John T. M. Merrill


I am a linguist with a focus on historical linguistics and languages of Africa. I received my Ph.D. in Linguistics from UC Berkeley in 2018, and am currently a lecturer in the Program in Linguistics at Princeton University.

Contact: j.merrill at princeton dot edu


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 Northern Atlantic languages, and on topics related to noun classification and consonant mutation.

My other primary interest is language documentation. I have carried out fieldwork on the Sereer, Noon, Kobiana, and Wolof languages in Senegal and the US. I have produced, and continue to work on lexical and grammatical documentary resources for these languages. Within Bantu, I have worked first-hand with speakers of Herero (Namibia: R30) and Lulamogi (Uganda: JE16).

Papers & chapters

Tone-driven vowel epenthesis in Wamey (with Nik Rolle)

(2023) Phonology 39-1, 113-158 | link

Voiceless rhotic / retroflex consonants as an areal feature of the Atlantic languages

(2022) Language in Africa 3-2, 37-58 | pdf 

The gender system of Noon (with Viktoria Apel)

(2021) STUF 74(2), 347-368 | link | pdf

The Evolution of Consonant Mutation and Noun Class Marking in Wolof

(2021) Diachronica 38:1, 64-110 | pdf

Analysis of D’Avezac’s 17th century Sereer wordlist

(2019) Africana Linguistica 25, 89-154 | pdf

Niger-Congo linguistic features and typology (with Larry Hyman et al.)

(2019) The Cambridge Handbook of African Linguistics. H. Ekkehard Wolff (Ed.), 191-245

The Historical Origin of Consonant Mutation in the Atlantic Languages

(2018) Ph.D. dissertation | link

Morphology, Irregularity and Bantu Frication: The case of Lulamogi (with Larry Hyman)

(2015) "Actualités des Néogrammariens", Memoires of the Société de Linguistique de Paris, 139-157 | link


Atlantic groups as primary branches of Niger-Congo

(2021) Westermann Workshop, Humboldt University, Berlin | slides

sound correspondences and lexical cognates | pdf

noun class cognates | pdf

swadesh lists | xlsx

Tone-driven vowel epenthesis is possible: Evidence from Wamey (with Nik Rolle)

(2020) AMP, UCSC | slides

Exchange Rules in Kobiana Consonant Mutation

(2019) LSA annual meeting, New York City | poster

Evidence from Atlantic for a recently grammaticalized classifier system in early Niger-Congo

(2018) Gender across Niger-Congo workshop, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin | slides

Changing Motivations for Consonant Mutation in Atlantic

(2018) LMU-UCB workshop on loss of functional motivation | slides

Consonant Mutation and Initial Prominence: The Historical Loss of Lexical Contrastiveness

(2016) LSA annual meeting, Washington D.C. | slides

The Use of Gedney Surveys in African Historical Linguistics

(2015) WOCAL 8, Kyoto | slides

Contraction in Lalane Noon Verbal Paradigms (with Nico Baier)

(2015) Colloque Sénélangues, Dakar | handout

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

(2015) ACAL 46, Eugene, Oregon | slides

Nasalization as a Repair for Voiced Obstruent Codas in Noon

(2015) LSA annual meeting, Portland, Oregon | slides | paper draft | pdf

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

CLS 50, April 10, 2014 | handout

In progress

The Historical Phonology and Morphology of the Cangin Languages

Draft | pdf

Sereer Grammar

Draft (email)

Early Wolof lexical sources

Draft | pdf | xlsx

Language resources


Lexicon (download to use hyperlinks) | pdf

Catalog of CVC verb roots | xlsx

Verb paradigm | pdf


Audio recordings and fieldnotes | California Language Archive

Lexicon (download to use hyperlinks) | pdf


Audio recordings and fieldnotes | California Language Archive

Lexicon (download to use hyperlinks) | pdf

Proto-Bainunk-Kobiana-Kasanga reconstructions | pdf


List of nouns containing a historical noun class prefix | pdf

Lexical entries segmented phonemically and morphologically (based on Diouf 2003) | xlsx


Catalog of CVCC verb roots | xlsx

Sign in Ndooroong, Senegal: (a) ƭat Jiloor 'road to Djilor'