Professor Paul Newman is an influential African linguist. He is acknowledged to be the world's authority on the Hausa language. While still graduate students at UCLA, Newman and his future wife, Roxana Ma Newman, published a seminal paper on the Chadic language family, a large group of related languages spoken in northern Nigeria and neighboring countries, which set the groundwork for descriptive and comparative research on that family for years to come.
Newman received his B.A. (Philosophy) and M.A. (Anthropology) from the University of Pennsylvania and his Ph.D. (Linguistics) from UCLA. Much later he received a law degree (J.D., summa cum laude) from Indiana University (2003). (He is currently a member of the Indiana Bar.) He came to IU in 1983, where for six years he served as chair of the Linguistics Department. He previously held academic positions at Yale University, Bayero University (Kano, Nigeria), and Rijiksuniversiteit te Leiden (The Netherlands). After retiring from IU, he worked for a period as library copyright specialist at the University of Michigan.
His focus on Africa began as a Peace Corps Volunteer. He was in the very first group to go to Nigeria. He subsequently returned to Nigeria many times, both for purposes of field research and as director of the Centre for the Study of Nigerian Languages at Bayero University.
In his career, Newman has published some twenty books, including Linguistic Fieldwork, edited with Martha Ratliff (Cambridge University Press , 2001), Klingenheben's Law in Hausa (Rüdiger Köppe, 2004), A Hausa - English Dictionary (Yale University Press, 2007), and Comprehensive Bibliography of Chadic and Hausa Linguistics, 3rd edition (IU ScholarWorks, 2015), and over a hundred and twenty articles, book reviews, and ethnomusicological recordings (of traditional Appalachian and African music). His research has been supported by major grants from the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the U.S. Department of Education. His magnum opus - The Hausa Language: An Encyclopedic Reference Grammar, published by Yale University Press (2000) - is a monumental reference work of nearly 800 pages. It is a milestone in Hausa and African linguistic scholarship.
In addition to his research and writing, he has been active as an editor and bibliographer. He was the founding editor of the Journal of African Languages and Linguistics, still thriving some 35 years later, and has been a core member of the editorial board of other journals, e.g., Anthropological Linguistics, Current Anthropology, Language, Language Documentation & Conservation, and Studies in African Linguistics. Drawing on his unique combination of linguistic, editorial, and legal expertise, he served as Special Counsel to the Linguistic Society of America on scholarly publishing issues, in recognition of which the LSA honored him with the Linguistic Service Award.
At IU, Newman had a reputation as a stimulating, no-nonsense teacher. (He was the recipient of a Teaching Excellence Recognition Award from IU.) But more so than in the classroom, he was particularly effective as a challenging and demanding, but extremely supportive, thesis supervisor and mentor. The appreciation of former students, many of whom now occupy major academic positions throughout the world, is reflected in the brief essays they contributed to Hausa and Chadic Linguistics: Selected Papers of Paul Newman with Commentaries (Rüdiger Köppe, 2002), which was published as a tribute to him on the occasion of his 65th birthday.
Newman's international standing is reflected in the many honors and important invitations he has received. He was honored with a personal chair in African Linguistics at Leiden, bestowed by Juliana, Queen of the Netherlands. He was a fellow of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford; a visiting researcher on the Indiana University - Hamburg University faculty exchange program; a consultant for an African languages media project at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore; a research fellow at the Centre for Linguistic Typology, Australian National University, Canberra; a visiting professor of African Studies at the University of Bayreuth; and a Fulbright Senior Specialist in Law at the University of Haifa. He was plenary speaker at the Second World Congress of African Linguistics in Leipzig, the First International Conference on Language Documentation & Conservation, in Hawaii, and at a Workshop on Nominal and Verbal Plurality, in Paris.
Newman has had a life-long interest in law and a deep personal commitment to civil liberties, civil rights, and individual freedom and justice. He personally challenged IU's then-in-effect mandatory retirement policy for administrators as being an anachronistic and illegal vestige of ageism, which resulted in the policy being dismantled. From time to time, he represents faculty and staff (usually on a pro bono basis) who feel that the University has violated their academic freedom or due process rights. Outside the university, he has been active in the ACLU of Indiana, where he served for a number of years as a member of the state board and Vice-President for litigation, and he is a life member and now state representative of the Freedom from Religion Foundation.
Newman received the IU Bicentennial Medal in September 2020 in recognition of his distinguished contributions to Indiana University.