Russell G. Schuh

Russell Schuh (1941-2016)

Distinguished Professor of Linguistics Russell Schuh passed away on November 8, 2016. 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 online. 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 1990s, and later as the last chair of Applied Linguistics.

We will remember Russ for his acute abilities in both scholarship and administration, his great kindness and generosity, and for the very high standards he set himself. This page includes content from his original website documenting his academic work and personal interests. His extensive website documenting African languages is being continued by Dr. Olga Ivanova, who has merged his content into her larger Aflang website. You can view archived copies of his original website, with his original design, at the Internet Archive.



  • BA, French, University of Oregon 1963
  • MA, French, Northwestern University 1964
  • MA, Linguistics, UCLA 1968
  • PhD, Linguistics UCLA 1972

Previous Appointments

  • Visiting Assistant Prof., UCLA Linguistics, 1972-73
  • Senior Research Fellow, Center for the Study of Nigerian Languages, Ahmadu Bello University, Nigeria, 1973-75
  • Assistant/Associate/Full Professor, UCLA Linguistics, 1975-present
  • Visiting Professor, Dept. of Nigerian and African Languages, Ahmadu Bello University, Nigeria 1982-83

Curriculum Vitae

I was born in Corvalis, Oregon March 14, 1941. Most of my chilhood years were spent in Klamath Falls, Oregon, which I consider my “hometown”. I did my undergraduate work at the University of Oregon, where I got a degree in French, but I did not discover Linguistics until I entered the graduate program in French at Northwestern University. I had no talent or passion for studying literature, but I had always been interested in language structure (I was the kid who actually like sentence diagramming in high school English), so after completing an MA in French, I attended UC Berkeley for one year of graduate work in Linguistics.

By this time, I had spent my entire sentient life as a student, so to broaden my experience, I entered the Peace Corps, where I was a volunteer for two years in Niger Republic. Since this was a francophone country, it gave me a chance to use the French that I had learned. I worked in adult literacy, so I was also able to apply my linguistics through work on both the Hausa and Tamazhaq languages. Following the Peace Corps I came to UCLA where I completed the PhD in Linguistics, which included a year of field work in northern Nigeria on a Chadic language called Ngizim. In the mid 70’s, I spent two years again in northern Nigeria as a researcher in the Centre for the Study of Nigerian Languages, working on a number of languages.

I was hired as a tenure track faculty member at UCLA in 1975, where I remained with the exception of one year as a Visiting Professor, teaching Hausa and linguistics at Ahmadu Bello University, Nigeria (1982-83). I have also made numerous shorter trips to Africa. These included two summers as Director of the Education Abroad Program in Togo and other trips to Nigeria, Cameroon, Senegal, and Ghana for field work and/or to attend conferences. I was Chair of the UCLA Linguistics Department for five years, 1989-94.

Since 2000, I have returned to my Nigerian research roots in Potiskum, Nigeria, supported by three grants from the National Science Foundation. I have been working on six languages of the Chadic family spoken in Yobe State in northeastern Nigeria in collaboration with my former UCLA PhD student, Alhaji Maina Gimba.

I am married and have two daughters. My extra curricular interests include long distance running and music. In the mid-1990’s, I picked up the clarinet, after a hiatus lasting basically since my undergraduate student days, and play in a Balkan music ensemble. I have had a long interest in music, which in recent years I have combined with linguistics in the study of text setting of African poetry to musical performance.


Research Interests

All my research and publication is descriptive and historical comparative work on African languages. My specialty is the Chadic family of languages, spoken in Niger, northern Nigeria, northern Cameroon, and east-central Chad Republic. My concentration has been on languages of the West Branch of Chadic, which are all spoken in northern Nigeria and which include Hausa, the largest natively spoken language in sub-Saharan Africa.

Learn more about Chadic languages and my work on them.

Stimulated by teaching, speaking, and doing research on Hausa since 1965, I study African poetic metrics and music, esp. Hausa poetry and music, but also metrics in the poetry and song of West African languages in general.

Learn more about African poetic metrics and my work on them.

In 2003-2004, for personal interest, I participated in the first year Korean class at UCLA. I found Korean to be one of the most fascinating languages that I ever encountered and have continued studying it.

Learn more about my interests in Korean


Almost all the data for my research comes from fieldwork I have done at various times over the past 35 years. I have worked mainly in northern Nigeria, but also in Niger, Togo, Ghana, and Senegal. I have also spent a fair amount of time working with speakers of African languages in Los Angeles. Most of my field research has been on Chadic languages, but I have done non-trivial amounts of work on Tamazahaq (a Berber language of Niger), Kanuri (a Nilo-Saharan language of Nigeria), Fula (a West Atlantic language spoken across West Africa), Ewe (a “Kwa” language of Togo and Ghana), Avatime (a “Togo remnant” language of Ghana) and Wolof (a West Atlantic language of Senegal and Gambia). Because the Chadic languages are part of the larger Afroasiatic Phylum, I have sought to broaden my knowledge of the phylum by sitting in on classes at UCLA in Arabic, Hebrew, Tigrinya, and Ancient Egyptian.

Current Research Projects

  • Research on five Chadic languages of Yobe State, Nigeria: From December 2001 through December 2004, the National Science Foundation funded a three year grant (#BCS-0111289, Russell G. Schuh. Principal Investigator) for research on five languages of Yobe State, Nigeria: Bade, Bole, Karekare, Ngamo, Ngizim. A primary goal of the project was to develop large dictionaries, focusing not only on collecting root words, but also on documenting derivational morphology, compounding, idioms, proper names, and other information that native speakers have as part of their “lexicons” in a broad sense. In conjunction with this, the project collected literature in all the languages, again in a broad sense of “literature”. The project hired educated native speakers of each of the languages to collect and analyze data from their languages. The in-country Project Coordinator was Dr. Alhaji Maina Gimba (see the next bulleted point) and involved three field trips to Nigeria for the PI as well as research projects involving students at UCLA. See a description of the Yobe Languages Research Project with samples from all the languages. Russell Schuh now has a new NSF grant (BCS-0553222, Russell G. Schuh, PI) “Lexicon, Linguistic Structure, and Verbal Arts of Chadic Languages of Northeastern Nigeria”. This grant will support a continuation of the work of the previous grant, with much of the same personnel in Nigeria, but it will be expanded to include the Duwai language (a close relative of Bade and Ngizim) and, in addition to expanding the lexicons from the previous project, will focus on assembling data with an areal perspective, looking for idioms, songs, folktale motifs, cultural material, and the like that reflect shared properites across the languages. The PI plans to travel to Nigeria in Summer 2007 and in Winter 2008-2009.
  • Bole grammar, dictionary, and texts: With the support of a National Science Foundation grant (#BCS9905180, Russell G. Schuh, Principal Investigator), I from Fall 1999 through December 2000 with former UCLA student, now alumnus, Alhaji Maina Gimba, on a project which will eventually result in a detailed reference grammar, substantial dictionary, and a collection of texts documenting the Bole language, a Chadic language of the West-A Branch. We are in the process of writing the grammar. See the ‘Papers and Other Works on Bole’ section on the Bole language page for more information about this.
  • Chadic lexical databases: As part of the projects listed above, we have assembled a substantial databases, using Filemaker Pro, of the five target languages of the Yobe Languages Research Project (Bade (two dialects), Bole, Karekare, Ngamo, Ngizim) as well as Duwai (a language close to Bade, also spoken in Yobe State), and Miya (a more distantly related Chadic language, spoken in Bauchi State). In addition to fields for headword, grammatical category (noun, verb, etc.), and English and Hausa definitions, we also have fields for sorting on a variety of phonological properties (e.g. tone pattern, syllable structure), morphological properties (e.g. reduplicative patterns, derivational affixes of various types, compound types), semantic categories, sources of loanwords, and dialect variants. This electronic lexicon for Bole has proven so valuable that I have been creating similar databases for other languages for which I have lexical data. These currently include four West Chadic-B languages: Bade (Western dialect), Bade (Gashua dialect), Duwai, and Miya. With the help of a research assistant, I am also compiling a database of Karekare, a West Chadic-A language. I am planning others. See “Lexical databases of Chadic languages” for availability of these databases and documentation.
  • Comparative Chadic studies: Inspired by the projects above and the appearance of Paul Newman’s definitive grammar of Hausa, The Hausa Language: An Encyclopedic Reference Grammar, (Yale University Press, 2000), I have been writing a number of papers, some potentially publishable, some speculative musings, on a variety of comparative Chadic topics. (See Downloadable papers). Likewise, through teaching historical linguistics, which involves working with Indo-European comparative work, I am made aware of how primitive is our knowledge of comparative Chadic etymology. I have begun compiling a database of Chadic roots, a long term project which I hope will become a substantial comparative Chadic dictionary within my lifetime.
  • Hausar Baka: In 1996, I began involvement in a project for using video to teach Hausa at the elementary and intermediate levels. This work was supported by a grant from the US Department of Education, Richard Randell, PI. We spent about 2 months in Nigeria videtaping what resulted in about 5 hours of edited video of Hausa speakers engaged in almost entirely natural speech situations. I have continued work on this project, developing a full transcript of the videos and sets of pedagogical exercises (see the link). Though primarily a pedagogical project, this project has produced a rich source of natural spoken Hausa, to which I have referred in a number of research publications. A lexicon with references to contextual uses of all the words occurring in the videos is available, and I am working on an index of morphological and grammatical uses in context.

Lexical databases of Chadic languages

The databases below are in FileMaker Pro 8.5, a cross-platform relational database application. The head entries and examples are all in Unicode, using the AfroRomanU font, sold by Linguists Software).

  • Bole lexical database: About 4200 head entries
  • Bade (Western Dialect): About 3000 head entries
  • Bade (Gashua Dialect): About 2500 head entries
  • Karekare: About 2300 head entries
  • Ngamo (Gudi and Yaya dialects): About 2400 entries (combined total)
  • Ngizim: About 3600 head entries
  • Duwai: About 1100 head entries
  • Miya: About 1400 head entries

What I do for fun

My “job”

Nothing is more fun than doing my “job”, that is, research on languages and teaching linguistics. I always tell people that I get paid for doing my hobby. There is nothing that I would rather spend my time doing than discovering patterns in language data and writing them up. This carries over to teaching, since I get to show (or at least TRY to show) students how to do this, often using the same data that I mangaged to collect and analyze myself.


The most important thing that I do every day is my daily run. Unless I get injured (my aging body being a minefield of injuries waiting to explode), I run every day. I try to do 45 miles/week. I have been doing road running since the early 1970’s. I used to run lots of road races, ranging from 5k to marathons, but since 1990, I have participated in only two road races per year: the Linguistics Annual 5k, and the Los Angeles Marathon. As of 2004, I have run the LA marathon eleven times and I have run it every year since 1998. My best finishing place was 5th in my age group (aka “Oldish Farts”–I move into “Old Farts” in a couple of years) in 2002. See a movie giving glimpses of my marathon experiences.


I have played music ever since I can remember, starting with piano lesson at about age 6. I started playing the clarinet in the 8th grade. I took clarinet lessons and played in ensembles all through junior high, high school, undergraduate years at the University of Oregon, and even during a year of graduate study at Northwestern University. My favorite kind of music is straight ahead jazz a la Dexter Gordon and Bud Powell, but I never got so I could play jazz myself. Most of my life I played classical music because that was all I was any good at, even though it was far from my favorite type. In the late 1990’s I discovered Balkan music and the unbelievable clarinet players of Bulgaria, Macedonia, Turkey, and Greece. I have been playing in the UCLA Balkan performance ensemble for a number of years, where I have also been trying to learn to play the Bulgarian gaida (bagpipe), though I don’t think I will ever get any good at it.

Other things I like

I like going out to eat with my wife, which we do at least a couple of times a week. I like tinkering with multimedia editing–graphics, sound, video. I like to go to plays, esp. plays in small local theaters. I used to like to watch drag racing, but most of the drag strips in Los Angeles were long ago closed.

Things I don’t like

Ideologs and fanatics–political or religious. Television and movies–these media purvey nothing but mind-numbing crap. I haven’t watched television or been to a movie for years and don’t ever expect to do either again. Life is too short to waste one nanosecond in front “entertainment” on a screen, big or little. Spector sports–sports are OK, but I can’t see sitting around on my dead butt watching someone else play sports. Better to do it yourself. Traveling and vacations–I hate the hassles and inconvenience of traveling and I’m just bored on vacations (unless I take my work along!).