Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California


Berkeley Papers in Formal Linguistics publishes work in formal linguistics across a range of subdisciplines. The series is edited by Amy Rose Deal and Line Mikkelsen. Papers are published in the form in which they are submitted and are organized into annual volumes. Papers will be made available shortly after submission.

Volume 1, Issue 1, 2018


Grammatical tone: Typology and theory

The topic of this study is grammatical tone (GT), which I define as a tonological operation that is not general across the phonological grammar, and is restricted to the context of a specific morpheme or construction. In typologizing grammatical tone, I frame it in terms of dominance effects (Kiparsky & Halle 1977, Kiparsky 1984), and divide GT into two types. Dominant GT systemically deletes the underlying tone of the target, while non-dominant GT does not systemically delete it. From a survey of GT, I develop a typological principle called the dominant GT asymmetry, which states that within a multi-morphemic constituent, the dominant trigger is a dependent (e.g. a modifier of affix), and the target is a lexical head or a dependent structurally closer to the lexical head. In this way, dominance is always directed ‘inward’ within morphological hierarchical structure, supporting earlier statements such as Alderete’s (2001a, 2001b) ‘Strict Base Mutation’. For any theoretical model of dominant vs. non-dominant GT, I show there are three problems that must be addressed: the origin problem (where does the grammatical tune come from), the erasure problem (why do the underlying tones of the target go unrealized), and the scope problem (what determines where the grammatical tune docks, i.e. its scope).Under this theory, the origin problem is attributed to floating tones which are part of the underlying representation of the trigger. A major claim is that there is no representational difference between dominant and non-dominant tone: both involve floating tonemes. I implement my model within Distributed Morphology (Halle & Marantz 1993), whereby triggers of dominant GT are not constructions (as in classic Cophonology Theory – Inkelas 1998), but rather individual vocabulary items (following Sande & Jenks 2017). Dominant triggers have a special cophonology which ranks a constraint enforcing dominance higher than default constraints. This dominant constraint should be understood as a special type of faithfulness: correspondence between a matrix derivation and an abstract basemap consisting of only unvalued tone bearing units, e.g. an input-output basemap //ⒽⓁ + ττ// --> \τ́τ̀\. This addresses the erasure problem. The central insight here is that dominant GT should be characterized as a special type of paradigm uniformity effect, a hypothesis referred to as dominance as transparadigmatic uniformity.To address the scope problem I develop a theory in which syntactic structure is mapped to a hierarchical morpho-phonological tree via an operation at spell-out called hierarchy exchange. Within instances of dominant GT, a mother node in the morpho-phonological tree consists of the trigger of the grammatical tune (one daughter) and the target (the other daughter). The cophonology of the trigger scopes over the entire sequence, with cophonologies applying cyclically at each node resulting in ‘layers’ of grammatical tone. A major component of this model is that hierarchy exchange preserves the inside-out derivational history of the syntactic module by referencing asymmetrical c-command. In this way, syntax/phonology interface models which appeal to c-command are essentially correct, the most relevant being McPherson (2014) and McPherson & Heath (2016). I conclude that the real legacy of c-command may not be linearization (Kayne 1994), but rather is in delimiting the scope of morphologically-triggered phonological operations.

The Semantics of Kwak'wala Object Case

In this dissertation, I investigate factors underlying the distribution of object case in Kʷak̓ʷala, an endangered Northern Wakashan language of British Columbia, Canada.  Kʷak̓ʷala has two types of objects, instrumental (=s) and accusative (=x̌).  To account for their distribution, I develop a semantic theory of object case that is grounded in event structure.  The first central claim of this theory is that instrumental case marks internal arguments which participate in initiating subevents (Co-initiators), while accusative case marks internal arguments which participate in non-initiating subevents (Non-initiators).  Concomitantly, any internal argument which participates in both the initiating and non-initiating subevents of an event can undergo instrumental/accusative case alternation.  The second central claim of this theory is that instrumental case adds semantic value, while accusative case is a meaningless default.

Supporting evidence for these claims comes from field data.  On the one hand, object case realization is constrained by verb meaning, as shown by the existence of correlations between particular semantic verb classes and particular case frames.  On the other hand, evidence that case realization is determined by event structure comes from data showing that modifying event structure affects case realization.  Three types of event structure modification which license case alternation include the Direct Manipulation Alternation, the Caused Motion Alternation, and semantic incorporation with the affixal verb -(g)ila ‘make’.  The event-structural basis of object case is also revealed in the vicinity of weak verbs (Ritter & Rosen 1996) where the semantic value of object case is communicated independently of lexical entailments.

This analysis allows us to see how Kʷak̓ʷala’s object case system manifests a wider cross-linguistic tendency for languages to grammaticalize a link between object-encoding and event structure.  I illustrate this by showing that Kʷak̓ʷala’s object case system is semantically the mirror image of the object case system in Finnish, in which the final bound of events is grammaticalized as an interpretable accusative case (Leino 1982, Heinämäki 1984, 1994, Kratzer 2004).  Taking an even wider view, Kʷak̓ʷala fits squarely within the event-structural typology proposed in Ritter & Rosen (2000), where languages are divided according to whether they grammaticalize the initial or final bound of events.  Kʷak̓ʷala’s object case system thereby fits into existing cross-linguistic patterns, while also expanding our notions of what a possible case system looks like.

Contrastive topic in Eastern Cham

This paper claims that the form hu marks contrastive topic in Eastern Cham (Austronesian: Vietnam) by means of its other uses as an existential closure and verum focus marker. The existential closure use closely tracks with the form described in Bura (Chadic: Nigeria) by Zimmermann (2007). The verum focus use is largely parallel to the form có in Vietnamese (e.g. Tran 2016). It is proposed that an extension of verum focus semantics adapted to the syntactic distribution of the existential marker gives rise to contrastive topic marking. Finally, it is noted that contrastive topics remain in situ, unlike non-contrastive topics, which undergo topicalization to the left periphery.

Spell-out, Chains, and Long Distance Wh-movement in Seereer

In this paper, I examine novel data from long distance wh-dependencies in Seereer, an Atlantic language of Senegal. Seereer long distance wh-questions are characterized by (a) the presence of an obligatory pronoun at the edge of each embedded clause and (b) the presence of special morphology on each verb along the path of the extraction. Thus, Seereer provides striking evidence that long distance wh-movement proceeds successive cyclically through the edge of each clause. I argue that this verbal morphology spells out a valued wh-probe on C, which triggers the movement of a wh-phrase to its Spec. I show that the pronouns present at the edge of each embedded clause have the properties of copies and not of resumptive pronouns, and argue that they are in fact spelled out intermediate  copies of the moved wh-phrase. I propose that such multiple copy spell out is possible precisely because they enter into a feature valuation relationship with C.  Specifically, I propose that valuation of an wh-probe defines a copy as the head of an A’-chain. Thus, the application of successive cyclic movement does not result in one long chain, but instead in a series of smaller chains. This view of the structure of long A’-chains, when combined with the independently motivated principle of spelling out the heads of chains, results in the pattern of multiple copy spell out that occurs in Seereer.

Overt versus Zero Pronouns in Mandarin Chinese

The distribution of Mandarin overt and zero pronouns in donkey sentences is compatible with what has been found in Japanese. Most cases can be accounted for by a distinction of binding methods: specifically, overt pronouns must be dynamically bound, and zero pronouns could be either dynamically bound or interpreted via the E-type strategy. However, in both languages, the classic “every farmer who owns a donkey beats it” sentence behaves unexpectedly. To resolve this inconsistency, an additional criterion, unique versus anaphoric definites, is introduced. This approach also sheds light on the syntactic representation of pronouns in Mandarin.

Definite Spans and Blocking in Classifier Languages

This paper presents a novel analysis of definite noun phrases in numeral classifier languages without definite articles. The motivation for this analysis comes from the classifier-modifier construction (CMC) in Thai, in which a predicative modifier can license a bare classifier, resulting in a definite interpretation. I argue that the definite readings are due to a null choice-functional determiner (Reinhart 1997, Winter 1997), which takes the modifier as its complement (Kayne 1994). I propose that the modifier licenses the bare classifier, otherwise prohibited, because head raising relative clause structures bleed the environment for a D-Clf-N span to be realized as a bare noun (Brody 2000, Svenonius 2012, a.o.). I argue that this coalescence-based account of definite noun phrases, specifically definite bare nouns, is an improvement on accounts based on head movement (Cheng and Sybesma 1999) or semantic type-shifting (Chierchia 1998). This analysis correctly derives the generalization that languages allowing definite bare classifiers do not allow definite bare nouns in most cases, captures Chierchia’s nominal typology without resorting to semantic variation, and opens up new accounts for the apparent optionality of functional morphology in analytic languages.

The Syntax of Matsigenka Object-Marking

I analyze Matsigenka (Arawak, Peru) verbal object markers as clitic determiners that incorporate syntactically due to requirements of Infl. Person-case constraint effects are observed, with two repair strategies depending on the configuration, a clitic /=ni/ and an inflectable element /ashi/. I analyze both as adpositions, as well as an instrumental applicative /-ant/, which exhibits similar PCC effects, as the head of a high ApplP that participates in roll-up head movement. I derive PCC effects via a relativized probe on v.

The First Person Singular Subject Negative Portmanteau in Luganda and Lusoga

A number of studies have provided analyses of Swahili si-, a portmanteau morpheme that conflates and replaces the first person singular subject and negative prefixes. In this short paper I present the corresponding facts from Luganda and Lusoga, two closely related Bantu languages spoken in Uganda. While the Luganda portmanteau si- bears a clear resemblance to Swahili si-, three analyses are considered for corresponding ti- in Lusoga. Although ti- looks like the main clause negative prefix occurring without a first singular subject, i.e. ti-Ø-, I argue that, despite differences, it has to treated in the same portmanteau terms as the other cases. Interestingly, while Luganda si- replaces the otherwise expected ti-n- and n-ta- sequences in main vs. relative clauses, respectively, Lusoga ti- only replaces the former.