Syntax and Semantics

Rethinking the communicative functions of evidentiality: Event responsibility in Nanti (Arawakan)

Lev Michael

Evidentiality has captured the attention of many socially-oriented students of language because of its relevance to the communicative construction of authority, responsibility, and entitlement. With regards specifically to responsibility, previous work has focused on the role of evidentiality in reducing speakers’ responsibility for the factuality of utterances, an example of a broader phenomenon that I call ‘discourse attribute responsibility’. In this paper I combine ethnographically-informed analyses of interactions among speakers of Nanti, an Arawakan language of Peruvian Amazonia,...

Berkeley linguists @ NELS 52

September 15, 2021

NELS is again remote this year, hosted online by Rutgers on Halloween weekend. The program has just been released, advertising talks by numerous Cal linguists and alumni:

Madeline Bossi: Negative bias and pragmatic reasoning in Kipsigis belief reports Emily Clem (PhD '19): Accounting for parallels between inverse marking and the PCC Virginia Dawson (PhD '20): Direct numeral modification in a classifier language Amy Rose Deal: Negative concord as downward Agree Emily Drummond: Abstract Case without morphological case Rebecca Jarvis: Elided antecedents and exceptive sluices Maziar Toosarvandani (PhD '10): Locating animacy in the grammar

Congrats all!

Bleaman published in NLLT

March 26, 2021

Congrats to Isaac Bleaman, whose article "Predicate fronting in Yiddish and conditions on multiple copy Spell-Out" has just appeared online in Natural Language & Linguistic Theory. Read it here!

López Márquez publishes on headless relative clauses

January 20, 2021

Congrats to Wendy López Márquez, whose paper 'Headless Relative Clauses in Sierra Popoluca' has appeared in the new Oxford University Press book Headless Relative Clauses in Mesoamerican Languages!

Mikkelsen and colleagues publish in Language

December 17, 2020

Congrats to Line Mikkelsen, whose paper Forms and functions of backward resumption: The case of Karuk, co-authored with Karuk tribal members Charron (Sonny) Davis, Vina Smith, Nancy Super (née Jerry), Peter Super Sr., and Charlie Thom Sr., has just appeared in Language! As the paper notes in its opening paragraph:

The research on Karuk reported here is the outcome of a collaboration between Karuk master speakers and Elders Sonny Davis, Julian Lang, the late Vina Smith, Nancy Super (née Jerry), the late Peter Super, Sr., and the late Charlie Thom, Sr.; Karuk language learners, researchers, and teachers Tamara Alexander, Robert Manuel, Crystal Richardson, Susan Gehr, Arch Super, Florrine Super, and Franklin (Frankie) Thom; and UC Berkeley linguists Andrew Garrett, Erik Maier, Line Mikkelsen, Karie Moorman, Ruth Rouvier, and Clare Sandy in Yreka, California, starting in 2010 and continuing through 2020. The work includes language documentation, linguistic analysis, language learning, development of language curriculum, educational support, language teaching, working through texts, (re)transcribing legacy recordings, linguistic elicitation with verbal and visual stimuli, and the development of ararahih-'urípih (= Karuk language net;, an online dictionary and morphologically parsed text corpus.

Syrett colloquium

October 28, 2020

The 2020-2021 colloquium series continues on Monday, Nov 2, with a talk by Kristen Syrett (Rutgers), held via Zoom from 3:10-4:30. The talk is entitled What partial objects tell us about context in nominal semantics, and the abstract is as follows:

Becoming a proficient speaker requires recognizing that the context in which we deliver our utterances affects meaning, even at the lexical level. This influence of context is well known for indexicals like now or pronouns like I or you, gradable adjectives such as big, or predicates of personal taste such as fun, which encode context directly into their semantic representation. Chierchia 2010, Landman 2011, and Rothstein 2010 have proposed that context also plays a key role in the interpretation of count nouns. These proposals not only have implications for lexical representations, but also for the process of language acquisition: what does it mean for children to know that nouns like cup and ball—which are among the earliest words a child comprehends and produces—are context-dependent, and what are the observable consequences? To date, no systematic experimental work has targeted this position on the semantics of nouns or the developmental implications, despite a growing body of work targeting these other context-dependent expressions.

I present a set of studies from an ongoing collaboration with Athulya Aravind (MIT) targeting children’s and adults’ treatment of partial and whole objects as means to probing nominal semantics. We take as a starting point two separate lines of research, investigating and extending them in parallel. The first is a well-known and oft-replicated finding from Shipley & Shepperson (1990): when young children are presented with a set of partial and whole objects (like forks) and are asked to count or quantify them, they count the partial objects as if they were wholes. The second is experimental research on gradability in the adjectival domain (Syrett, Kennedy, & Lidz, 2010). Integrating our results, we argue that while some researchers have taken children’s non-adult-like counting and quantifying behavior with discrete partial objects to signal either a shift in conceptual development or a lack of knowledge of lexical alternatives that implicates pragmatics, the results are consistent with children’s developing understanding of how nominal semantics shrinks or expands the domain of application, and where children diverge from adults is in the ability to identify speaker intentions in a discourse context. Moreover, while nouns may depend on the context, they do so in a way that is distinctly different from relative gradable adjectives—which encode a context-dependent standard—instead align with absolute gradable adjectives. Taken together, the findings indicate that even the most basic count nouns depend on the discourse context for interpretation. While adults seem to know this, it is something that children gradually come to recognize, as they become increasingly sensitive to the goals of communication.

Bardagil publishes in Linguistic Variation

October 15, 2020

Congrats to researcher Bernat Bardagil, whose article Number morphology in Panará has just appeared in Linguistic Variation 20:2!

Berkeley @ NELS 51

October 8, 2020

The program for the 51th annual meeting of the North East Linguistic Society (to be hosted virtually by the Université de Quebec à Montreal) has just been released, promising the following presentations by current department members and recent alumni:

Amy Rose Deal: 3-on-3 restrictions and PCC typology Peter Jenks: Names as complex indices: On apparent Condition C violations in Thai Laura Kalin and Nicholas Rolle (PhD '18): Deconstructing subcategorization: Conditions on insertion vs. position Edwin Ko: Feeding agreement: Anti-locality in Crow applicatives of unaccusatives

Congrats all!

Nichols colloquium

October 8, 2020

The 2020-2021 colloquium series kicks off this coming Monday, October 12, with a talk by Johanna Nichols (UC Berkeley), held via Zoom. The talk is entitled Proper measurement of linguistic complexity (and why it matters), and the abstract is as follows:

Hypotheses involving linguistic complexity generate interesting research in a variety of subfields – typology, historical linguistics, sociolinguistics, language acquisition, cognition, neurolinguistics, language processing, and others. Good measures of complexity in various linguistic domains are essential, then, but we have very few and those are mostly single-feature (chiefly size of phoneme inventory and morphemes per word in text).
In other ways as well what we have is not up to the task. The kind of complexity that is favored by certain sociolinguistic factors is not what is usually surveyed in studies invoking the sociolinguistic work. Phonological and morphological complexity are very strongly inversely correlated and form opposite worldwide frequency clines, yet surveys of just one or the other, or both lumped together, are used to support cross-linguistic generalizations about the distribution of complexity writ large. Complexity of derivation, syntax, and lexicon is largely unexplored. Measuring the complexity of polysynthetic languages in the right terms has not been seriously addressed.
This paper proposes a tripartite metric---enumerative, transparency-based, and relational---using a set of different assays across different parts of the grammar and lexicon, that addresses these problems and should help increase the grammatical sophistication of complexity-based hypotheses and choice of targets for computational extraction of complexity levels from corpora. Meeting current expectations of sustainability and replicability, the set is reusable, revealing, reasonably granular, and (at least mostly) amenable to computational implementation. I demonstrate its usefulness to typology and historical linguistics with some cross-linguistic and within-family surveys.