Focus and the Ergative Extraction Constraint: Facts and Fictions Revisited
  • SLUgS - Thursday Feb 28 - Dwinelle 1229 - 5-6pm and 6-7pm  
    Discussion with three Cal Linguistics alumni that now work at Google, followed by "Helpful SLUgS" (unofficial tutoring hour) from 6-7 pm.
  • Syntax and Semantics Circle - Friday March 1 - Dwinelle 1303 - 3-4:30pm
    Margaret Kroll (UC Santa Cruz) and Amanda Rysling (UC Santa Cruz): The search for truth: Semantic or pragmatic judgments 

Amazonianist and Celtic conferences

February 25, 2019

March 15-17 will see not one but two conferences of interest for, and organized by, department members:

  • Third biennial Symposium on Amazonian Languages (SAL3)
    March 16-17; 1229 Dwinelle Hall
    Program here!
  • The 41st California Celtic Conference
    March 15-17, 2019; 370 Dwinelle Hall
    Program here!

Coon colloquium

February 21, 2019

The 2018-2019 colloquium series continues this coming Monday, February 25, with a talk by Jessica Coon (McGill). Same time as always, same place as always: 3:10-5 p.m., 370 Dwinelle Hall. The talk is entitled Mayan Agent Focus and the Ergative Extraction Constraint: Facts and Fictions Revisited, and the abstract is as follows:

Many languages of the Mayan family restrict the extraction of transitive (ergative) subjects for focus, wh-questions, and relativization (A’-extraction). We follow Aissen (2017) in labelling this restriction the ergative extraction constraint (EEC). In this talk, we offer a unified account of the EEC within Mayan languages, as well as an analysis of the special construction known as Agent Focus (AF) used to circumvent it. Specifically, we propose the generalization in (1).

(1) Mayan EEC generalization: 
When a pronounced copy of the object structurally intervenes between the subject and the A’-probe on C, the subject is restricted from undergoing A’-extraction.

Building on existing literature on syntactic ergativity, we argue that the restriction in (1) has a similar source across the subset of Mayan languages which exhibit it: locality. Evidence that locality is the source of the problem comes from a handful of exceptional contexts which permit transitive subjects to extract in languages which normally ban this extraction, and conversely, contexts which exceptionally ban ergative extraction in languages which otherwise allow it. 

We argue that the problem with A’-extracting the ergative subject across the intervening object connects to the requirements of the A’-probe on C: Mayan C is relativized to the feature [D]. This connects the Mayan patterns to recent proposals for extraction patterns in Austronesian languages (e.g. Aldridge, to appear) and elsewhere (van Urk 2015). Specifically, adapting the proposal of Coon and Keine (2018), we argue that in configurations in which a DP object intervenes between the probe on C and an A’-subject, conflicting requirements on movement lead to a derivational crash. While we propose that the EEC has a uniform source across the family, we argue that AF constructions vary Mayan-internally in how they circumvent the EEC, accounting for the variation in behavior of AF across the family. This paper both contributes to our understanding of parametric variation internal to the Mayan family, as well as to the discussion of variation in A’-extraction asymmetries and syntactic ergativity cross-linguistically.


(collaborative work with Nico Baier and Theodore Levin)