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Max Weinreich

Max Weinreich

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Max Weinreich was a linguist
Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. Linguistics can be broadly broken into three categories or subfields of study: language form, language meaning, and language in context....

, specializing in the Yiddish language
Yiddish language
Yiddish is a High German language of Ashkenazi Jewish origin, spoken throughout the world. It developed as a fusion of German dialects with Hebrew, Aramaic, Slavic languages and traces of Romance languages...

, and the father of the linguist Uriel Weinreich
Uriel Weinreich
Uriel Weinreich was a linguist at Columbia University. Born in Vilnius , he earned his Ph.D. from Columbia, and went on to teach there, specializing in Yiddish studies, sociolinguistics, and dialectology...

, who edited the Modern Yiddish-English English-Yiddish Dictionary.


Max Weinreich (Meyer Lazarevich Veynreykh) began his studies in a German school in Kuldiga, transferring to a Russian gymnasium in Libava
Liepāja ; ), is a republican city in western Latvia, located on the Baltic Sea directly at 21°E. It is the largest city in the Kurzeme Region of Latvia, the third largest city in Latvia after Riga and Daugavpils and an important ice-free port...

 after four years. He then lived in Dvinsk
Daugavpils is a city in southeastern Latvia, located on the banks of the Daugava River, from which the city gets its name. Daugavpils literally means "Daugava Castle". With a population of over 100,000, it is the second largest city in the country after the capital Riga, which is located some...

 and Łódź. Between 1909 and 1912 he resided in Saint Petersburg
Saint Petersburg
Saint Petersburg is a city and a federal subject of Russia located on the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea...

, where he attended I.G. Eizenbet's private Jewish gymnasium for boys. He was raised in a German-speaking family but became fascinated with Yiddish.

In 1925, he founded the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research (originally called the Yidisher Visnshaftlekher Institut — Yiddish Scientific Institute) in his apartment in Vilnius
Vilnius is the capital of Lithuania, and its largest city, with a population of 560,190 as of 2010. It is the seat of the Vilnius city municipality and of the Vilnius district municipality. It is also the capital of Vilnius County...

, and was its director from 1925 to 1939.YIVO: Max Weinreich

Weinreich was in Denmark
Denmark is a Scandinavian country in Northern Europe. The countries of Denmark and Greenland, as well as the Faroe Islands, constitute the Kingdom of Denmark . It is the southernmost of the Nordic countries, southwest of Sweden and south of Norway, and bordered to the south by Germany. Denmark...

 with his wife, Regina Shabad Weinreich (the daughter of a notable doctor and Jewish leader in Vilna Zemach Shabad
Zemach Shabad
Zemach Shabad was a Jewish doctor and social and political activist...

), and older son, Uriel, when war broke out in 1939. Regina returned to Vilnius, but Max and Uriel stayed abroad, moving to New York City in March 1940. His wife and younger son Gabriel joined them there during the brief period when Vilnius was in independent Lithuania
Lithuania , officially the Republic of Lithuania is a country in Northern Europe, the biggest of the three Baltic states. It is situated along the southeastern shore of the Baltic Sea, whereby to the west lie Sweden and Denmark...

. Weinreich became a professor of Yiddish at City College
City College of New York
The City College of the City University of New York is a senior college of the City University of New York , in New York City. It is also the oldest of the City University's twenty-three institutions of higher learning...

 and re-established YIVO in New York.


Weinreich translated Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud , born Sigismund Schlomo Freud , was an Austrian neurologist who founded the discipline of psychoanalysis...

 and Ernst Toller
Ernst Toller
Ernst Toller was a left-wing German playwright, best known for his Expressionist plays and serving as President of the short-lived Bavarian Soviet Republic, for six days.- Biography :...

 into Yiddish.

Weinreich is often cited as the author of a criterion for distinguishing between language
Language may refer either to the specifically human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, or to a specific instance of such a system of complex communication...

s and dialect
The term dialect is used in two distinct ways, even by linguists. One usage refers to a variety of a language that is a characteristic of a particular group of the language's speakers. The term is applied most often to regional speech patterns, but a dialect may also be defined by other factors,...

s: "A language is a dialect with an army and navy
A language is a dialect with an army and navy
"A language is a dialect with an army and navy" is a description of the distinction between dialect and language. It points out the influence that political conditions can have over a community's perception of the status of a language or dialect...

" ("אַ שפראַך איז אַ דיאַלעקט מיט אַן אַרמײ און פֿלאָט", "a shprakh iz a dialekt mit an armey un flot"), but he was explicitly quoting an auditor at one of his lectures.

Publications in English:

  • History of the Yiddish language. trans. Shlomo Noble, with the assistance of Joshua A. Fishman
    Joshua Fishman
    Joshua Aaron Fishman, is an American linguist who specializes in the sociology of language, language planning, bilingual education, and language and ethnicity.-Life:...

    . Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980. [Footnotes omitted.]

In Yiddish and German:
  • Bilder fun der yidisher literaturgeshikhte fun di onheybn biz Mendele Moykher-Sforim, 1928.
  • Das Jiddische Wissenschaftliche Institut ("Jiwo") die wissenschaftliche Zentralstelle des Ostjudentums, 1931.
  • Fun beyde zaytn ployt: dos shturemdike lebn fun Uri Kovnern, dem nihilist, 1955
  • Geschichte der jiddischen Sprachforschung. herausgegeben von Jerold C. Frakes, 1993
  • Di geshikhte fun beyzn beyz, 1937.
  • Geshikhte fun der yidisher shprakh: bagrifn, faktn, metodn, 1973.
  • Hitlers profesorn : heylek fun der daytsher visnshaft in daytshland farbrekhns kegn yidishn folk. Nyu-York: Yidisher visnshaftlekher institut, Historishe sektsye, 1947.
  • Mekhires-Yosef: ... aroysgenumen fun seyfer "Tam ve-yashar" un fun andere sforim ..., 1923.
  • Der Onheyb: zamlbukh far literatur un visnshaft, redaktirt fun D. Aynhorn, Sh. Gorelik, M. Vaynraykh, 1922.
  • Oysgeklibene shriftn, unter der redaktsye fun Shmuel Rozhanski, 1974.
  • Der oytser fun der yidisher shprakh fun Nokhem Stutshkov; unter der redaktsye fun Maks Vaynraykh, c. 1950
  • Praktishe gramatik fun der yidisher shprakh F. Haylperin un M. Vaynraykh, 1929.
  • Shtaplen fir etyudn tsu der yidisher shprakhvisnshaft un literaturgeshikhte, 1923.
  • Shturemvint bilder fun der yidisher geshikhte in zibtsntn yorhundert
  • Di shvartse pintelekh. Vilne: Yidisher visnshaftlekher institut, 1939.
  • Di Yidishe visnshaft in der heyntiker tsayt. Nyu-York: 1941.


  • For Max Weinreich on his seventieth birthday; studies in Jewish languages, literature, and society, 1964.


  • David E. Fishman, The Rise of Modern Yiddish Culture, University of Pittsburgh Press (2005), ISBN 0822942720.
  • Gershon David Hundert, YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe, Yale University Press (2008), ISBN 0300119038.