LINGUIST List 26.1159

Mon Mar 02 2015

All: Obituary: Joshua A. Fishman (18 July 1926 - 1 March 2015)

Editor for this issue: Malgorzata Cavar <>

        1.     Francis Hult , Obituary: Joshua A. Fishman
        2.     Ghil'ad Zuckermann , Obituary: Joshua A. Fishman (18 July 1926 - 1 March 2015)

Message 1: Obituary: Joshua A. Fishman Date: 02-Mar-2015
From: Francis Hult <>
Subject: Obituary: Joshua A. Fishman
E-mail this message to a friend

From: Ofelia Garcia []

Joshua A. Fishman (1926-2015)

A beloved teacher and influential scholar, Joshua A. Fishman passed away peacefully in his Bronx home, on Monday evening, March 1, 2015. He was 88 years old. Joshua A. Fishman leaves behind his devoted wife of over 60 years, Gella Schweid Fishman, three sons and daughters-in-law, nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. But he also leaves behind thousands of students throughout the world who have learned much from him about sociology of language, the field he founded, and also about the possibility of being a generous and committed scholar to language minority communities. As he once said, his life was his work and his work was his life.

Joshua A. Fishman, nicknamed Shikl, was born in Philadelphia, PA, on July 18, 1926. Yiddish was the language of his childhood home, and his father regularly asked his sister, Rukhl, and him: “What did you do for Yiddish today?” The struggle for Yiddish in Jewish life was the impetus for his scholarly work. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania with a Masters degree in 1947, he collaborated with his good friend, Max Weinreich, the doyen of Yiddish linguistics, on a translation of Weinreich’s history of Yiddish. And it was through Yiddish that he came to another one of his interests - that of bilingualism. In 1948 he received a prize from the YIVO Institute for Yiddish Research for a monograph on bilingualism. Yiddish and bilingualism were interests he developed throughout his scholarly life.

After earning a PhD in social psychology from Columbia University in 1953, Joshua Fishman worked as a researcher for the College Entrance Examination Board. This experience focused his interest on educational pursuits, which eventually led to another strand of his scholarly work – that on bilingual education. It was around this time that he taught what came to be the first sociology of language course at The City College of New York. In 1958, he was appointed associate professor of human relations and psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, and two years later, moved to Yeshiva University. At Yeshiva University he was professor of psychology and sociology, Dean of the Ferkauf Graduate School of Social Science and Humanities, Academic Vice President, and Distinguished University Research Professor of Social sciences. In 1988, he became Professor Emeritus and began to divide the year between New York and California where he became visiting professor of education and linguistics at Stanford University. In the course of his career, Fishman held visiting appointments at over a dozen universities in the USA, Israel, and the Philippines, and fellowships at the Center for Advanced study (Stanford), the East West Center (Hawai’i) the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study, and the Israel Institute for Advanced Study.

Throughout his long career Joshua A. Fishman has published close to one hundred books and over a thousand articles. He has not only been prolific, but his original and complex ideas have been very influential in the academy, as well as extremely useful to language minorities through the world. His first major study of sociology of language, Language Loyalty in the United States, was published in 1964. A year later, he published "Yiddish in America." In 1968, he published the earliest major collection dealing with language policy and management, "Language problems of developing nations." In the same year, he edited and published "Readings in the sociology of language," a first attempt to define the new field.

By the 1970s Joshua Fishman’s scholarship was recognized throughout the world for its importance and its relevance about the language issues prevalent in society. In 1973, he founded, and has since edited, "The International Journal of the Sociology of Language," a journal of excellent international reputation. Joshua Fishman has also edited a related book series published by Mouton, "Contributions to the Sociology of Language (CSL)," with over 200 titles. In both of these endeavors Fishman has encouraged young scholars to research, write and publish, supporting and contributing to the academic careers of many throughout the world, especially in developing countries. For years he replied daily to letters and e-mails from students from all over the world. His greatest motivation has been dialoguing with many about the use of language in society and answering student questions. The world was his classroom.

While conducting an impressive body of research, and being responsive to the many who asked for advice, Fishman traveled extensively, encouraging the activities of those seeking to preserve endangered languages. He will be remembered by the Māoris of New Zealand, the Catalans and Basques of Spain, the Navajo and other Native Americans, the speakers of Quechua and Aymara in South America, and many other minority language groups for his warmth and encouragement. For a quarter-century, he wrote a column on Yiddish sociolinguistics in every issue of the quarterly Afn Shvel. He also wrote regularly on Yiddish and general sociolinguistic topics for the weekly Forverts. Together with his wife Gella Fishman, he established the extensive five-generational ''Fishman Family Archives'' at Stanford University library. In 2004 he received the prestigious UNESCO Linguapax Award in Barcelona, Spain.

Joshua Fishman’s prolific record of research and publication has continued until today, defining modern scholarship in bilingualism and multilingualism, bilingual and minority education, the relation of language and thought, the sociology and the social history of Yiddish, language policy and planning, language spread, language shift and maintenance, language and nationalism, language and ethnicity, post-imperial English, languages in New York, and ethnic, and national efforts to reverse language shift.

His scholarly work with minority groups and with others engaged in the struggle to preserve their languages, cultures, and traditions has been inspired by a deep and heartfelt compassion that is always sustained by the markedly human tone of his most objective scholarly writing.

Linguistic Field(s): Not Applicable

Message 2: Obituary: Joshua A. Fishman (18 July 1926 - 1 March 2015) Date: 02-Mar-2015
From: Ghil'ad Zuckermann <>
Subject: Obituary: Joshua A. Fishman (18 July 1926 - 1 March 2015)
E-mail this message to a friend

Joshua A. Fishman (18 July 1926 - 1 March 2015)

Seven Jews have changed the world. Moses said: "Everything is in the head!" Jesus said: "Everything is in the heart!" Marx said: "Everything is in the stomach!" Freud said: "Everything is in the groin!" Fishman said: "Everything is in the tongue!" Zuckerberg said: "Everything is in the finger!" Einstein said: "Everything is relative!"

Success is relative. But Joshua A. Fishman Z''L, hypocoristically a.k.a. Shikl, has set an absolute standard. Only in the dictionary does “Success” come before “Work”. And Fishman’s more than 80 books and 1000 articles demonstrate his Herculean commitment to scholarship since his first publications in the original Yiddish journal "Yugntruf" in 1945, which he co-founded with contact linguist Uriel Weinreich.
If William Labov (L'above and beyond) is the founder of micro-sociolinguistics (cf. variationist sociolinguistics), Fishman is the founder of macro-sociolinguistics (cf. sociology of language), which consists inter alia of the analysis of language education, language planning, bilingualism, multilingualism, minority languages and language revival. Fishman is a sociologist who could be considered a "hyphenated linguist", perspicaciously investigating fascinating and multifaceted issues such as language and religion (theo-linguistics), language and nationalism, language and identity, and language and ethnicity.
As Weinreich et al. insightfully note, "linguistic and social factors are closely interrelated in the development of language change. Explanations which are confined to one or the other aspect, no matter how well constructed, will fail to account for the rich body of regularities that can be observed in empirical studies of language behavior" (1968: 188).

The founder and general editor of the leading, pioneering refereed publication "International Journal of the Sociology of Language," Fishman created an intellectual platform that has greatly facilitated the introduction and dissemination of novel models and revolutionary theories that have led to numerous academic debates, syntheses and cross-fertilizations. He has often acted as an epistemological bridge between, and antidote for, parallel discourses.

One ought to assess the breadth and depth of Fishman's work through a combined Jewish-sociolinguistic lens. Like Uriel Weinreich, Fishman's research embodies the integration of Jewish scholarship with general linguistics. Fishman (1981, 1985) himself explores the sociology of Jewish languages from a general sociolinguistic point of view. But I would also advocate a bilateral impact: Jewish linguistics, the exploration of Jewish languages such as Yiddish, has shaped general sociolinguistics. Throughout history Jews have been multilingual immigrants, resulting in Jewish languages embodying intricate and intriguing mechanisms of language contact and identity. These languages were thus fertile ground for the establishment and evolution of the sociology of language in general.

Given the importance in Judaism not only of mentshlikhkayt (cf. humaneness) but also of education and "on the other hand" dialectics, it is not surprising to find the self-propelled institute Fishman trailblazing simultaneously both in Yiddish scholarship in particular and in the sociology of language in general.

In the field of Yiddish studies proper, Fishman's contribution has been immense and far-reaching. He was co-editor of "For Max Weinreich on his seventieth birthday" (1965), co-translator of the English language publication (1979–1980) of the first two volumes of Weinreich’s seminal "Geshikhte fun der Yidisher Shprakh" [History of the Yiddish language], and editor of "Studies on Polish Jewry, 1919–1970: the interplay of social, economic and political factors in the struggle of a minority for its existence" (1974). Closer to his expertise are the impressive and important "Never say die! A thousand years of Yiddish in Jewish life and letters" (1981), and his outstanding sociolinguistic biography of Nathan Birnbaum: "Ideology, society and language: the odyssey of Nathan Birnbaum" (1987).

Fishman has lived up to Sapir’s verdict: ''Language is a guide to 'social reality'. Though language is not ordinarily thought of as of essential interest to the students of social science, it powerfully conditions all our thinking about social problems and processes. Human beings do not live in the objective world alone, nor alone in the world of social activity as ordinarily understood, but are very much at the mercy of the particular language which has become the medium of expression for their society. It is quite an illusion to imagine that one adjusts to reality essentially without the use of language and that language is merely an incidental means of solving specific problems of communication or reflection. The fact of the matter is that the 'real world' is to a large extent unconsciously built upon the language habits of the group. No two languages are ever sufficiently similar to be considered as representing the same social reality. The worlds in which different societies live are distinct worlds, not merely the same world with different labels attached.'' (Sapir 1921: 162)

Fishman’s plethora of direct contributions to specific areas of sociolinguistics and Jewish languages are impressive (see Schweid Fishman 2012). Their impact, however, on other scholars, on our sense of the possibilities for further research, and on the generation of yet-unanswered new questions, is exponentially greater. To take one example, Fishman’s work on reversing language shift and on language revival and maintenance (e.g. 1991, 2001), is the basis for the emerging new trans-disciplinary field of enquiry of what I call 'revivalistics' (see also ''Revival Linguistics'', Zuckermann and Walsh 2011). Complementing documentary linguistics, 'revivalistics' analyses comparatively the universal mechanisms and constraints involved in language reclamation, revitalization, renewal and empowerment world-wide. 'Revivalistics' is in its infancy simply because the reclamation of sleeping beauty tongues is a relatively young activity. I am currently involved with the resurrection of several hibernating Aboriginal languages in the 'Lucky Country' down under, Australia. Israeli, the beautiful hybrid that emerged in the Promised Land, and which has so far been relatively the most successful reclamation, is only 120 years old.

Shikl will always be remembered for his gargantuan labour and perspicacious insights. He is survived by the indefatigable and extraordinarily-dedicated Gella Schweid Fishman, to whom I wish biz hundert un tsvantsik!, Yiddish for ''[may you live] until 120 years!'' Serendipitously but appropriately, Tolkien's Quenya name for ''fish'' is lingwe.

Fishman, Joshua A. 1981. The sociology of Jewish languages from the perspective of the general sociology of language: a preliminary formulation. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 30. 5–18.
Fishman, Joshua A. 1985. The sociology of Jewish languages from a general sociolinguistic point of view. In Joshua A. Fishman (ed.), Readings in the sociology of Jewish languages, 3–21. Leiden: E. J. Brill.
Fishman, Joshua A. 1991. Reversing language shift: theoretical and empirical foundations of assistance to threatened languages. Clevedon (UK): Multilingual Matters.
Fishman, Joshua A. (ed.). 2001. Can threatened languages be saved? Reversing language shift, revisited: a 21st century perspective. Clevedon (UK): Multilingual Matters.
Sapir, Edward. 1921. Language. An introduction to the study of speech. New York: Harcourt & Brace.
Schweid Fishman, Gella 2012. Joshua A. Fishman bibliography (1949–2011), International Journal of the Sociology of Language 213.
Weinreich, Uriel, William Labov & Marvin Herzog. 1968. Empirical foundations for a theory of language change. In W. P. Lehmann & Yakov Malkiel (eds), 97–195. Directions for historical linguistics. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Zuckermann, Ghil’ad & Michael Walsh. 2011. Stop, revive, survive!: Lessons from the Hebrew revival applicable to the reclamation, maintenance and empowerment of Aboriginal languages and cultures. Australian Journal of Linguistics 31(1). 111–127.
Written by Professor Ghil'ad Zuckermann, D.Phil. (Oxon.), Chair of Linguistics and Endangered Languages, School of Humanities,
The University of Adelaide,
Adelaide SA 5005, Australia

Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics

Page Updated: 02-Mar-2015