Professor Jerry Morgan

Biographical Information

Jerry Morgan was Professor of Linguistics at the University of Illinois from 1970 to 2005, when he retired. From 1991 to 1995 he was Associate Director of the Beckman Institute, and from 1996 to 1999 he was Head of the Department of Linguistics. He is now an ex-linguist, but still does linguistics his own way from time to time as a hobby, with special interests in the morphology, syntax and pragmatics of Albanian.

Professor Morgan grew up in Peoria, and spent the years after high school in the Air Force, first at Albanian language school, then as a passive COMINT spy in Germany, Italy, and occasionally Turkey, listening in on various events in Albania, looking at first for intelligence on the Soviet submarine fleet stationed briefly in Albania. After the Albanians threw the Russians out, he concentrated on the Albanian air force. He also worked from time to time on the Soviet 24th Air Army in Germany, the 37th Air Army in Poland, and various other military activities of the Soviet and Satellite military organizations. Through his intelligence work he had close-up views of the beginning of the Berlin wall, and the Cuban missile crisis, which scared the pants off him.

After leaving the US Air Force, he worked for a time in the RCA tv factory in Bloomington, Indiana, then entered Indian University as a 25-year-old freshman in 1964. Choosing Linguistics as a major because of his language-learning ability (which turned out to be of little use as a professional linguist), he graduated from Indiana with highest honors and Phi Beta Kappa in 1966. He briefly considered a job offer from the National Security Agency, but decided to accept a fellowship for graduate school at the University of Chicago, where his minimal passion for linguistics was instantly inflamed by Jim McCawley, whose work and thought and classes were a source of great excitement. He also especially remembers the summer of 1968, when he marched with Bob Binnick at the Democratic Convention, got seriously tear-gassed, and got his picture (being gassed) in the infamous Walker Report on the police riots. He finished at Chicago in 1970, though his dissertation wasn't completed until 1973.

He joined the Linguistics faculty at Illinois in 1970, where the flames ignited by Jim McCawley were fanned by other young faculty members and graduate students at Illinois, especially Chuck Kisseberth.

As the years passed he began to be disillusioned by the direction of Chomsky-inspired linguistic theory, and turned to issues of meaning and pragmatics. In the 70's he was invited to participate in efforts to build a research institute for the study of reading in education, which resulted in the Center for the Study of Reading at Illinois. His experience there convinced him of the promise of interdisciplinary research. Joining with colleagues in other departments like Bill Brewer, David Waltz, Andrew Ortony and Gerald DeJong, he worked to develop an interdisciplinary program in cognitive science and artificial intelligence. This program was later one of the central contributors to the idea of an interdisciplinary research center at Illinois, which, thanks to the leadership of Theodore Brown, led to Arnold Beckman's generous contribution of funds for the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology.

US Mail:

Department of Linguistics
University of Illinois
4088 Foreign Languages Building
707 S. Mathews
Urbana, IL 61801


The view in the background, if you're interested, is a view of the Mediterranean from one of the most beautiful places in the world, Villa sans Souci in Villefranche-sur-Mer on the French Riviera, where's he's stayed a few times, including a sabbatical in 1995. His son-in-law Eric Saint-Marc is from there.