Jason Merchant

Faculty Photo
Vice Provost for Academic Affairs; Lorna Puttkammer Straus Professor, Department of Linguistics
Rosenwald 205C/Levi 432
Office Hours: By Appointment
Linguistics Office Phone: (773) 702-8523 / Provost's Office (Assistant Janice Cobb): (773) 702-5254
PhD, University of California at Santa Cruz, 1999
Teaching at UChicago since 2001
Research Interests: Syntax, Morphology, Semantics, Legal Interpretation

Dr. Jason Merchant's primary research area is syntax and its interfaces with morphology and with semantics. Much of his work has concentrated on elliptical phenomena, and in exploring the kinds of ontological questions that ellipsis requires answers to: how there can be meaning without form, whether there are phonologically inactive words and phrases, what the representation of variables can be, and where in our theory of human grammars such elements must be posited. These issues speak to the organization of the mental lexicon, but also to questions of how varieties of meaning are represented, semantically, pragmatically, and philosophically. His primary languages of investigation are the Germanic languages and Greek, with excursions into Slavic and Romance (including fieldwork on Vlach) and others, including work with bilingual children and adults. Jointly with other colleagues, he has worked on the psycholinguistics of ellipsis, and on corpus linguistics applied to historical semantics and legal interpretation.

He has served as associate editor for Language and Natural Language and Linguistic Theory, and serves on the editorial boards of several journals and book series. He earned his B.A. in linguistics summa cum laude from Yale in 1991 and his Ph.D. in linguistics from the University of California, Santa Cruz in 1999; he has been a Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst fellow at the University of Tübingen, a Fulbright fellow at Utrecht University, and an Onassis fellow at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. He held postdoctoral fellowships at Northwestern University and the University of Groningen before joining the faculty of the University in 2001, and has taught as well at the École Normale Supérieure, Leiden University, University College London, and Konkuk University, Seoul. He has studied nineteen languages.

Recent Publications


  • The syntax of silence: Sluicing, islands, and the theory of ellipsis. 2001. Oxford University Press: Oxford.
  • Sluicing: Cross-linguistic explorations. 2012. Jason Merchant and Andrew Simpson (eds.). Oxford University Press: Oxford.
  • A reasonable way to proceed: Essays in honor of Jim McCloskey. 2018. Jason Merchant, Line Mikkelsen, Deniz Rudin, and Kelsey Sasaki (eds.). University of California eScholarship Repository.

Selected Articles/Chapters:

  • "Fragments and ellipsis." 2004. Linguistics and Philosophy 27.6:661-738.
  • "Phrasal and clausal comparatives in Greek and the abstractness of syntax." 2009. Journal of Greek Linguistics 9:49-79.
  • "Voice and ellipsis." 2013. Linguistic Inquiry 44.1: 77-108.
  • "How much context is enough? Two cases of span-conditioned stem allomorphy." 2015. Linguistic Inquiry 46.2: 273-303.
  • "On ineffable predicates: Bilingual Greek-English code-switching under ellipsis." 2015. Lingua 166B: 199-213.
  • "Roots don’t select, categorial heads do: lexical selection of PPs may vary by category." 2019. The Linguistic Review 36.3:325-341.

Recent Courses

Introduction to Linguistics (LING 20001)

This course offers a brief survey of how linguists analyze the structure and the use of language. Looking at the structure of language means understanding what phonemes, words, and sentences are, and how each language establishes principles for the combinations of these things and for their use; looking at the use of language means understanding the ways in which individuals and groups use language to declare their social identities and the ways in which languages can change over time. The overarching theme is understanding what varieties of language structure and use are found across the world's languages and cultures, and what limitations on this variety exist.

Syntax 1 (LING 30201)

This course is an introduction to basic goals and methods of current syntactic theory through a detailed analysis of a range of phenomena, with emphasis on argumentation and empirical justification. Major topics include phrase structure and constituency, selection and subcategorization, argument structure, case, voice, expletives, and raising and control structures.

Syntax/Semantics Seminar: The Syntax-Semantics Interface (LING 42200)

This seminar explores a range of topics in the syntax/semantics interface, including (a) clause structure and argument structure (including ditransitives, active/passive/middle voice, deponents, and the morphology of the verb); (b) negation, negative polarity, and negative concord; (c) temporal and aspectual morphemes and mood particles; (d) the internal structure of quantifier and noun phrases (QPs, DPs, and NPs): genitives, adjectival modification, definite reduplications, nominalizations, and partitive structures; (e) wh-structures: questions, relative clauses (including free relatives), and comparatives; (f) elliptical structures, and code-switching. The language focus will vary, though we will have as a goal the development of a considerable understanding of these issues in modern Greek in particular, but with attention to Germanic, Romance, Slavic, Albanian, Hungarian, and other languages as participant interest and expertise indicate.

Legal Interpretation and Historical Semantics: Questions and Methods (LING 41601)

This course aims to combine methodologies in research on historical jurisprudence and in theoretical and computational linguistics, with a view to understanding the meanings of words and phrases in context. We will examine theories of textual meaning from legal studies and linguistics, including originalism, textualism, common law constitutionalism, and other methods that require the interpreter to have a theory of which written sources, and which words, count for purposes of determining constitutional meaning. We will also introduce distinctions from formal semantics and pragmatics concerning the construction of meaning, and corpus-based modeling of lexical meaning (using tools such as word-sense disambiguation algorithms like the Yarowsky algorithm, and framenet semantics), as well as front-ends for using Google n-gram corpus and other techniques in lexicography and statistical meaning. We thus aim to acquaint students with these techniques and to apply them to several interpretive questions (such as those surrounding the 2nd amendment), modelling how such research can be conducted for questions of the students’ own interest.