Samuel David Epstein, Marilyn J. Shatz Collegiate Professor of Linguistics and Cognitive Science, passed away on November 29, 2019.

On Sunday, January 26, 2020, a memorial service was held in Weiser Hall to remember and celebrate the life of our colleague, Sam Epstein, who taught at U-M for 22 years.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Samuel D. Epstein Undergraduate Scholarship Fund for students with financial need. Online gifts can be made at or mailed to at LSA 101 North Main Street, Suite 850, Ann Arbor, MI 48104.

1956 - 2019

Ann Arbor, Michigan. Samuel David Epstein, the Marilyn J. Shatz Collegiate Professor of Linguistics and Cognitive Science at the University of Michigan, died at home on November 29, 2019.

Epstein was a major figure in linguistics, known for his influential theoretical work characterizing the nature of the human language capacity. His work on derivational syntax provided a foundation for the Minimalist Program, the current dominant theoretical paradigm of syntax within the field, launched initially by Noam Chomsky. Chomsky wrote that "Sam was a close friend for many years and a highly valued colleague – in fact the central figure in a group of which I was pleased to be a member working intensely and productively on crucial issues at the borders of inquiry into linguistic theory and its application. A wonderful person, a fine scholar. A painful loss, for all of us."

Epstein taught at the University of Michigan for 22 years. His distinction in teaching and mentoring was recognized by a John D'Arms Award for Excellence in Graduate Mentoring (2009) and an Arthur F. Thurnau Professorship (2013). He was instrumental in launching a program in cognitive science at Michigan which has become one of the fastest growing undergraduate majors in the College of Literature, Science and the Arts. He was the founding Director of the Weinberg Institute for Cognitive Science, established in 2014 with a gift from Marshall Weinberg (UM Philosophy, '50) of New York City.

Epstein served on the faculty at the University of Texas, Austin and Harvard University for nine years before joining the faculty at the University of Michigan in 1997. He was the son of the late Lucille Goldberger Epstein and the late Amherst College Philosophy Professor Joseph Epstein, both of Amherst MA where Sam grew up. He was a really warm and loving husband and father. He is survived by his wife, Elaine McNulty, his daughters, Molly McNulty Epstein, New York City, and Sylvie McNulty Epstein, Washington D.C., as well as his brother Joshua Epstein of NYC and sister-in-law Melissa Healy, niece Matilda Epstein and nephew Joey Epstein.