Current Proseminars

Proseminars are the special topics advanced graduate courses taught in our department, with course numbers in the 250 range. Typically these are prepared lecture courses given by faculty, but with strong student participation. They usually assume that enrollees will have already taken the core graduate courses in the relevant area.

This page reports proseminars being taught in the current academic year. We also include other graduate courses when their content has changed for the current offering.

For an archive of old proseminar topics, please visit the archive page.

Winter 2022
Indo-European Studies/ Linguistics M238/ History M266C

Olga Yokoyama

Analyzing Historical Texts

This multiple listed course will focus on XIXth century Russian texts produced by members of a single extended peasant family over a period of 15 years. The writers belong to two generations and include women and children. Their levels of literacy vary across the writers and over time. Course participants will examine the ethnohistorical context of the letters, their context, and the evidence in these manuscripts that makes it possible to partially reconstruct the grammar of the dialect the family belonged to. Participants will bring in their respective expertise in IE languages, as well as their knowledge of history or whatever other subjects their research is about. Knowledge of Russian is not required.

Expected learning outcomes will depend to some extent on the specialization and interests of the participants. All the participants will engage in hands-on work with handwritten semi-literate dialectical texts. Beyond that, depending on the participants, they will learn a subset of the following skills/ knowledge.

Linguists’ outcomes would include items like those in 1-6:

  1. issues that arise when approaching a semi-literate dialectical text in an Indo-European dialect/language;
  2. how to formulate and evaluate different solutions to the problem of sound-to-letter correspondence in relation to dialectical scribes of different literacy levels;
  3. how to interpret the semi-literate forms (including scribal corrections) and their variation;
  4. how to use the available data to reconstruct the sound system and morphological paradigms on the basis of variation found in non-normative manuscripts;
  5. how to determine sentence/clause units in texts without standard punctuation or capitalization, and to discern the syntactic structure of such units;
  6. how to identify and evaluate pragmatic phenomena detectable in dialectical semi-literate manuscripts

Historians’ and other scholars’ outcomes would include items like 1-6:

  1. methods of archival research;
  2. the significance of peasant social networks;
  3. social mobility and its effect on literacy
  4. attitudes towards religion and religious mores in rural Russia;
  5. family relationships among peasants;
  6. women’s status in upwardly mobile peasant families.
 Fall 2021
Linguistics 252

Yael Sharvit

Topics in Syntax and Semantics

We will read and discuss recent and not-so-recent work on the semantics of under-studied languages, and will try to figure out what kind of general theoretical questions can be asked/answered by engaging in such work.
Linguistics 251A

Kie Zuraw

English & Spanish in contact in Los Angeles + Community-engaged pedagogy
The literature we read will come in two parts.
Part I: Spanish and English in contact in Los Angeles
  • phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics
  • sociolinguistics, attitudes, and ideologies
  • contact between English and Spanish, contact among varieties of Spanish
  • Los Angeles English (not much research on this yet)
  • Los Angeles Spanish (more research on this)

Part II: Community engaged pedagogy: the whys and hows

  • General literature
  • Literature specific to linguistics
  • Literature specific to students of Spanish
  • Literature specific to Spanish-English bilinguals

You can see the full syllabus on CCLE, under Ling 251A for Fall 2021, even if you’re not enrolled.

Linguistics 254A/B

Laurel Perkins

Topics in Linguistics; Linguistic Knowledge and Extralinguistic Cognition in Grammar Development
Fall 2021

This is a proseminar in psycholinguistics that considers the following broad theoretical question: how do properties of child learners, both linguistic and extralinguistic, interact with properties of their environment in enabling the acquisition of a grammar? We’ll discuss various phenomena in the development of syntax and semantics from infancy through childhood, examining the influences of linguistic biases and knowledge, extralinguistic cognitive abilities (e.g. statistical sensitivities, executive functions, pragmatic reasoning), and their interaction with experience. We’ll aim to survey a range of historical and current theories, debates, and methods, including behavioral experiments, corpus analysis, and the occasional computational model.

Topics will include, but aren’t limited to: the nature and role of input, the poverty of the stimulus, the abstractness of early linguistic representations, inference across domains (syntactic, semantic, prosodic, pragmatic), the development of parsing abilities, and the representation and processing of grammatical dependencies.

Fall 2020
Linguistics 251A, B

Bruce Hayes
Thursday 9-12, on Zoom

There are benefits for phonologists in learning English phonology, even phonologists whose own choice of research language is more adventuresome. First, English is widely used in phonological experimentation, and the informed experimenter will want to know the relevant phonological patterns in advance. Second, there is, oddly, still quite a need for basic research on English: the standard generativist works, starting with Chomsky and Halle (1968), were prepared with research techniques now widely considered obsolete, and to this day, some of the crucial generalizations have not seriously studied with corpora or experiments. Lastly, English has played a major role in the theoretical literature, and knowing the English data pattern can help one read this literature critically.

This proseminar will cover the basics of English phonology, with two goals. Partly, we just want to familiarize ourselves with the key generalizations:  ambisyllabic allophone environments, stress pattern, vowel alternations, affix-specificity. To some extent we will work at the task of reunderstanding the system using experimental and corpus methods, studying work by current pioneers (e.g. Pater, Moore-Cantwell) in this area.

Work to be done for the course:

  • Four units:  readings and participation, a small number of brief exercises, a research paper
  • Two units:  readings and participation

Please feel free to contact me with questions ( A copy of this description is posted at

Winter 2019
Ling 251

Shu-hao Shih

This seminar will focus on issues concerning the phonetics-phonology interface. In particular, we
will discuss in detail how phonetic experiments and phonological theories inform each other.
Topics include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • syllable weight
  • stress assignment
  • vowel reduction
  • harmony
  • tone sandhi
Ling 252: Case (and agreement)

Hilda Koopman

This seminar is organized around current theoretical issues surrounding case (morphological case, abstract Case, the relation to the “categories” Kase/(functional), P, D, C, its interpretative effects (animacy, person, number, “definiteness”, affectedness…), structural case and inherent case, the (possible) relations to agreement, its role in noun verb asymmetries, etc, etc.

To get a sense of the historical development leading to the current theoretical landscape, we will read and evaluate the original literature: starting with the introduction of Case theory in On Binding Chomsky (1980) and Lectures on Government and Binding Chomsky (1981), to the version of Knowledge of Language (1986), and the Principle and Parameter framework, leading to the contemporary Probe/Goal treatments of the Minimalist Program (Inherent case theory, Dependent Case theory, Antisymmetry (Ps as Probes), Nanosyntax, and my own understanding in this area). Special attention will be paid to the evaluation of the (complex empirical) landscape, with a constant eye on future development (i.e. development of the SSWL database).

Fall 2018
Ling 251: Learning Phonotactics

Megha Sundara

Spring 2018
Ling 252: Control

Domonique Sportiche / Tim Stowell

We intend to assess the current state of the art in Control Theory in a variety of domains (and in particular in the domains discussed in Landau’s 2015’s book: a two tiered theory of Control). We will discuss or at least touch upon all the (non disjoint) topics below, focusing in part on the participants’s interests, and our own.

  • The typology of control structures: obligatory vs non obligatory, full control vs partial control, etc…
  • The relation between control types and structural factors: complement structures vs adjunct structures, control verbs vs control nominals vs control adjectives, control into infinitives vs control into gerunds vs control into nominals, …
  • The  interpretation of control structures: choice of controller, control shift, de se/ non de se distinctions, control and binding, etc…
  • The derivation of control structures: movement vs binding, backward control, …
  • The distribution of control structures: why do different control structures with their individual properties distribute the way they do.

One general theme underlying our discussion is an attempt to disentangle structural factors and semantic factors entering into the properties of control.

We use two texts as starting basis for discussion (which will be made available).
Landau, Idan. 2013. Control in generative grammar: A research companion. Cambridge University Press.
Landau, Idan. 2015. A two-tiered theory of control. MIT Press.

Ling 252: Degrees and definiteness

Dylan Bumford / Yael Sharvit

The current plan is to look at a variety of compositional issues concerning degree constructions in the presence of definites and maximality operators, but what form this takes exactly will depend a bit on participants’ interests. Superlatives will feature prominently, where the issues have come to a head in the literature, but we will also investigate other sorts of quantificational adjectives in definite environments, including at least ordinals, ‘only’, and numerals, as well as more general issues surrounding the scope of comparatives, measures, and amounts.

Ling 252: Intervention Effects in Syntax and Acquisition

Nina Hyams / Anoop Mahajan

In this proseminar we will discuss intervention effects in A and A’ dependencies. The general notion of intervention is:

(1)   …  α … γ …β…

γ blocks relating α and β if (i) γ c-commands β, and γ does not c-command α, and (ii) γ and α share the target features that β is attempting to relate to. The feature could in principle be (a) syntactic (triggering movement), (b) morpho-syntactic (triggering Agree), or (c) semantic (scope/NPI licensing). We intend to focus on (a), and possibly (b).  Syntactic intervention includes A and A’ intervention (also head movement intervention). A-movement intervention has been investigated in the domains such as subject raising being blocked in the presence of an intervening experiencer, and an overt indirect object blocking object shift in Scandinavian. A’movement intervention effects include certain wh-island effects, and wh-movement blocked by negation, among other phenomena.

We will also look at the role of intervention in children’s development of A and A’ dependencies, including passives, raising, relative clauses, wh-question, clitic left dislocation (Italian), clefts. Experimental studies across a range of languages demonstrate that young children show intervention effects in cases where adults do not. So, one goal is to understand why children are unable to circumvent intervention where adults can, and also what implications (if any) their more restrictive grammars have for syntactic theories of intervention.

Fall 2017
Ling 251: Speech planning and the phonological grammar

Kie Zuraw

Phonological grammars evaluate whole words, phrases, or utterances. But speech unfolds in real time. To decide whether to apply the rhythm rule to the word ‘Mississippi’, we need to already know the following word’s stress pattern (‘legislators’ vs. ‘biologists’). By contrast, to decide whether to apply raddoppiamento sintattico to the Italian word ‘bella’, a speaker needs to know about the *preceding* word–which has already been retrieved (‘città’ vs. ‘vita’). Does this make raddoppiamento easier than the rhythm rule? If so, does that show up anywhere in the grammar, or purely in processing difficulty (errors, hesitations, etc.)? How much phonology can be explained by factors in speech planning, such as whether crucial information has to be remembered vs. anticipated, and how detailed that information is?

There are big questions here that I don’t expect we’ll answer: is there a separate phonological grammar (that feeds into the processing system), or is the grammar just a different level of description of the processing system? If the grammar is a separate module, what kinds of information does it exchange with speech planning?

But, to get closer to being able to address those questions, we will get a handle on what’s known about speech-planning effects in observable phonological phenomena, and check out proposals that incorporate aspects of speech planning into the grammar.

Topics to be covered, with (just a few) sample authors:

  • Speech planning basics: models and findings (Levelt, Ferreira, Keating & Shattuck-Hufnagel, …)
  • Production planning and the domain of a rule (Wagner/ Sonderegger/Kilbourn-Ceron/Clayards)
  • Counterbleeding as a failure of speech planning?
  • Speech planning and phonological directionality–probably a lot about tone sandhi here (Zhang, Hsu, Tsay & Myers…)
  • Phonetic paradigm uniformity (Goldrick, Seyfarth & al.)
  • Speech planning and word structure (Himmelmann)
  • OCP effects as grammaticalized planning errors (Walker)
  • Grammar proposals that integrate aspects of speech planning
Ling 254: Implicit Prosody

Jesse Harris 

Recent studies show that many of the factors that influence phonological and prosodic/intonational structure (such as rhythm, stress, and phrasing) also guide syntactic parsing decision, in that (a) the ease with which a word is accessed and integrated into a structure is in part a function of its phonological/prosodic congruence with preceding text, and (b) ambiguous strings are preferentially resolved towards meanings that conform with default prosodic properties, particularly grouping, of words and phrases.

This proseminar explores the role of prosody in parsing from the perspective of adult language comprehension by reading a rapidly growing literature on the prosody-syntax interface, initiated in part by Janet Fodor. We examine evidence for ‘implicit prosody’, i.e., the assumption that a prosodic structure in projected onto a text in silent reading, and the methods for best investigating inner voice in natural language comprehension settings. We will be particularly interested in how prosodic representations can affect various stages of processing, from generating phrase structures to correcting misanalysis. Cross-linguistic differences will be of particular interest as different languages follow somewhat different processing profiles and are subject to different phonological and prosodic constraints.

Ling 252: Tense and aspect

Tim Stowell 

The class will aim to provide participants with a broad overview of tense/aspect phenomena, and of syntactic and semantic accounts of them.  (Re semantic approaches, I will rely on participants in the class for assistance with formal issues.)

We will begin today with a survey of phenomena including the topics listed below; how much time we spend through the quarter on individual topics will depend in part on the interests of the participants in the course.

Participants in the class will be encouraged to suggest topics and also to lead discussion on particular topics and papers, though  people who simply wish to audit the course are welcome too.