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Uriel Weinreich’s 50th Yahrzeit Honored With Special Issue Of Linguistics Journal

This article originally appeared in the Yiddish Forverts.

Although he is better known in the Yiddish cultural world for his landmark textbook “College Yiddish” and his “Modern English-Yiddish/Yiddish-English Dictionary”, Uriel Weinreich was also a pioneer in the field of sociolinguistics.

Even today, 50 years after his tragic death from cancer at the age of 40, the Vilna-born Weinreich’s theories about the ways in which languages influence one another and how bilingual speakers switch between languages continue to have an enormous impact on sociolinguistic studies. It’s almost impossible to find a modern textbook on the theoretical underpinnings of bilingualism, language mixing, code-switching or dialectology that does not frequently cite Weinreich’s work.

The field of sociolinguistics continues to enjoy the fruits of Weinreich’s labors through the work of a generation of graduate students whom he trained. Most notable among them is Dr. William Labov of the University of Pennsylvania, the doyen of sociolinguistics who founded the discipline of variationist linguistics, which studies the relationship between language variation, linguistic change and social class.

Recently the Journal of Jewish Languages, the editors of which are Dr. Ofra Tirosh-Becker and Dr. Sarah Bunin Benor, released a special issue, guest-edited by doctoral student Isaac Bleaman of New York Universit and Dr. Brian Joseph of Ohio University in honor of Weinreich’s life and work. The issue includes an overview of Weinreich’s life and primary scholarly interests, including contact linguistics, historical linguistics and Yiddish, by Bleaman and an essay by Labov on the empirical foundations of Weinreich’s theories.

In addition to the two essays about Weinreich, the special issue includes four new scholarly articles on topics that were close to Weinreich’s heart. Dr. Rachel Steindel Burdin explains how three Yiddish-English bilinguals alter their intonation when speaking. Dr. Netta Avineri explains how different secular Jewish communities relate to Yiddish and Dr. Paul Glasser explores various phonological features of Southeastern Yiddish. Stepping away from Yiddish, Dr. David M. Bunis explores the Slavic words that were used in the version of Ladino spoken in the Balkans.

Find more information about the special issue here.

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