Skip to main content


 San Diego Tribune: Obituary

In Memoriam: Founding Chair of Linguistics, Leonard D. Newmark

We deeply regret to share that Professor Emeritus Leonard D. Newmark, founding chair of the UC San Diego Department of Linguistics – who came to the nascent university in 1963 and helped build the campus in innumerable ways – has died. After years of challenges with Parkinson’s disease and dementia, Newmark died from COVID-19 on May 2, 2022. He was 93.

Newmark served as chair of the Linguistics Department twice, first from 1964 until 1971, then again 1980-85. He served also as director of the Basic Language Program, the Center for Research in Language Acquisition, and the Program in American Language and Culture. His wide-ranging interests, as well as his administrative abilities and experience, led him also, in the 1970s, to serve as acting chair of the departments of Visual Arts and of Music.

Invited by Founding Chancellor Herbert York to join the UC San Diego faculty as a full professor and its first linguist when he was only 34, Newmark was charged with creating a world-class program in linguistics from scratch. He started the Department of Linguistics in 1964, hiring its founding faculty and beginning its rise as a top-ranked department. He also worked with colleagues throughout the university to recruit leading social scientists in a variety of other fields.

Championing a naturalistic approach to language acquisition which relied heavily on sustained exposure to first language users, on technology, and on sheltering the learner from the forces that can interfere with language acquisition, Newmark put his ideas into practice in UC San Diego’s Linguistics Language Program. His innovative approach has now shaped language teaching at countless other institutions.

To honor Newmark’s indelible legacy and mark the Linguistics Department’s 50th anniversary, the UC San Diego Language Laboratory was renamed The Leonard D. Newmark Linguistics Language Program Lab and Library.

His influence on campus can also be seen in the university’s iconic Geisel Library: Newmark and other early faculty members were instrumental in influencing architect William Pereira to design the memorable landmark we know today.

Born in rural Indiana to immigrant parents on April 8, 1929, Newmark was a child prodigy, enrolling at the University of Chicago at age 15 and graduating with honors at age 18. He studied linguistics as a graduate student at Indiana University and joined the faculty at Ohio State University in 1954 before returning to Indiana University as associate professor in 1962.

Newmark met his spouse of 70 years, Ruth Sylvia Newmark (née Broessler), when the two were students at Indiana University. Together, they not only encouraged many of the early recruits to come to UC San Diego, but also worked to foster international education. Ruth co-founded the International Center.

Newmark retired in 1991 and devoted himself full time to research. In retirement, he produced the definitive Oxford Albanian-English Dictionary. He also developed novel computational techniques for the semi-automated creation of a reverse, English-Albanian dictionary.

The family wishes to note that his lifelong work on Albanian language fostered a sense of ethnic Albanian identity among Albanian speakers, and in recognition of his efforts, Newmark was made a member of the Academy of Sciences of Albania. They also note that he was an early and ardent champion of civil rights and academic freedom. His passions included playing chess, word games and early music on shawms, recorders and sackbuts. A Renaissance man, he took fulfilment in listening, talking and being with family. He could be counted on to write a poem for birthdays or other special occasions. He also found great pleasure, they say, in serving as the founding editor of the UC San Diego Emeriti Association’s newsletter, Chronicles, highlighting the personal reminiscences of a wide range of people describing the early history of UC San Diego.

Newmark is survived by his wife, Ruth, children Katya Newmark and Mark Newmark, son-in-law Matthew Costello, and grandchildren Danya Costello and Justin Costello.

In Memoriam

Donations can be made in Professor Emeritus Newmark’s memory to provide international education fellowships for UC San Diego graduate students by making checks payable to UC San Diego Foundation for the Friends of the International Center Endowed Fellowship. Please mail checks to UC San Diego Gift Processing, 9500 Gilman Drive, #0940, La Jolla, CA 92093-0940, noting the gift is in memory of Professor Leonard Newmark for the following fund: 7176. Donations can also be made online.

Due to continuing concerns over COVID-19, the family is holding a small, private memorial.

Elizabeth H. Simmons
Executive Vice Chancellor

Carol Padden
Dean, Social Sciences

Eric Baković
Chair, Linguistics Department