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Max Weinreich

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Max Weinreich
Born22 April 1894
Goldingen, Courland Governorate, Russian Empire (modern Kuldīga, Latvia)
Died29 January 1969(1969-01-29) (aged 74)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Occupationlinguist, sociolinguist
Alma materUniversity of Marburg (1923)
Notable worksHistory of the Yiddish language, Hitler's Professors
Notable awardsGuggenheim Fellowship[1]
SpouseRegina Shabad
Children2 (Uriel and Gabriel)
RelativesZemach Shabad

Max Weinreich (Yiddish: מאַקס ווײַנרײַך[2] Maks Vaynraych; Russian: Мейер Лазаревич Вайнрайх, Meyer Lazarevich Vaynraykh; 22 April 1894 – 29 January 1969) was a Russian-American-Jewish linguist, specializing in sociolinguistics[3] and Yiddish, and the father of the linguist Uriel Weinreich, who, a sociolinguistic innovator, edited the Modern Yiddish-English English-Yiddish Dictionary.[4]

He is known for increasing language awareness of Yiddish as a standardized language; he popularised the phrase "A language is a dialect with an army and navy".


Weinreich began his studies in a German school in Goldingen (modern Kuldīga), transferring to the gymnasium in Libau (modern Liepāja) after four years. He then lived in Daugavpils and Łódź. Between 1909 and 1912, he resided in Saint Petersburg, where he attended I. G. Eizenbet's private Jewish gymnasium for boys.[5] He was raised in a German-speaking family but became fascinated with Yiddish.

In the early 1920s, Weinreich lived in Germany and pursued studies in linguistics at the universities of Berlin and Marburg. In 1923, under the direction of German linguist Ferdinand Wrede [de] in Marburg,[6] he completed his dissertation, entitled "Studien zur Geschichte und dialektischen Gliederung der jiddischen Sprache" (Studies in the History and Dialect Distribution of the Yiddish language).[7] The dissertation was published in 1993 under the title Geschichte der jiddischen Sprachforschung ("History of Yiddish Linguistics").

In 1925, Weinreich was the cofounder, along with Nochum Shtif, Elias Tcherikower, and Zalman Reisen, of YIVO (originally called the Yidisher Visnshaftlekher Institut — Yiddish Scientific Institute).[8] Although the institute was officially founded during a conference in Berlin in August 1925, the centre of its activities was in Wilno (now Vilnius, Lithuania), which eventually became its official headquarters as well. YIVO's first office in Wilno was in a room in Weinreich's apartment.[7] Remembered as the guiding force of the institute, Weinreich directed its linguistic, or philological section in the period before the Second World War.[7][8]

Weinreich was in Denmark with his wife, Regina Shabad Weinreich, the daughter of a notable doctor and Jewish leader of Wilno Zemach Shabad, and his older son, Uriel, when World War II 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. Weinreich became a professor of Yiddish at City College of New York and re-established YIVO in New York.[9]


Weinreich translated Sigmund Freud and Ernst Toller into Yiddish.

Weinreich is often cited as the author of a facetious quip[10][11][12] distinguishing between languages and dialects: "A language is a dialect with an army and navy" ("אַ שפּראַך איז אַ דיאַלעקט מיט אַן אַרמײ און פֿלאָט", "a shprakh iz a dialekt mit an armey un flot"), but he was then explicitly quoting an auditor at one of his lectures.

Publications in English:

  • History of the Yiddish Language (Volumes 1 and 2) ed. Paul (Hershl) Glasser. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008.[13]
  • Hitler's professors: the Part of Scholarship in Germany's Crimes Against the Jewish People. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999. [first published 1946, in Yiddish and in English editions]
  • History of the Yiddish language. trans. Shlomo Noble, with the assistance of Joshua A. Fishman. 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 hayntiker tsayt. Nyu-York: 1941.


  1. ^ "Max Weinreich". John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Retrieved 2020-04-16. Fellow in Linguistics, 1955, 1956.
  2. ^ Roskies, David G. "David G. Roskies, ַמאַקס װײַנרײַך—אויף די שפּורן פֿון א לעבעדיקן עבֿר [Max Weinreich: In Search of a Usable Past], YIVO-bleter, n.s., 3 (1997): 308-318".
  3. ^ Murray, Stephen O. (1998). American Sociolinguistics: Theorists and Theory Groups. John Benjamins Publishing. p. passim. ISBN 90-272-2178-2.
  4. ^ Weinreich, Uriel (1968). ‏מאָדערן ענגליש־יידיש, יידיש־ענגליש ווערטערבוך. Schocken. ISBN 978-0-8052-0575-6.
  5. ^ "Анатолий Хаеш, Генеалогические сведения в документах санкт-петербургской гимназии Эйзенбета". Archived from the original on November 9, 2009.
  6. ^ Koerner, E. F. K. (2003). Toward a History of American Linguistics. Routledge. p. 261. ISBN 978-1-134-49508-5.
  7. ^ a b c Glasser, Paul (May 4, 2010). "Weinreich, Max," The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe, ed. Gershon David Hundert. [New York, N.Y.]: YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. yivoencyclopedia.org (website based on the print edition published by Yale University Press in 2008).
  8. ^ a b Schaechter, Mordkhe; Baumgarten, Jean (2007). "Weinreich, Max". In Berenbaum, Michael; Skolnik, Fred (eds.). Encyclopaedia Judaica. Vol. 20 (2nd ed.). Detroit: Macmillan Reference. pp. 723–724. ISBN 978-0-02-866097-4.
  9. ^ "Max Weinreich". YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. Retrieved 2023-12-25.
  10. ^ Victor H. Mair, The Columbia History of Chinese Literature, p. 24 full text: "It has often been facetiously remarked... the falsity of this quip can be demonstrated..."
  11. ^ Henry Hitchings, The Language Wars: A History of Proper English, p. 20 full text: "There's an old joke that..."
  12. ^ S. Mchombo, "Nyanja" in Keith Brown, Sarah Ogilvie, eds., Concise encyclopedia of languages of the world, p. 793 full text: "A recurrent joke in linguistics courses ... is the quip that ..."
  13. ^ "Welcome - Yale University Press". yalepress.yale.edu.


  • David E. Fishman, The Rise of Modern Yiddish Culture, University of Pittsburgh Press (2005), ISBN 0-8229-4272-0.
  • Gershon David Hundert, YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe, Yale University Press (2008), ISBN 0-300-11903-8.