Jeffrey Locke Elman

January 22, 1948June 28, 2018
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July 29, 2018 Jeffrey Locke Elman was born on January 22, 1948 in Burbank, California to Mildred Mae McDaniel and Irving Stanton Elman, whom he called Tex and Irv. Along with brother Cory, Jeff traversed the country 20 times with his family before the age of 16, living in New York City and Palisades, New York before finally settling in Pacific Palisades, California. Tex and Irv wrote and produced for television, movies, and the theater, providing for a colorful, and at times unconventional, childhood. Jeff graduated from Palisades High School in 1965 (made famous by Time Magazine’s cover story ‘Today’s Teenagers’ and the book “What Really Happened to the Class of ‘65?”). He spent the summer before college living with a local family in Uganda through an American Field Service program. Jeff attended Harvard University and graduated in 1969 with an AB in Social Relations and phone hacking, which brought him to the attention of the FBI. After college he worked as a computer programmer and bilingual high school teacher with a sideline in political activism. In 1970, Jeff met his wife Margaret Ravel in Cambridge . They married in 1972 and moved to Austin, Texas where they both attended the University of Texas at Austin for graduate school. Their daughter, Emily Luz Elman, was born in Austin in 1975. Jeff received his Ph.D. in Linguistics in 1977 and later that year, joined the faculty of the University of California, San Diego in the Linguistics Department. Son, Jeremy Andrew Elman, was born in San Diego in 1981. While at UCSD, Jeff co-founded the world’s first Department of Cognitive Science in 1986. In 1990, he introduced the simple recurrent neural network, also known as the 'Elman network', which is capable of processing sequentially ordered stimuli, and has since become widely used. Between 2006 and 2014, Jeff served as the Dean of the Division of Social Sciences and most recently, he and Rajesh Gupta co-founded the UCSD Halicioğlu Data Science Institute. In October 2016 Jeff was was inducted into the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in recognition of his life’s work. Jeff and Ray Eller met in 1995 and registered as Domestic Partners in 2001 until they were married in 2016. Together, Jeff and Ray shared a very happy life filled with family, close friends, and two of the best dogs in the world, Billy and Jasper. Jeff was a passionate naturalist and photographer. He and Ray volunteered as docents at Torrey Pines State Reserve. Jeff was also an active fund raiser for causes he held close including the IRC, Yalla, Torrey Pines, and he was in the beginnings of a role to raise funds and awareness for the Ornish program at UCSD’s Cardiac Rehab Unit. Jeff found joy in his grandchildren, Stella Mae and Oliver Locke, children of Emily Elman and her husband Nate Flansburgh, and Henry Jacob and Elise Marie Austen, children of Jeremy Elman and his wife Erin Clevenger Elman. As with his children, he had a unique ability to spark a sense of wonder in his grandchildren, creating special worlds out of crafts and art and storytelling. His singular gift was his ability to listen, with complete focus and without judgment. Jeff will be remembered in the hearts of all who met him for his humility, gentleness, kindness and the love he freely gave to all.


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Jeffrey Locke Elman

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Elena Lieven

August 7, 2018

I have known Jeff for many years as a friend and highly valued colleague. He came to the inaugural workshop for the Language acquisition group which I organised at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig in 2000 and remained a close friend ever since. I am heartbroken at his death. More recently, he became an international co-investigator in our LuCiD Centre (the UK-ESRC International Centre for Language and Communicative Development). He was a source of great support in shaping our plans for LuCiD which started in 2014. As well as being an intellectual giant, pioneering research on artificial neural networks and language processing and co-authoring one of the most thought-provoking books on language development to appear in the last 40 years (Rethinking Innateness), he was an incredibly kind man and enormously generous with his time. He visited the Centre in September 2017 and met with early career researchers at all three of our partner sites. He spent time with each of them, learning about their research and their plans for the future, and offering invaluable suggestions. We will all miss him very much and we offer deep sympathy and condolence to his partner and family.

Ping Li

August 6, 2018

Coming back from a long summer trip abroad to learn Jeff’s passing away is deep sadness added onto a tiring body. This also brings back the saddest feelings from 2003 when my other UCSD mentor Liz Bates was gone. Back in April this year, I sent Jeff a congratulatory note on the new UCSD Halicioglu Data Science Institute, and at the same time I heard Jeff suffered from a heart attack but I believed that he would recover with his good spirit, life style, and sense of humor. I hadn't received his reply but I had hope he would get well soon, until this news now. Jeff was a mentor, a model scientist, a friend, and above all, he was such a nice guy. I’m sad to have to use his own words (when he described Liz Bates) but there is no better way other than saying, “Jeff is larger than life”…

Zhuowen Tu

July 29, 2018

So many times, either in the morning or in the afternoon, I have seen Jeff walking by the Social Science Research Building and we would exchange pleasantries with each other. That meant so much to me.

Jeff and his hallmark smile will forever be remembered.

Rest in peace, Jeff.


July 26, 2018

May God bless and comfort you and your family during this difficult period, please accept my sincere condolences

Jeff Elman your actions inspired others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you were a true leader and a wonderful friend! Everyone in the Division of Social Sciences will miss his ready smile, creative brain and helpful attitude. The Dean Elman I knew was always giving compliments or giving a helping hand to his staff. When I joined the Division of Social Sciences I struggled the first week in my new job, Jeff told me "you're a rockstar"! I will remember that conversation forever, it sure gave me the courage and confidence I needed to tackle the challenges of a Division Business Manager's job! Jeff always made sure we knew we were appreciated and we will truly miss his kind ways and friendship. You have my deepest sympathy.

Always in our hearts never forgotten,
Barb Fager

Mark Johnson

July 26, 2018

I first met Jeff when I joined Annette (Karmiloff-Smith) while she was doing the PDP summer camp in UCSD under Jeff’s leadership in 1991. Annette and Jeff were already firm friends, and over some conversations the idea for the book “Rethinking Innateness” (RI) was born. RI was very much Jeff’s baby. Given that several of the co-authors were passionately committed to their own particular views, developing a consensus statement required Jeff’s full range of diplomatic and leadership skills! I can think of no-one other than Jeff that could have pulled off leading this multi-author book, with his consistency of purpose, ability to cajole people to produce what was agreed (not necessarily what they wanted!), and gentle positive energy that kept it moving forward. The book was a great success, influential and has been highly cited.

After we moved back to London, Jeff (later joined by Ray) became a regular visitor. During one visit we almost persuaded him to take a job in London, but his ties to California were strong. On another visit they borrowed our flat in the centre of town only to apprehend a burglar trying to enter through a window during the night (or more strictly speaking they apprehend the leg of the burglar, while the rest of him hung outside!). With calm unflappability Jeff waited until the next morning to call us and relay the events of the previous night, and their interesting conversation with the London Bobby (policemen) that had come to their aid.

Even a couple of years ago, when I was considering taking on a new job with significant managerial responsibilities, it was Jeff’s calm but person-centred analysis of the pro’s and con’s that I turned to (and that helped me take the leap). And, of course, I will never forget Jeff and Ray’s unstinting support during Annette’s terminal illness. I already miss him badly, and my thoughts are with Ray and the family.

peter gourevitch

July 25, 2018

Jeff was one of the stalwart citizens of the UCSD campus. He was dedicated, devoted, hardworking, sympathetic, warm, smart, and committed. These features were inspiring. One sensed he did things because he believed in their value. He gave of himself to friends, campus, colleagues. He was an example to us all of a committed hard working scholar, an academic administrator of the highest order. . My most recent memory is the speech he gave at the funeral of Dan Yankelovich, articulate, expressive, with feeling and conviction. He will be very sorely missed

Peter Gourevitch

Jaime Pineda

July 25, 2018

To Jeff Elman

A Leaf in the Tree of Life

The leaf scans the horizon
from the highest branch.
It is grateful to have ascended to such heights.
To be a vibrant part of the community making the tree so rich and alive,
It is aware that it is not responsible for the circumstances,
But that the circumstances have called forth its best and highest potential.
The leaf lives a full, rich, and wondrous life.

After many years,
The leaf falls from the tree,
And for a moment,
It is disconcerted,
For it is disconnected from its source and its family.
Both provided a source of nourishment,
Of life.
It hangs in space,
Uncertain of the future.
Is there a future?
Slowly it begins to feel the oncoming and welcoming warmth,
And the million arms reaching out to greet it.
It lands softly,
Amidst the whispering song of the wind,
And the padding of the grass.
It is finally at rest,
A rest it has never known.
Yet it feels right,
A return to something basic and good.
It is at peace.
It is grateful,
It is home.

I wrote this during a walk on Torrey Pines beach on 7/1/18 while pondering the death and life of Jeff Elman, a dear colleague. During the walk, and after I had finished the poem, a hawk circled me several times while practicing diving for food a bit far from me. I was entranced for I had never seen a hawk do that at the beach. For some reason, it made me think of Jeff. Jeff, I thought to myself, if that is you, come close and show me a dive. Unexpectedly, as if the hawk heard me, it swooped towards me and not 30 yards from where I stood, did a deep dive towards the water, with no prey in sight. At that moment, I knew it was Jeff and the message was clear: I am rejoicing in my new life - do not grieve.

I do not grieve but I will miss him.

J.A. Pineda

Scott Ragland

July 25, 2018

When I was an undergraduate at UC San Diego, I had the distinct pleasure of witnessing Professor Elman give a lecture about his work in one of my courses. A linguistics major at the time, I was captivated by Professor Elman's groundbreaking research and its impact on many fields. I was so proud to be a linguistics major when I learned about his unique accomplishments.

I respectfully send my condolences to his family, friends, and colleagues. He will certainly be missed on campus. Although future undergraduates will not have the unique opportunity to hear him speak, his important work will live on and inspire students for generations.

Rest in peace, Professor.

Don Norman

July 25, 2018

I was at UCSD when Jeff was hired as a junior, Assistant Professor and I was in the Department of Psychology. His work was related to mine, so we talked together a lot. Many years later, when I helped establish the Department of Cognitive Science, I invited Jeff to join the department, which he did.

I watched Jeff grow from a linguist interested in phonetics to a senior member of the faculty with broad general interests, both in Cognitive Science and in the Center for Research in Language, which he founded. His work on Neural Networks in the first few years of their development introduced recurrent networks, which are essential to the study of temporal events (such as spoken language).

Jeff became one of my advisors, and at times when I needed it, a mentor. His calm, mature approach to university problems (which although they usually have some substance, are usually more about emotions than content), made him an effective leader and advisor throughout UCSD. I am honored to have been a colleague and friend. He is missed.