Remembering Russ Schuh

The UCLA Linguistics Department is mourning the passing of Russell Schuh, a long-time faculty member.  Russ was a distinguished field worker and Africanist who served as chair of our department  and was an important innovator in the teaching of linguistics and of African languages. We remember him for his kindness and generosity, and for his selfless capacity for hard work.

The purpose of this page is to allow members of the department (both present and past), and other friends and colleagues of Russ, to share their memories, thoughts, and digital images.  If you would like to contribute, you can send text or images to Bruce Hayes at

Russ Schuh; photo courtesy Kerry Nason

Short obituary

Distinguished Professor of Linguistics Russell Schuh passed away on November 8, 2016 after an illness of several months. Russ was a beloved colleague and outstanding member of our department in teaching, research, and service. He was an outstanding field linguist, specializing in the Chadic languages of Northern Nigeria, and undertook many field expeditions to Nigeria that led to multiple books and journal articles, documenting languages hitherto hardly studied. His theoretical work opened new insights into the typology of tone rules, and his work on sung metrics broke new ground by its close examination of quantitative meter in living languages.  His extensive website documents much of this work. Russell was an educational innovator, teaching our large Linguistics 1 course for many years, ultimately bringing it on line. Russ also invented new courses for our program and devised important teaching materials both for Hausa and linguistics instruction. He served as a devoted Chair of two departments:  Linguistics in the 1990's, and later as the last chair of Applied Linguistics.

Long obituary 

[Sources:  Personal statement and CV for a 2015 personnel action, other material on this page, input from kin. Corrections and hints for amplification are welcome. ]

Russ was born March 14, 1941 in Corvallis, Oregon and grew up in Klamath Falls, Oregon. As a child he read constantly; he also studied the clarinet and became a proficient player. He attended the University of Oregon, where he received a B.A. degree in French  in 1963, followed by an M.A. degree in French in 1964 from Northwestern  University (French) 1964. He did a year of graduate work in Linguistics at UC Berkeley the following year, then joined the Peace Corps. His posting (1965-1967) was to Agadez, Niger, where he was tasked with supervision of an adult literacy program in Agadez-Tahoua-Bilma region. He learned Hausa there. Russ later said, "as a result of my PC work in adult literacy, I had the opportunity to do (rather naive) field work, informed by my year at UCB, on Tamazhaq, where I worked with the Tamazhaq disc jockey for Radio Niger." On returning to the United States, Russ enrolled in the then-new graduate program in Linguistics at UCLA, where he received his M.A. degree in 1968. After his first year in the program, he was invited by the noted Chadicist Paul Newman to join him in a one-year fieldwork expedition to Northern Nigeria. This  proved to be the formative experience of Russ's career, the first of numerous visits to the same territory, many of them funded by Russ's prowess in winning NSF grants. For the first trip, Russ focused on the  Ngizim language, which because the basis of his 1972 Ph.D. dissertation Aspects of Ngizim Syntax, as well as a published Dictionary of Ngizim. Russ's dissertation supervisor was Paul Schachter.

After finishing his degree, Russ spent a year teaching in the department as an Acting Assistant Professor. Then off to Northern Nigeria for more fieldwork, this time under the auspices of the Centre for the Study of Nigerian Languages at Ahmadu Bayero College, Ahmadu Bello  University, Kano; the focus language was another small Chadic language, Bade.

On his return Russ joined the regular UCLA faculty, with teaching duties primarily in Hausa. He was promoted to Associate Professor with tenure in 1979, to Full Professor in 1984, and ultimately to the highest possible rank of Distinguished Professor in 2015. He served as Department Chair from 1989 to 1993.

Russ's teaching load was partly Hausa language teaching, partly the big lecture course Linguistics 1 ("Introduction to Language").  In Hausa, Russ was a steady innovator, developing projects to improve instructional quality and particular to expose students learning in America to video examples of Hausa language and culture; these are currently on line at the UCLA African language teaching site.

In 2009 the University gave up Hausa instruction and Russ suddenly found himself teaching a broad range of undergraduate courses, including phonology, sociolinguistics, and a new morphology course of his own devising. This was a lucky stroke for linguistics students, since Russ taught all these courses very well and provided them with a wealth of new problem sets and teaching materials.  He continued with Linguistics 1 on an annual basis, gradually accumulating more knowledge and skills. The final innovation was taking Linguistics 1 on line, both as a "hybrid" course (digital lectures such as this one, in-person section meetings) and as a fully-online course in summer. The latter created income, which in turn was converted to  graduate student fellowships, helping us with graduate recruitment.

Given the huge number of students he taught, Russ was widely known on campus, both for the quality of his teaching and for the rather unexpected sartorial flashiness it called forth from him. The photo below was from a  Daily Bruin article singling out smart-dressing faculty. 

Russ Schuh

Russ possessed an extraordinary level of physical vitality as a result of his conscientious training as a marathoner, where he often recorded top times for his age group; during the period of his final illness this may have helped him survive and continue his lifelong habit of efficient and productive toil.  Here is a picture of Russ finishing the Los Angeles Marathon:

Russ Schuh finishing marathon

Another hobby was music:  he was a skilled clarinetist and played (demo) the rhythmically-elusive folk music of the Balkans with UCLA students and colleagues.

Schuh playing Balkan clarinet

Russ is remembered fondly and with respect by many former students, friends, and colleagues, as the rest of this page will attest.

Remembrances and remarks

From Will Leben (11/8/16)

Russ leaves behind many outstanding contributions to African linguistics--including his widely used Hausa courses, his work on the structure of Hausa poetry, and the work on countless Chadic languages, which he pursued right up until the end.

I knew him for over 50 years, and no doubt like the many other colleagues and students who loved him and learned from him, am feeling very diminished by this loss.

From Laura McPherson (11/8/16)

Yesterday evening, when I heard of his passing, I broke down and cried. I was with friends, waiting for election results to come in. After pulling myself together, sharing some memories of him, I proposed a toast: "To Russ. Data first." Russ was one of the reasons I was so excited to come to UCLA after a year of fieldwork in Mali. He understood not only my data and my questions but also my experiences and my passion for the region. He provided a sense of continuity after my time in the field, even in small gestures, like hearing him make the closed-mouth click of West African back-channeling during talks and seminars. Throughout my career as a grad student, I knew I could always count on him to hold me accountable to my data and keep an open mind on questions of theory---as my toast proposed, data first. But beyond his incredible gifts as a linguist, educator, and advisor, Russ was an exemplary role model as a human being. He was kind. He was generous. He was caring. He was someone I could always talk to, in good times and in bad. My heart is broken. Our field has lost a great man. But he will live on in the work he has produced and us, his students and his colleagues. I am proud to have counted Russ as my co-chair, colleague, and friend. 

From Bruce Hayes (11/9/16)

I admired Russ and was friendly with him for decades, but, oddly, did not really get to know him well until about the last three years of his life. In 2013, when I had just started out as Department Chair, Russ "rescued" me bureaucratically, by taking on a difficult and time-consuming task (Chair of Applied Linguistics) that the  Deans were proposing to give to me. I felt really grateful and relieved by Russ's generosity in stepping in. Thereafter, we worked closely together on administrative issues, and it was wonderful to have such a supportive and thoughtful colleague to rely on.  It was at this point that Russ and I started collaborating on our teaching and research:  we co-taught a research seminar on sung and spoken metrics, from which emerged a joint paper on the meter of the Hausa rajaz and how it is sung. We often worked side by side, a geezer-pair teaching ourselves new skills in Praat and statistical analysis. We finished the paper in Russ's dining room, two weeks before he died, and I found it comforting to receive this firm evidence that Russ's mind remained incisive to the very end. I always felt happy, and somehow restored, after doing work together with Russ, even when the work was demanding and tiring.  Like so many, I will miss him a  lot.

From Larry Hyman (11/9/16)

I am greatly saddened at the loss of my dear friend and colleague, Russ Schuh, with whom I have had close ties since we first met in Tom Penchoen’s Berber seminar in Spring quarter 1968. We not only took courses together (including three quarters of second year Igbo with Prof. Wm. E. Welmers), but often emailed, got together, and talked, ultimately on three continents (a meeting in Kano in 1974 was particularly memorable). I also have known Maxine for almost as long: As I reminisced with her moments ago on the phone, I was invited by another classmate, Danny Alford, to a dinner with Russ and Maxine right after they had just gotten married in 1968. They were so visibly happy together such that it always was a joy also to see Maxine, including a visit to Berkeley at the time of Ian Maddieson’s retirement party in 2006 (see photograph).Schuh at 2006 retirement party for Maddieson

As everyone knows. Russ was a great Hausaist and scholar of comparative Chadic, theoretically always with it, always applying his field discoveries to descriptive and historical issues of both Chadic and general linguistic interest. We were very fortunate to communicate by aerogram in Nigeria in summer 1970 when I was in Minna and Russ in Potiskum. It turned out to be one of the many times that we both fixated on something that we couldn’t put down—in this case, tone: I was so taken by Gwari, and Russ enamored with Ngizim. I remember the aerogram he wrote in response to something I had spotted, “Yes! Isn’t it amazing what you can do with two tones?” (Well, to be honest, I had a mid tone and he had a downstep.) That discussion continued when we returned to UCLA in the Fall of 1971 and ultimately produced our co-authored article “Universals of tone rules: Evidence from West Africa” (which we published first as a Stanford Universals working paper in 1972, then in Linguistic Inquiry in 1974).

And we kept talking. Just a few weeks ago we went over some African stuff together comparing our views on things. It was always so exciting to talk with Russ, a true Africanist linguist who let himself be guided by the great discoveries he made in the field. Each time I came down to UCLA I never failed to go first to Russ’ office where there often was a student, an African language consultant, or both. We would talk and laugh and ultimately come up with something to agree or (slightly) disagree on.

Russ also loved to teach. Whether it was Hausa or a seminar, or something in between, he always delighted in sharing his excitement. This may have been most obvious when he showed me his first powerpoint lectures in Linguistics 1 (he was proud of his teaching evaluations too!). On one visit he showed me how he utilized the medium to maximum effect: He would ask the students, “What is the longest word in the English language?” When a student would answer, “antidisestablishmentarianism”, he would respond, “Oh yeah? Why not this?” And then he would play Julie Andrews singing “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” from Mary Poppins. After showing me some of his other slides, he then added, “And when they seem to be falling asleep, I do this”, again playing Mary Poppins’ Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious! Both when I first started teaching at USC in 1971, and many years later when we compared our experiences in teaching undergraduate phonology and morphology, he shared his wonderful handouts and problem sets (of which he also was rightfully very proud). I use some of them even to this day!

I was so impressed by Russ’ field research in Yobe State, Nigeria, that I invited him up to Berkeley in March 2011 to share his experiences with members of my graduate field methods class. With typical modesty he wrote me on March 28, 2011, “I’ll come with lots of show-and-tell, and maybe there will be a thread in there somewhere.” It was a knock-out performance. He started by saying, “I don’t like to do elicitation.” “Oh,” someone said, “You like doing field work?” He responded, “No, I don’t like to do field work.” At this point we were getting a little intrigued. I then asked, wondering what was left, “Oh, so you like to work with texts?” “No,” he replied, “I don’t like working with texts.” At that point one of the students intervened: “Well, what DO you like to do?” “Let me show you,” he answered, and we were treated to an amazing powerpoint demonstration of the group meetings he would organize in Yobe State with the native speakers, how he would get them to do the lexical work themselves, taking him around the town or village and into the local museum, where the speaker would explain to him in Hausa what each tool or other item was, how it was used, where it came from. The result was all of those dictionaries that he made sure to have published locally so that they could be affordable and hence acquired and used within the different communities. It was so impressive! Although this was undoubtedly over five years ago, I have kept talking about that visit—both to him, and to anyone else I could corner to tell the story, always adding that I wanted to bring him back again.

Both the 2011 presentation and Russ’ and Maxine’s visit up for the Ianfest in 2006 were most memorable. I tried many times to get him to come back, but never succeeded. So I had to make do with my own infrequent visits to Los Angeles and to our emails and other contacts. Up until the end we emailed off and on, but the highlight of this period occurred a couple of months ago when I phoned him before leaving for France, thinking we’d talk five or ten minutes, but instead had a wonderful hourlong reiminsence and talk about all kinds of things, including his love of beer and brandy (which he had had to give up), punctuated by laughter on both sides, and the obvious feeling of deep mutual friendship and admiration. As I have told a number of people both before and after last night, when I learned of Russ’ passing, “I loved that  guy!".

From Kerry Nason

I met Professor Schuh at UCLA several years ago, when he approached our online education department with an idea to convert his Linguistics 1 course to an online class. These were the early days of online education, and Russ enthusiastically volunteered to be a pioneer in the field. We ran the idea by our superiors, and they unequivocally supported it. I remember one commented that Russ was one of the workhorses of the university, an eminently decent person who cared deeply for undergraduate teaching. Our work with Russ on his Linguistics 1 class turned out to be one of the highlights of our program, both pedagogically and personally. Russ was a delight to work with, never shying away from hard work, and often taking on extra responsibilities to relieve our workload or the TAs’.  His online class has educated over 2,000 students so far, and through a gift of generosity and foresight, he gave the department permission to continue to offer the class after his passing.  Russ was also a great champion and supporter of our program, and he always volunteered willingly when we needed an advocate from the faculty to speak on our behalf. We will miss his kind spirit, his fair and firm approach to his students, his boldly-colored socks, his pride in his grandchildren (and their language acquisition skills!), his wry sense of humor, and the example he set of hard work and dedication to his vocation.

You may preview the Linguistics 1 online course here and see a demonstration of Russ’s video lectures here. The photo [see top of page; webmaster] is the one he gave us for the course website, and we always thought it captured Russ’s spirit beautifully.

From Ian Maddieson, 11/10/16

Russ Schuh: A Tribute

Russ was one of the best friends I have ever had. We were first of all running buddies, but also fellow linguists who shared an obsession with hard data, and fellow congenital sceptics who tended to doubt any accepted dogma.

Back in the mid 1970’s the US was overtaken by a ‘running craze’. Many of us who had been athletes in high school were caught up in this enthusiasm and it became a defining part of our lives. For 24 years while I was at UCLA Russ and I would regularly run together two or three times a week, sometimes with others — especially with the third ‘musketeer’ John Hayes before he moved on to Berkeley — and talk about the marvels of language, about Africa, of political absurdities, the mysteries of the human body, and life in all its splendors and travails.

 Russ and I ran a number races together from 5k to a marathon, and Russ completed almost all the the annual editions of the Los Angeles Marathon right up to 2015. He never really understood my enthusiasm for races beyond the marathon distance, but in 1997 when I was challenging to complete the Western States 100 mile run for the tenth time under 24 hours he yielded to my entreaties and joined my crew of pacers and supporters.  With their help I succeeded. I went up to collect my award and turned around to see the whole crew — women included — standing wearing false beards and moustaches in imitation of my natural ones. Russ stood tall above the others and the image is ingrained in my memory as a symbol of his friendship.

 In 1994 Russ and I took a memorable field trip together to Ghana. Our trip started at the University of Ghana at Legon. All the students and faculty were then on strike because of budget cuts, but American exchange students from various universities were there and starved of attention. Russ and I met with them and then retreated across the main road outside the campus to a bar in the dimly-lit informal village that had grown up there. Sharing a Star beer, looking up at the moonlit sky, listening to the loud croaking of bullfrogs. A time to treasure, along with many others.

From Olga Ivanova, Lecturer in Swahili, 11/10/16

It is with deep sadness that I received the news about Russ passing. I would like to express my heartfelt condolences to his family, friends, colleagues and students. It was a great honor to have known Russ as my advisor and mentor. He was truly special for how kindly and generously he was sharing his care, knowledge and great sense of humor. He will be missed by many.

From Merrill Posnansky, Professor Emeritus, History and Anthropology

I knew Russ from the time I came to UCLA in 1977. He was a very active and interested Africanist. I was Chair of the African Studies Advisory Committee from 1982-88 and Director of the James S.Coleman African Studies Center from 1988-92. I could always rely on Russ for support and Counsel. He was a committee member for several of the MA students for whom I was Chair of their committees. He contributed more to advise these students than was normal. We had a close collaboration when we started the UC Education Abroad summer programs in Togo, Russ served as director twice to very good effect and was a great ambassador for our university. He very ably helped UCLA to remain high in the rankings of African Studies Centers and played a key role in developing African language classes as summer schools and keeping students informed of fellowships available to cover their cost both at the annual and summer level.

I was astounded by his hard work everyday he was either first person to park in Lot 5 or early ,on a daily basis,in the top three. Even when I came in at 7.20 his Volkswagen van was already there. We had many interesting conversations talking about the travails of our respective daughters.  Russ certainly was a very proud and attentive father. I was also impressed by how he always kept fit. He certainly lived a full life with a great attachment to his family.

When I director of the Center I could always count on Russ to help entertain some of our guests, particularly from Francophone West Africa. he often knew their languages. He was regarded as a goto sort of guy with no pretensions. I shall miss him as I know will many colleagues and I send my deepest condolences to his family.

Schuh himself

1. Russ can be heard speaking about his methods and projects in language teaching in a 2008 video now on YouTube:

2. He can be heard given an online linguistics lecture here (thanks to Kerry Nason).

3. A curriculum vitae from 2014.  CV's can be dry reading, but this one is quite informative, with listings of all the fieldwork trips Russ took, and his many NSF grants.

4. He addressed his colleagues about his illness in an email sent April 4, 2016. 

Dear friends,

In late Winter Quarter 2016, I was diagnose with metastatic melanoma.  I have undergone every kind of scan known to oncology and I have many wondrous views of my body parts. In a full-body PET scan on March 25, my body lit up like a Christmas tree with hot spots. In short, my days are numbered and the numbers probably are not very big. I am sharing this with the whole department to save some of you who know more than others the discomfort of not being sure what you should and should not be talking about.

In 2010, I had a melanoma removed from my right shoulder.  All indications following the surgery and in subsequent examinations indicated that I was cancer free. The current situation emerged as what I thought was just sciatica in my right pelvic joint, a condition that I have experienced many times and which I attributed to overdoing it while running. Unlike sciatica, which generally clears up in a few days, the pain got worse and worse, such that I finally got an appointment in Physical Medicine at Kaiser. Based on the symptoms, the doc diagnosed it as spinal stenosis—a narrowing of the spinal column—but an MRI revealed major spinal lesions. On March 5th, I spent the morning reading student papers, took an early afternoon codger nap, and awoke to find that I couldn’t read. Some self-diagnosis revealed that I had no vision in my right visual field: if I focused on someone’s nose, I saw only the left side of the face; if I closed my right eye, still only the left side of the face; if I closed the left eye, still only the left side of the face—a very bizarre sensation! CT scans of the brain revealed tumors in the brain impinging on the left occipital area. Other MRIs, CT, and PET scans tell similar stories. They have zapped the main lesions in my brain and back with radiosurgery, and I will be undergoing periodic immunotherapy, the idea of which is to stimulate my own immune system to slow the growth of cancer cells, but slowing is all it will do.

As I said, I am writing this basically to fill in the story for those who might be interested. I don’t have much sympathy with people who feel compelled to spill their guts in step-by-step blogs about their “battle with cancer”. I will not be spamming you with updates, though this is not something that I feel uncomfortable talking about if you want to ask about it in person. 

I was born an atheist and remain one, but different things are meaningful to different people. My wife is a devout Catholic. My brother and his family are born-again Christans. Most of my friends in Nigeria are devout Muslims. I appreciate their holding me in their thoughts in ways that are meaningful to them, and the same goes for all of you.

I consider myself an amazingly fortunate person. I have had a wonderful family. I don’t know what I did to deserve a wife like Maxine. There could not possibly have been a more wonderful place to work and a group of more wonderful colleagues than I have found in the UCLA Linguistics Department.  For someone who does NOT crave adventure, my life, through various twists and turns, turned out to be hugely adventurous and exotic.

This message is sounding sort of like I am already dead. Who knows? Maybe a year from now, I will have to dust it off and rewrite it, though that seems unlikely. My main regrets:  there is a rather long list of items on my bucketlist that I will have to cross off, and I lament a bunch of unfinished business that I will surely be leaving behind for my family and you, my colleagues, to clean up.

For the moment, I actually feel great. Opioids work wonders both for mood and physical comfort! I am expecting to finish out teaching this quarter (I'm only doing 120A), and I am looking forward to making the Department another pot of money with online summer Linguistics 1. After that, we will see. What I ask is that we interact in the ways that we always have—smile and say, “Hi!” No pitying looks or lugubrious thoughts. .

 Be happy about good stuff!

Your friend and colleague,


Russ indeed endured his illness with the courage -- and intellectual curiosity -- that this email attests. As promised, he did finish his spring course, and also the summer course that has become so important to our department's functioning. There are few silver linings for people dying of cancer, but one of them is the chance to inspire your colleagues and teach them by example.  I certainly felt inspired by Russ's last few months, and will try to emulate him if this ever happens to me.  -bh

From Khalil Alio, 11/11/16

Dear Bruce,
I learnt the death of Professor Russel Schuh through the African Studies Center. Please extend my sincere codolences to the bereaved family. May his soul rest in peace. I was a Fulbright scholar in 2004 and had worked with him. I still remeber a very nice person.
University of N'Djamena
Chad Republic

from Zygmunt Frajzyngier, 11/11/16

Dear Bruce,
I first met Russ when he was still a grad. student at UCLA. I very much appreciated his contributions to the study of Hausa,  Ngizim, and Bole. His passing is the loss for our discipline.

from Philippe Schlenker, 11/11/16

Russ was a delightful colleague when I was at UCLA between 2002 and 2007, and he set a wonderful example by his dedication to teaching. Under his watch, Linguistics 1 ran like clockwork, with evaluations he was rightly proud of. Our Ling1-related interaction was prolonged years after I left UCLA, when my Paris group worked on primate communication: Russ was eager to learn about our results, and we soon exchanged all sorts of articles and links (Russ was still thinking about improving Ling1!). I also recall delightful conversations pertaining to more ‘mainstream’ topics: Russ had very interesting data on conditionals in Yobe languages, which in effect argued for a connection between conditionals and definite descriptions.  Although our specializations were very different, the exchange was immediately productive, and made it into print.

 Russ was always a remarkably modest, helpful and interesting interlocutor, and his presence will be missed at UCLA and in the broader academic world.

from Jieun Kim,  11/11/16

How can I express what kind of a role Russ did in my life in a single word? I cannot. He is officially my advisor who signed up in my thesis but he is not definitely just an advisor. He has been my dad (appa, I am sure that he wants to this to be written in Korean letter), my true mentor and my best friend who understands my humor best.
I first met him in his office because of his request for Korean tutoring in my first year at graduate school in UCLA linguistics department. Although his Korean speaking was far from being fluent, I was deeply impressed by his insightful analysis on Korean data and his pure enthusiasm toward learning a new language, finding beautiful underlying rules of languages, and doing a linguistic research on them. I can truly confess that I could learn from him how big pleasure a linguist can get through languages. He seemed to genuinely enjoy academia. There is an old saying in Korean that says “Nobody can beat the one who enjoys it”. I am well aware of the objective fact he is one of the most renowned scholar in his field and can be assured why he could be in his position. I have seen nobody who enjoys one’s work more than anything like him. I am truly and deeply saddened by his loss but on the other hand, the fact that he could do what he really enjoyed up to the last moments makes me feel somehow relieved. 

Russ, you and Maxine are my US dad and mom. I had a second life in the US and thank you so much for becoming my parents. I will never forget the enjoyable moments that I had home-stayed in your house. Our weekly dinner-outs, having a glass of wine and chatting about stupid things, reading the funniest thing in the world (sadly, it was my thesis) after dinner and numerously many memories of you and your family are still wandering around in my head every day. 

I am so sad and cannot be unsad for a while. My appa, please have a good rest there. I will miss you so much.

from Ed Keenan,  11/11/16

Hi Russ: I’m rereading your grammar of Miya.  I asked you a few questions about it once,  but perhaps never told you in so many words that I enjoyed it.  In any event it is a very worthy work – clear, informative, readable.  It outlives you and will outlive the rest of us as well.  Your friend and colleague, Ed Keenan

from Donka Minkova, 11/12/16

Russ and I met in March 1978 at the International Historical Morphology Conference in Boszkowo, Poland, when his name-tag said Professor, UCLA. He was the first person from UCLA I had ever met and I cherish the memory of his gentle, friendly, non-condescending interaction with those of us who only had a Ms. or Mr. on their name tags. He was already an intrepid jogger, unfazed by cold drizzle, mud, and fog. I didn’t understand much beyond the basic premise of his paper on paradigmatic displacement in Chadic languages and he patiently went over it, and went on to inquire about Bulgarian folk music. After I came to UCLA as a visiting lecturer in ’83 Russ was
always a model of kindness, collegiality, work ethic; it seemed to me that there was never a time when his beloved VW was not in Lot 5 before or after I got there. Russ was always finding new and challenging goals and he was a perfectionist in everything he did. He enjoyed Balkan music to the full ( [Note: in addition to Russ you will also hear our grad student Kristine Yu, ethnomusicology professor Tim Rice, and the UCLA Balkan music teacher, Ivan Varimezov - ed.] We didn’t share anecdotes from trips to Bulgaria. He was a seasoned world traveler, yet I am sure that there was much that surprised him, but for him these surprises were a source of joy and delight, an incentive to learn more. It hurts to think that his recent sally into the metrics of Bulgarian folk song and poetry, where his incredible ability to deal with hard primary data shines again, may remain unfinished. Russ’ exemplary dedication and generosity to his department and his colleagues is well known, but I would be remiss not to mention the sigh of relief around the big CAP [UCLA's Committee on Academic Personnel - ed.] table in the 1990s when Russ’s chair letters reached us. His personnel cases were presented and analyzed in great detail, fully substantiated, in clear prose; he was proud of his department and he made the department proud. He took on new administrative duties for Applied Linguistics out of dedication and loyalty to academic relatives. He never drew a line separating his own family from his Campbell Hall family, and my deepest sympathies go to both.

From Eleonor Glewwe, 11/12/16

I never had much close interaction with Russ until my third year, when my work on tonal assignment in loanword adaptation and my work on polar tone in Efik led me to his office in search of more data. Russ was welcoming and boundlessly willing to be helpful. He shared his corpus of Kanuri loanwords in Ngizim with me as well as some fascinating data sets. My favorite memory of Russ has nothing to do with linguistics, though. The department Georgian chorus rehearses every Friday in the conference room in Campbell Hall. Russ seemed to enjoy hearing us sing from his nearby office, or at least he never complained about us. One day, some workmen left the new window-door in the conference room unlocked with a stepladder in front of it. When we arrived for chorus, we all climbed out the window onto the adjacent rooftop and wandered around for a bit. As we tumbled back into the conference room through the window, Russ walked in and joked that he was going to call the cops on us. He'd witnessed our little rooftop escapade from his office window.

From Ivano Caponigro, 11/13/16

Russ, for me, was and is a model in terms of teaching dedication, work ethic, and the generosity in sharing intellectual and pedagogical achievements. As a graduate student at UCLA, I was his teaching assistant for his own version of Introduction to the Study of Language (LING 1). That was the experience that taught me how linguistics can be presented in an exciting way to hundreds of young minds who know nothing about it. The first class I taught as an instructor – a summer version of LING 1 – was entirely Russ’s. I will be forever grateful for the generosity with which he shared his wisdom and advice, and all his teaching materials (including tests and exams).

Over the summer, I asked him if he was willing to meet to share his memories of UCLA in the second half of the 60s and early 70s for my biography of Richard Montague. That was the time when the two of them overlapped at UCLA – Russ as a young graduate student in linguistics, Montague as a professor in the philosophy department. I was hesitant to bug him because I had heard about his health, but his reaction was even more generous and enthusiastic than usual. He invited me to his place and I drove from San Diego to meet with him on September 9. We spent three wonderful hours together. I invited him to start with the story of how he discovered linguistics and decided to become a linguist. It was so fascinating and inspiring to hear Russ speak with such passion and excitement about his beginnings and the beginning of the UCLA linguistics department that I am taking the liberty of sharing those minutes of the audio recording of our conversation. [ed.:  click here for Ivano's mp3 file]

Four weeks ago, despite his declining health, Russ wrote me a very nice message to tell me he had found materials from the 60s in his archive that he thought would be useful for my biography and that he had decided to mail them to me. He even thanked me for the visit! I received his great materials just a few days later and thanked him warmly, promising I would visit him again next time I was in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to keep that promise. Thank you for everything, Russ. 

From Lisa Washington-Sow, 11/13/16

Professor Schuh had an incredible positive impact on my life and career in Africa.  I will never forget the passion and energy he brought to our Hausa lessons back in 1987-- he brought the love of Africa and excitement and anticipation of a Peace Corps volunteer (many RPCVs we were in the class) in such a way that made us long for our next class as if returning to our villages while on campus.  In 1988 when I proposed learning Wolof in preparation for travel to Senegal, he embraced the opportunity to expand his linguistic expertise to a new language-- eventually making valuable contributions in documentation of the Wolof language. He was instrumental in my completing my M.A degrees in African Studies and Urban Planning.

Prof Schuh encouraged me in my commitment to a long term career and life and Africa.  I will never forget sharing drinks with him at the Lagoon II restaurant in Dakar-- and his words of support for my husband and I in our plans to start our lives in Senegal.  In the 23 years, since we last met, my husband and I have 3 grown children and have worked in 4 African countries but remain committed to making positive contributions to the African continent. May Prof Schuh and his beautiful spirit rest in everlasting peace!

Lisa Washington-Sow-MAAS/Urban planning, 1990

From Robert Kirsner, 11/13/16

Among many things about Russ which I gratefully remember was his willingness to include a segment of the Dutch evening TV news broadcast in an Introduction to Language course many years ago.

Robert Kirsner, Professor Emeritus of Dutch and Afrikaans

From Phil Jaggar, 11/13/16

Russ Schuh was one of the most influential Africanist linguists of his generation, and the leading contemporary Chadic linguist. Russ made an enormous contribution to our field, and qualified as a world-class scholar by any measure. There are few, if any, empirically-oriented linguists who have published such consistently high-quality works over such a period of time (almost 50 years). His publications span an enormous scientific and geographical range,  with reference grammars, dictionaries, articles etc. on a variety of languages stretching across the whole of west Africa, from Nigeria to Senegal. Russ’ descriptive-analytical works remain models of clarity, and he had the enviable ability to transfer ideas/thoughts directly to his computer with little or no subsequent editing, a capacity which helps explain his prodigious output. He was always willing to openly share his work with colleagues, and always responded to requests to read materials with remarkable speed, offering detailed and insightful comments.

 In the middle of all this research, and with his language students' interests and progress in mind, Russ somehow found time to prepare a number of valuable teaching aids, some of which  are used in classrooms around the world. They include a number of multimedia-based materials (computer-assisted exercises, videos, etc.) which are, in my opinion as a fellow Hausa-language teacher, by far the best for any sub-Saharan language.
On a more personal note, Russ and I go back to the late 60’s, when we were both in northern Nigeria, where he was doing fieldwork on Chadic languages. He later encouraged me to join the graduate programme in the UCLA Linguistics Department, where he supervised my PhD (1981-84). One of my abiding memories is of a student who commented on his ‘luminous green socks’ in her evaluation! What you saw is what you got with Russ.

Some time this autumn I sent Russ a draft of a paper, more as a courtesy than anything, to signal to him that he was in my thoughts. In no time at all back came a brief response, apologizing for not being able to read articles any more, just short texts, and joking that the Hausa text-to-speech programme he was using was largely unintelligible (‘had a terrible accent’). This summed up the man. There he was, close to the end of his wonderful life, totally reliable, still taking the trouble to respond and maintaining a sense of humour. A fine man, a great scholar. Russ, we’re gonna miss ya Mate, luminous green socks and all!

Phil Jaggar

From Vrinda Chidambaram, 11/15/16

[These were the remarks Vrinda made at Russ's memorial gathering, 11/13/16.  See also picture in the next item -- ed.]

Kurt Vonnegut in an interview was once asked whether he believed in original sin. And he responded by saying "Well, I call attention to original virtue, because some people are born to be nice, and they’re gonna be nice all their lives, no matter what."

I think Russ was endowed with original virtue.

I had a lot of anxiety about teaching at UCLA. I was hired to teach a course that (I think I can safely admit this now!) I was totally unprepared and unqualified to teach, but even when I was teaching courses in my own specialization, I so often questioned whether I was doing anything right at all. But I always knew that after a class that had gone poorly or before a class that I felt might not go well, I could hop down to Russ’s 2nd floor office, and he would stop whatever he was doing to talk to me and encourage me. And as someone who had earned every right to be self-applauding, Russ was anything but.

More often than not, when I came to him seeking advice about teaching, he would start by grinning and saying something along the lines of “Vrinda, I don’t really know what I’m doing; I just try stuff and see if it works or if it doesn’t.” And that is a pretty striking and touching sentiment from a professor who has been teaching very successfully for 50 years. At first, I was dismayed and disheartened by it, thinking “Well, Russ, if you don’t know, who does???” And maybe that was his point. Looking back and remembering that smile that came across his face, it seems indeed that was his point after all. And I think those words exemplified Russ in a lot of ways. It’s true: he was always trying new things. He just was never inert and never satisfied with ‘good enough’.

In music he was the same. Russ played a mean clarinet. But it’s funny how he was always self-critical; he aspired to professional mastery and wasn’t satisfied when he considered his ability fell short. And yet he never ever criticized anyone else for falling short. I remember there was this one song, Jove Malaj Mome; I just could not find the starting pitch. Bulgarian songs tend to have these very long and complex instrumental intros (called отсвири, in Bulgarian) that can go for sometimes 5 minutes before the singing even starts. So, Russ, Aaron, and Jerry would play this really complicated отсвир and then I would inevitably sing this horrible wrong note (I sounded like Tarzan swinging in, oscillating between several notes, none of which were the right one), and we would have to start all over again from the top. But there was no collective sigh, even though there probably should have been. And it was Russ who came up with a solution: he said he would play the precise note that I should start on directly into my ear just before I would start to sing. I kind of thought he was joking. But then after that beautiful instrumental intro, Russ peered at me over the rims of his glasses and honked that note into my ear. And as silly as it felt, it worked. And when we finally performed that song at the Wilde Thistle Café, Russ honked, and I hit that note.

Russ was a real renaissance man (an athlete, a musician, and a scholar, and I’m probably missing things), constantly pushing himself toward excellence. And gently (maybe not even intentionally) pulling those of us lucky enough to be around him in that direction, too. Thanks, Russ. I will always be grateful I knew you and benefited from your original virtue.

From Meng Yang, 11/14/16

Meng sent a picture of Russ performing Balkan music with Vrinda Chidambaram, now a Professor at UC Riverside. Vrinda, an outstanding singer, taught Linguistics 1 and other courses for us as a Lecturer; Russ was her mentor as well as co-performer.  Vrinda delivered an eloquent tribute to Russ at his memorial gathering yesterday, 11/13/16, which is posted as the item immediately above.

Russ Schuh performing Balkan music with Vrinda Chidambaram

From Ahmed Mohammed Bedu, 11/14/16

Dear Prof Bruce,

It is sad to learn that Professor Russell G. Schuh of Linguistics Dept. UCLA., has passed away. I remember my first interaction with Russ was in 2000 when he shared his unpublished manuscript of Ngizim language grammar with me that helped me to produce one of the best undergraduate research projects in the Faculty of Arts, Department of Languages and Linguistics, University of Maiduguri.

From 2002- 2009, I had much close interaction with Professor Schuh when  I served as his Research Assistant in Yobe Languages Research Project sponsored by Grant from the US National Science Foundation (award number BCS-0111289 and BCS-05553222) to document languages spoken in Yobe State, Nigeria. I will be forever grateful for Russ’s generosity in grooming me to master the arts of linguistic fieldwork throughout the period of Yobe Languages Research Project.

Another indelible memory of Russ has to do with a recommendation letter that earned me job with Alma Mater University of Maiduguri, Nigeria. His words:

Mr Bedu has shown himself to be hard-working and reliable, and the services provided by him in documenting the Ngizim and Hausa languages have satisfactory in every respect.

Please feel free to contact Russell G. Schuh for further information at the addresses at the bottom of this letter…..      

 We have lost a scholar and linguist par excellent.

Adieu my mentor, Prof. Schuh known as Malam Takalmi among Hausa speaking community, Malam Sono and Malam Takah among Ngizim and Bole-speaking communities respectively.

Ahmed Mohammed Bedu
Ph.D Research Fellow,
Department of Western Languages and Literature,
Süleyman Demirel University
Isparta, Turkey

Group of scholars researching Ngizim language

In the attached picture, L to R:  Prof. Alhaji Maina Gimba, Muhammad Adamu, Russell Schuh, Joseph Ya'u, late Usman Garba, Ahmed Baidu during Yobe languages research project in 2007.

From Margit Bowler, 11/15/16

Russ was the very first faculty member at UCLA who I interacted with as a grad student here. I arrived at the department feeling very lost after spending six months in the Australian outback doing fieldwork. I brought a huge amount of Warlpiri data with me, and I had a vague idea of a project I wanted to do with it, but I was intimidated and wasn't sure where to begin. However, my project seemed to be on morphology, and I heard that Russ liked morphology, so I emailed him out of the blue during my first week as a grad student. Even though he didn't work on Australian languages and had no idea who I was, or even any guarantee that I would be any good, Russ enthusiastically agreed to supervise an independent study with me. Once he learned that I was also from Oregon (albeit from a different side of the state than him), he approved of me even more.

My meetings with Russ were my favorite part of my first quarter at UCLA. He understood the challenges of maintaining ties with one's fieldwork community from overseas, and the "culture shock" I was experiencing after being thrown into the university environment after so many months of living in the field. (I should add that the project I worked on with Russ was eventually published as a book chapter, and later formed the basis of a conference proceedings paper as well.) Russ and I stayed in touch after the independent study was over; I always liked running into him in the hall and chatting about fieldwork and life.

Russ and I exchanged emails in April 2016, after he had officially announced his illness. He wrote to me, "I am glad that we got to know each other from the beginning." I am too. Thank you for everything, Russ. We will all miss you.

From Timothy Rice, 11/16/16

I first met Russell when I was on an Academic Senate review team and he chaired the Linguistics Department. He impressed me then as clear-sighted and honest in his assessment of the department, and I was amazed to hear of his dedication to field research, including annual trips to Nigeria. Later he joined me and others in the Balkan music ensemble in the Department of Ethnomusicology and for many years threw himself with great panache into the playing of this demanding music. I posted this note to our department's website:

"Professor Schuh was a dedicated clarinetist in the Balkan ensemble for many years. He traveled with the ensemble to Bulgaria, where we appeared on Bulgarian television and in many concert halls and festivals. He was a great spirit, and he will be very much missed by all who knew him."

I would like to offer my sincerest condolences to his family and colleagues around the university, whose many warm remembrances of Russ grace this web page.

—Timothy Rice, UCLA Distinguished Professor of Ethnomusicology

From Chacha Mwita, 11/17/16

Fare thee well Prof. Russ Schuh
To us, your students, you were a brave warrior
Always modest and 'cool' even to your students
You did not know how to say, "That is wrong."
Instead when a student did not transcribe a tone correctly
you said, "Let us keep on trying until we get it right."
We loved you, but God loved you more.
Rest in eternal peace.

Leonard Chacha Mwita

Russ Schuh and Chacha Mwita at Ph.D. ceremony

Chacha, now a professor in Kenya, sent this picture showing himself with his adviser Russ Schuh at the 2008 UCLA Ph.D. hooding ceremony.

From Matt Gordon, 11/18/16

I really enjoyed chances I had to talk with Russ. I appreciated how I could just show up at his office door (both during my grad school years and then later on my visits back to the department) and ask him questions about Hausa or Bole phonology. He invariably had a wealth of interesting data at his control, often providing much more than I had hoped for. Russ was very kind and always easy to chat with. I'll miss seeing him when I visit UCLA.

from Ivan and Tzvetanka Varimezov, 11/23/16

We sincerely mourn the loss of our colleague, musician, and friend Russ Schuh. He was an important representative of Balkan music in Los Angeles as a longtime performer on clarinet in the UCLA Balkan Ensemble. We will miss his sense of humor, his clarinet, and his smile. Rest in peace, dear friend.

Ivan and Tzvetanka Varimezovi,
Directors of Balkan Ensemble, UCLA

Russ Schuh playing Balkan music

from Paul Newman, 11/25/16

Way back in 1969, I invited Russ Schuh, on the recommendation of Bob Stockwell, to join Roxana Newman and me in northern Nigeria on a Chadic fieldwork project. (Russ’s research on Ngizim became the basis of his UCLA Ph.D. dissertation.) And thus began an association that flourished and grew increasingly significant to both of us over the years, as scholarly colleagues and close friends. It is fitting that Russ’s final publication for 2016—he still has a few works in press—was a joint Hausa/Chadic paper that we wrote (Paul Newman and Russell G. Schuh. 2016. “Hausa language names and ethnonyms,” Journal of African Languages and Linguistics 37(2): 185–200). If one had to put a percentage on our individual participations in the paper it is fair to say that in terms of ideas, analysis, and writing, each of us contributed some 60% (!), the result being an article that was much better than had either of us written it alone. When we finished the paper, I commented that given our many years of involvement in Chadic, it was surprising that this was only the second joint paper we had ever produced (the other being an early 1974 article on the Hausa aspectual system). Russ corrected me, stating in his matter-of-fact way, “Not true: maybe only one name appears on our papers, but in reality much of our best work has been “joint” in that it drew on essential input from the other of us.” Russ, of course, was right.

These past few years, in addition to his full teaching load, his online course preparations, and numerous writing projects, Russ had been working on a massive, comprehensive Chadic volume intended for the Cambridge Language Surveys series (the “green” books). Tragically, for Russ personally and for Chadic and Afroasiatic scholarship, at the time of his death, this work remained unfinished. With the hope of making his invaluable drafts of chapters, research notes, and outline concepts available, I have taken on the daunting task of editing these materials. My goal is to transform Russ’s mass of computer files, some in better shape than others, into a coherent book to be posted online, open access. With judicious formatting, cleaned-up examples and tables, and references and index, it will be more than an archival collection of manuscript pages: it will be a book. It unfortunately will be an unfinished work, but a book it will be. The volume, tentatively titled A Treasure Trove of Comparative Chadic, won’t be exactly what Russ would have wanted, but it will be an important work that he would have been proud of, and one that will reflect his scholarly standing as a Chadic linguist of the first order.
In terms of personality, Russ and I couldn’t have been more different; on the other hand, when it came to scientific values and worldview, we were always on the same wavelength. Among our common interests was music, which partially explains our fascination with tone in the languages we studied. Apart from his active involvement in Balkan music, Russ and I shared a love for good, straight-ahead jazz. So, when Russ stayed with us in Bloomington for a few weeks in the summer of 2015, Roxana made sure to take a picture of us next to the Hoagy Carmichael sculpture on the IU campus. There is Russ, looking young and healthy, standing next to his old mentor, the two of them appearing to be in the moment, but both probably thinking about some obscure Chadic linguistic problem.

Russ Schuh and Paul Newman

From Ekkehard Wolff, 11/28/16

A great scholar has gone, a professional lifetime companion in the shared passion for Chadic languages in general (and Hausa in particular), and a wonderful person to sit, talk (inevitably sooner or later about Chadic linguistics), and drink with.

In 1968/69, Russ and I were both in the field in Northern Nigeria at the same time, collecting data from Chadic languages for our respective PhD projects; in the same parallel way, we both published our PhD theses in 1972: his on Ngizim at UCLA, mine on Lamang at Hamburg University. In those early days, we did not yet know (about) each other – a fact that should dramatically change a few years later. It must have been sometime in 1970 when Paul Newman approached me for a contribution to the “Special Chadic Issue” of the Journal of African Languages (10.1, 1971) that he was guest-editing to coincide with the 70th birthday of Johannes Lukas, an important figure in early Chadic linguistics and my PhD supervisor in Hamburg. It was through Paul that Russ and I heard about each other as distant fellow fieldworkers on Chadic languages. We were both out in the field in Nigeria again in the early 1970s, Russ working mainly on Bade under the umbrella of the CSNL in Kano with Paul as director, and me back again in the Gwoza area which has been totally devastated by Boko Haram in recent years. Still, we did not meet face to face, the distances in Nigeria between Kano, Gashua, and Gwoza being just too long, and the roads too bad. Still, in those days our great professional friendship began, which lasted until Russ passed away. Our communication was mainly through letters, later emails, and occasionally meeting at conferences in Europe or the USA, including writing critical reviews of each other’s works. Russ had visited us on several occasions during his rare trips to Europe. In September 2013, my wife Raina and I saw him last, together with Maxine, at our home in the north of Germany. The photo attached shows Russ and me in that September 2013 during a visit to an open air museum, standing in front of a reconstructed Viking home in Haithabu, the commercial hub of the Viking world some 1,000 years ago, just around the corner from where we live now.  

with Ekkehard Wolff, 2013

Russ was a constant but highly critical source of inspiration and encouragement in my work on Chadic languages; he accepted no linguistic argument or interpretation of data on face value, he wanted to be convinced beyond reasonable doubt, or to convince himself by getting personally involved. Many years ago, Russ, having been mostly exposed to West Chadic languages in his own work, was quite hesitant to accept some quite ‘exotic’ ideas that I had developed regarding the analysis of Central Chadic languages. One day and out of the blue, as it seemed, he came back to me after having started to work on Kilba and Podoko, two Central Chadic languages, himself: “Now I understand what you have been talking about all these years!” Convincing Russ of a new and seemingly crazy idea about Chadic was like winning a Chadic ‘Oscar’, and gave you a rewarding feeling of being most probably right!

We knew from a personal email by Russ, that and how ill he was. But we were shocked when we learnt about his death that came much too early for his family, his friends, and the community of Chadic and general linguistic scholarship. 

Raina and I remain in deep sadness. 

H. Ekkehard Wolff, Professor emeritus, African Linguistics, Leipzig University, Germany
presently: Helsinki University, Finland

From Patricia Keating, 12/21/16

During his career Russ made two significant contributions to phonetics. First, with his 1995 PhD student Lawan Danladi Yalwa, he published a Hausa “Illustration of the IPA” in the Journal of the International Phonetic Association (1993, vol. 23.2, pp. 77-82; published online Feb. 2009, DOI: This Illustration was later selected for inclusion in the Handbook of the International Phonetic Association (Cambridge University Press 1999, pp. 90-95). The audio recordings that Russ and Lawan made for it are freely available at

Then, in 2006 Peter Ladefoged died unexpectedly, at a time when he was PI on a large NSF-funded project to create the online UCLA Phonetics Lab Archive (essentially, putting the filing cabinets of the Phonetics Lab on the web). The NSF wanted a new PI in place immediately, and for various reasons the obvious suspects were not available. Knowing of his keen interest in online digital multimedia teaching materials, I thought of Russ, and he selflessly took on the task.  Under Russ the Archive was completed in 2009 ( and has had many thousands of visitors.

From Natasha Brown Levy, 3/9/17

I had the honor and privilege of working closely with Russ from 1998-2003.  I was hired as the first Student Affairs Officer for the Linguistics Department.  I was both the Graduate and the Undergraduate Counselor for the Department.  I worked closely with Russ during my tenure in the Department, since he was the Vice Chair of Undergraduate Studies.  While working in Linguistics, we worked together on re-unitting many of the Linguistics courses, and collaborated on many programmatic changes to the twelve Linguistics majors.  I got to know Russ as a caring and conscientious advisor, instructor, researcher, husband, and father.  I have worked at UCLA for 20 plus years, and to this day, Russ continues to be one of my favorite faculty members that I’ve worked with.  I missed him greatly when I left my SAO position in 2003, and I miss him even more today.  I am sure that – wherever Russ is now – he is happily running marathons and is playing Balkan music.

Russ Schuh with Carson Schutze at a graduation ceremony

Russ Schuh with Carson Schutze at a UCLA graduation ceremony

Memorial Gathering March 10, 2017

A memorial gathering for Russ Schuh was held in Royce Hall on Friday March 10, 2017.  The room was full and the presentations warmly appreciated.  Here is the  program for the meeting:

pae 1

Page 2

Page 3

Page 4

Here is the sound file for "Three Songs of Pirin", the Bulgarian music performed on the program (mp3 format)

Here are the pictures of Russ shown as slides before the program (Power Point format)

Russ Schuh home page
UCLA Linguistics Department