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REVIEWS Yiddish: Turning to life. By Joshua A. Fishman. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 1991. Pp. xii, 522. Cloth $110.00. Reviewed by Robert D. King, University of Texas at Austin A few linguists, like a few other scientists, are known and admired for their dedication to 'lost' causes—working to preserve a vanishing language in a mass culture, as Jacques Cousteau strives to protect sea life against pollution or as Jane Goodall fights to preserve chimpanzee populations from the onslaught of ever-expanding human populations. Joshua Fishman is a twentieth-century linguistic hero in a profession that doesn't normally lend itself to heroism. He has spent his life not only in energetic research and scholarship but in tireless dedication to an idea—the idea that a language (Yiddish) and its culture should not die. Linguists are among the few people in the whole world (apart, sometimes , from the speakers themselves) to whom this conviction matters— really matters—and even then it does not always matter enough. F is widely respected for his work on 'language maintenance and language shift, language and ethnicity/nationalism, language planning, bilingual education , [and] the Whorfian assumptions with respect to language and cognition' (1). But F, like his contemporary Uriel Weinreich (with whom F founded and edited a Yiddish journal Yugntruf 'Call to Youth' at the end of the Second World War), has led a parallel life as Yiddishist (where his name is 'ShikF Fishman) of which most people otherwise familiar with his sociolinguistic research are unaware. To say that he is a 'Yiddishist' is not to say that he writes about the Yiddish language—that alone does not make you a Yiddishist. To call F a Yiddishist means several things: that he is consumed by an abiding conviction that the Yiddish language possesses worth and beauty; that Yiddish is the key to the richness of the Jewish past as well as an essential link between generations—di goldene kayt 'the golden chain' is a recurring rhetorical theme in Yiddish letters; and finally that the retention of a vital component of Jewishness ('Yidishkayt') demands the continued use of Yiddish against the drift of a world largely ignorant of or hostile to the language and indifferent to its fate. As F tells us, most of his 'sociolinguistic endeavors, covering more than a quarter century, have been intellectually and emotionally motivated' by his interest in Yiddish (1). F's cradle language was Yiddish and his upbringing was enriched by a bounty of Yiddish and Yiddishism, so it was natural that Yiddish supplied linguistic examples and illustrations in his professional publications from the beginning. But a conscious turning to Yiddish as integral theme in his work dates from 1969 and was due to the influence and example of Max Weinreich , Yiddishist, doyen of Yiddish linguistics, father of Uriel Weinreich, and a great man of indomitable will. At his death in 1969 Max Weinreich had completed his monumental sociocultural and linguistic history of the Yiddish language , Di geshikhte fun der yidisher shprakh. F was invited to aid in the translation into English (The history of the Yiddish language), and the expe831 832LANGUAGE, VOLUME 68, NUMBER 4 (1992) rience left 'an indelible impression' on his subsequent career (4). The Yiddishist merged with the linguist, and the result, as they say, is history—the history of most of his scholarship over the last quarter century. The nineteen pieces in this collection range from 1965 to the present, with several chapter introductions written especially for YTL. Four of the articles are in Yiddish: an 'additional reward', F says, for those who read Yiddish and also for those who have not had an opportunity 'to see what the language looks like in print and to realize that even today . . . there is something ... to be gained from learning it' (9). YTL is divided into five subsections according to which F organizes his interests: (1) 'Yiddish and Hebrew: Conflict and symbiosis'; (2) 'Yiddish in America'; (3) 'Corpus planning: The ability to change and grow'; (4) 'Status planning: The Tshernovits Conference of 1908'; and (5) 'Stocktaking : Where are we now?' The largest single contribution is 'Yiddish in America ', printed first in 1965 as an IJAL publication...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1535-0665
Print ISSN
0097-8507
Pages
pp. 831-833
Launched on MUSE
2015-04-01
Open Access
No
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