John T. M. Merrill

Graduate student, UC Berkeley Linguistics



I am a fourth year graduate student in the UC Berkeley Department of Linguistics. I am currently writing my dissertation, titled "The Historical Origin of Consonant Mutation in the Senegambian Languages." My dissertation is advised by Larry Hyman.


My principal interest is in historical and comparative linguistics, focusing on linguistic reconstruction within the Niger-Congo language family, as well as phonology and morphology from a historical perspective. Within Niger-Congo, I work mainly on the reconstruction and internal classification of the Senegambian languages of the North Atlantic branch, and also on the Bantu language family.

Of the Senegambian languages, I have worked with speakers of Sereer, Noon, and Wolof, and have also worked on Fula and the Cangin languages, focusing on lexical and morpho-phonological reconstruction. I am especially interested in the historical evolution of the noun class and consonant mutation systems which are prevalent in the area. One of my ongoing goals is to reassess the current hypotheses of the internal classification of these languages, disentangling linguistic features spread by areal contact from those passed down through genetic inheritance.

Within Bantu, I have worked first-hand on Herero (Namibia: R30) and Lulamogi (Uganda: JE16), dealing also with the history of the R-Zone languages as a whole. My undergraduate thesis at Dartmouth College explored the behavior of valence-changing extensions in Herero. Recently, I have been working on the history of the Proto-Bantu "super-high" vowels, and the related phenomenon of Bantu Spirantization.

My other linguistic interests include the Iberian Romance languages, and the role of diachrony in synchronic phonological and morphological analysis.


A Historical Account of the Fula and Sereer Consonant Mutation and Noun Class Systems

PhD Qualifying paper, updated October 2014 | pdf

A Typological Overview of Consonant Mutation

Dissertation Prospectus, November 2014 | pdf

Morphology, Irregularity and Bantu Frication (with Larry Hyman)

"Actualités de Néogrammariens", Memoires of the Société de Linguistique de Paris, to appear


The glottal stop in Sereer: a new type of marginal contrast

CLS 50, April 10, 2014 | handout

Nasalization as a Repair for Voiced Obstruent Codas in Noon

LSA Annual Meeting, Portland, January 8-11, 2015 | slides

Proto-Cangin Phonological Reconstruction

UC Berkeley Historical Linguistics *dhworum, March 20, 2015 | handout

Bantu Spirantization is a Reflex of Vowel Spirantization (with Matthew Faytak)

ACAL 46, Eugene, March 27, 2015 | slides

Language Resources

The following materials on Sereer and Noon were born out of work with speakers in Berkeley. The FLEx files can be opened in SIL's FieldWorks Language Explorer program. All of these files are works in progress, but it is hoped that even in their unfinished state they will be of use to anyone interested in these languages.

The Sereer project began as a year-long field methods class in the 2012-13 academic year with our consultant El-Hadji Malick Loum, after which I continued working on the language with Nico Baier. The dictionary is the work of myself and Malick Loum, and much of the data in the FLEx file was elicited by members of the field methods class: Nico Baier, Kayla Carpenter, Oana David, Erin Donnelly, Matthew Faytak, Jevon Heath, Kelsey Neely, Melanie Redeye, and Vivian Wauters.

Sereer | Dictionary | FLEx

The following materials on Noon were gathered by myself and Nico Baier in the 2013-14 academic year from our consultant Christine Diop Homan. This research was made possible by a grant from the Robert L. Oswalt Graduate Student Support Endowment for Endangered Language Documentation. The dictionary is in a very preliminary state.

Noon | Dictionary | FLEx