Joshua Fishman

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Joshua Fishman giving a speech about the Gaelic language at the University of Aberdeen. Joshau Fishman Aberdeen.jpg
Joshua Fishman giving a speech about the Gaelic language at the University of Aberdeen.

Joshua Aaron Fishman, (Yiddish: שיקל פֿישמאַן — Shikl Fishman; July 18, 1926 March 1, 2015) was an American linguist who specialized in the sociology of language, language planning, bilingual education, and language and ethnicity.

Yiddish is the historical language of the Ashkenazi Jews. It originated during the 9th century in Central Europe, providing the nascent Ashkenazi community with a High German-based vernacular fused with elements taken from Hebrew and Aramaic as well as from Slavic languages and traces of Romance languages. Yiddish is written with a fully vocalized version of the Hebrew alphabet.

Sociology of language

Sociology of language is the study of the relations between language and society. It is closely related to the field of sociolinguistics, which focuses on the effect of society on language. One of its longest and most prolific proponents was Joshua Fishman, who was founding editor of the International Journal of the Sociology of Language, in addition to other major contributions. The sociology of language studies society in relation to language, whereas Sociolinguistics studies language in relation to society. For the former, society is the object of study, whereas, for the latter, language is the object of study. In other words, sociolinguistics studies language and how it varies based on the user's sociological background, such as gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic class. On the other hand, sociology of language studies society and how it is impacted by language. As Trent University professor of global politics Andreas Pickel states, "religion and other symbolic systems strongly shaping social practices and shaping political orientations are examples of the social significance such languages can have." The basic idea is that language reflects, among several other things, attitudes that speakers want to exchange or that just get reflected through language use. These attitudes of the speakers are the sociologist's information.

Language planning is a deliberate effort to influence the function, structure or acquisition of languages or language variety within a speech community. It is often associated with government planning, but is also used by a variety of non-governmental organizations such as grass-roots organizations as well as individuals. Goals of such planning vary. Better communication through assimilation of a single dominant language can bring economic benefits to minorities but is also perceived to facilitate their political domination. It involves the establishment of language regulators, such as formal or informal agencies, committees, societies or academies to design or develop new structures to meet contemporary needs.


Early life and education

Joshua Fishman (Yiddish name Shikl) was born and raised in Philadelphia. [1] He attended public schools while also studying Yiddish at elementary and secondary levels. As he grew up, his father would ask his children at the dinner table, "What did you do for Yiddish today?" [1] He studied Yiddish in Workmen’s Circle Schools, [2] which emphasized mastery of the Yiddish language along with a focus on literature, history, and social issues. He graduated from Olney High School.[ citation needed ] In 1947, he obtained a master's degree from University of Pennsylvania [1] on a Mayor’s Scholarship, earning a B.S. in history and an M.S. in psychology.[ citation needed ]. He went on to get a PhD in social psychology from Columbia University in 1953. [3]

Philadelphia Largest city in Pennsylvania, United States

Philadelphia, known colloquially as Philly, is the largest city in the U.S. state and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the sixth-most populous U.S. city, with a 2018 census-estimated population of 1,584,138. Since 1854, the city has been coterminous with Philadelphia County, the most populous county in Pennsylvania and the urban core of the eighth-largest U.S. metropolitan statistical area, with over 6 million residents as of 2017. Philadelphia is also the economic and cultural anchor of the greater Delaware Valley, located along the lower Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers, within the Northeast megalopolis. The Delaware Valley's population of 7.2 million ranks it as the eighth-largest combined statistical area in the United States.

University of Pennsylvania Private Ivy League research university in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The University of Pennsylvania is a private Ivy League research university in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It is one of the nine colonial colleges founded prior to the Declaration of Independence and the first institution of higher learning in the United States to refer to itself as a university. Benjamin Franklin, Penn's founder and first president, advocated an educational program that trained leaders in commerce, government, and public service, similar to a modern liberal arts curriculum.

He is the father of David Fishman. [4]


After graduating, he studied Yiddish with Max Weinreich during the summer of 1948. During that time, he received a prize from the YIVO (Institute for Yiddish Research) for a monograph on bilingualism. [1] In 1951 he took a position as educational psychologist for the Jewish Education Committee of New York.[ citation needed ] The same year, he married Gella Schweid, with whom he shared a lifelong commitment to Yiddish.[ citation needed ] In 1953, he completed his Ph.D. in social psychology at Columbia University [1] with a dissertation entitled Negative Stereotypes Concerning Americans among American-born Children Receiving Various Types of Minority-group Education.

Max Weinreich was a Russian Jewish linguist, specializing in sociolinguistics and Yiddish, and the father of the linguist Uriel Weinreich, who edited the Modern Yiddish-English English-Yiddish Dictionary.

YIVO research center, library and archives

YIVO, established in 1925 in Wilno in the Second Polish Republic as the Yidisher Visnshaftlekher Institut, is an organization that preserves, studies, and teaches the cultural history of Jewish life throughout Eastern Europe, Germany, and Russia as well as orthography, lexicography, and other studies related to Yiddish. The English name of the organization was changed to the Institute for Jewish Research after its relocation to New York City, but it is still known mainly by its Yiddish acronym. YIVO is now a partner of the Center for Jewish History and serves as the de facto recognized language regulator of the Yiddish language.

Social psychology scientific study of social effects on peoples thoughts, feelings, and behaviors

Social psychology is the scientific study of how people's thoughts, feelings and behaviors are influenced by the actual, imagined or implied presence of others. In this definition, scientific refers to the empirical investigation using the scientific method. The terms thoughts, feelings and behavior refer to psychological variables that can be measured in humans. The statement that others' presence may be imagined or implied suggests that humans are malleable to social influences even when alone, such as when watching television, looking at reality shows, music videos and movies they can be influenced to follow the behaviour in the visual setting or following internalized cultural norms. Social psychologists typically explain human behavior as a result of the interaction of mental states and social situations.

Shikl was approached by his hometown Phillies asking him to join the radio booth and announce one batter's plate appearance in Yiddish in a part of the Phillies Jewish week. Shikl turned down the offer for fear it would "make a mockery of Yiddish."[ citation needed ]

From 1955 to 1958, he taught the sociology of language at the City College of New York while he was also directing research at the College Entrance Examination Board. [1] In 1958, he was appointed an associate professor of human relations and psychology at Penn. [1] He subsequently accepted a post as professor of psychology and sociology at Yeshiva University in New York, where he would also serve as dean of the Ferkauf Graduate School of Social Sciences and Humanities as well as academic vice president. In 1966, he was made Distinguished University Research Professor of Social Sciences. [1]

City College of New York senior college of the City University of New York (CUNY) in New York City

The City College of the City University of New York is a public senior college of the City University of New York (CUNY) in New York City. Founded in 1847, City College was the first free public institution of higher education in the United States. It is the oldest of CUNY's 24 institutions of higher learning, and is considered its flagship college.

Yeshiva University Jewish University located in Manhattan

Yeshiva University is a private research university with four campuses in New York City. The university's undergraduate schools — Yeshiva College, Stern College for Women, and Syms School of Business — offer a dual curriculum inspired by Modern-Centrist-Orthodox Judaism's hashkafa (philosophy) of Torah Umadda combining academic education with the study of the Torah.

The Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology is a division of Yeshiva University. Along with the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, it is located at the Louis E. and Doris Rousso Community Health Center on Yeshiva University’s Jack and Pearl Resnick Campus in the Bronx, New York.

In 1988, he became professor emeritus and became affiliated with a number of other institutions: Visiting Professor and Visiting Scholar, School of Education, Applied Linguistics and Department of Linguistics, Stanford University; Adjunct Professor of Multilingual and Multicultural Education, School of Education, New York University; Visiting Professor of Linguistics, City University of New York, Graduate Center. He has held visiting appointments and fellowships at over a dozen institutions around the world, including the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (Stanford, CA) and the Institute for Advanced Study (Princeton, NJ). [1]

Stanford University Private research university in Stanford, California

Leland Stanford Junior University is a private research university in Stanford, California. Stanford is known for its academic strength, selectivity, wealth, proximity to Silicon Valley, and ranking as one of the world's top universities. Often ranking first among all universities both domestically and internationally has led Stanford to be known as America's "dream college".

New York University private research university in New York, NY, United States

New York University (NYU) is a private research university originally founded in New York City but now with campuses and locations throughout the world. Founded in 1831, NYU's historical campus is in Greenwich Village, New York City. As a global university, students can graduate from its degree-granting campuses in NYU Abu Dhabi and NYU Shanghai, as well as study at its 12 academic centers in Accra, Berlin, Buenos Aires, Florence, London, Los Angeles, Madrid, Paris, Prague, Sydney, Tel Aviv, and Washington, D.C.

City University of New York Public university system in New York City

The City University of New York is the public university system of New York City. It is the largest urban university system in the United States. CUNY was founded in 1961 and comprises 24 campuses: eleven senior colleges, seven community colleges, one undergraduate honors college, and seven post-graduate institutions. The university enrolls more than 275,000 students, and counts thirteen Nobel Prize winners and twenty-four MacArthur Fellows among its alumni.


Fishman wrote over 1000 articles and monographs on multilingualism, bilingual education and minority education, the sociology and history of the Yiddish language, language planning, reversing language shift, language revival, 'language and nationalism', 'language and religion', and 'language and ethnicity'. Fishman is the founder and editor of the Contributions to the Sociology of Language book series by Mouton de Gruyter.

The influential Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale (GIDS) for determining whether languages are endangered was devised by Fishman in his book Reversing Language Shift. [5] The Enhanced GIDS was based on this and is used by Ethnologue.

According to Ghil'ad Zuckermann, "The founder and general editor of the leading 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." [6] :149–152

And "One ought to assess the breadth and depth of Fishman’s work through a combined Jewish-sociolinguistic lens." [6] :149–152 Zuckermann has argued that "Fishman’s research embodies the integration of Jewish scholarship with general linguistics. [...] 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." [6] :149–152

Special honors

In 1991, Fishman was honored by two Festschriften, publications to celebrate his 65th birthday, each filled with articles by colleagues that followed his interests. One was a three volume collection of articles concerned with his interests, edited by Garcia, Dow, and Marshall, the other a single volume edited by Cooper and Spolsky.[ citation needed ]

In 1999, Fishman received the Itzik Manger Prize for contributions to Yiddish letters. [7]

In 2004, he was awarded the Linguapax Prize. [1]

On September 10, 2006, Fishman was honored by a one-day symposium at the University of Pennsylvania, commemorating his 80th birthday. He died in Bronx, New York, on March 1, 2015, at the age of 88. [8]


in 1994 the Stanford University Libraries established the 'Joshua A. Fishman and Gella Schweid Fishman Family Archives' [1] within their Special Collections Section. The archive contains drafts of subsequently published books and articles, course outlines, lectures given, professional correspondence, family correspondence, photographs, audio-tapes, video-tapes, and other materials pertaining to Fishman's work.



Related Research Articles

Sociolinguistics is the descriptive study of the effect of any and all aspects of society, including cultural norms, expectations, and context, on the way language is used, and society's effect on language. It differs from sociology of language, which focuses on the effect of language on society. Sociolinguistics overlaps considerably with pragmatics. It is historically closely related to linguistic anthropology, and the distinction between the two fields has been questioned.

In linguistics, code-switching or language alternation occurs when a speaker alternates between two or more languages, or language varieties, in the context of a single conversation. Multilinguals, speakers of more than one language, sometimes use elements of multiple languages when conversing with each other. Thus, code-switching is the use of more than one linguistic variety in a manner consistent with the syntax and phonology of each variety.

Yiddishism is a cultural and linguistic movement which began among Jews in Eastern Europe during the latter part of the 19th century. Some of the leading founders of this movement were Mendele Moykher-Sforim (1836–1917), I.L. Peretz (1852–1915), and Sholem Aleichem (1859–1916).

Language death Process in which a language eventually loses its last native speaker

In linguistics, language death occurs when a language loses its last native speaker. By extension, language extinction is when the language is no longer known, including by second-language speakers. Other similar terms include linguicide, the death of a language from natural or political causes, and rarely glottophagy, the absorption or replacement of a minor language by a major language.

Charles Albert Ferguson was an American linguist who taught at Stanford University. He was one of the founders of sociolinguistics and is best known for his work on diglossia. The TOEFL test was created under his leadership at the Center for Applied Linguistics in Washington, DC. Ferguson was also the leader of a team of linguists in Ethiopia under the Ford Foundation's Survey of Language Use and Language Teaching. One of the many publications that came out of this was his article proposing the Ethiopian Language Area, an article that has become widely cited and an important milestone in the study of contact linguistics.

Michael Clyne Australian linguist

Michael George Clyne, AM, FAHA, FASSA was an Australian linguist, academic and intellectual. He was a scholar in various fields of linguistics, including sociolinguistics, pragmatics, bilingualism and multilingualism, second language learning, contact linguistics and intercultural communication. He was a fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia, the Australian Academy of the Humanities, and the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences.

An ethnolinguistic group is a group that is unified by both a common ethnicity and language. Most ethnic groups have their own language. Despite this, the term is often used to emphasise when language is a major basis for the ethnic group, especially with regards to its neighbours.

Metaphorical code-switching refers to the tendency in a bilingual or multilingual community to switch codes in conversation in order to discuss a topic that would normally fall into another conversational domain. "An important distinction is made from situational switching, where alternation between varieties redefines a situation, being a change in governing norms, and metaphorical switching, where alternation enriches a situation, allowing for allusion to more than one social relationship within the situation." For example, at a family dinner, where you would expect to hear a more colloquial, less prestigious variety of language, family members might switch to a highly prestigious form in order to discuss school or work. At work interlocutors may switch to a low prestige variety when discussing family.

A significant construct in language learning research, identity is defined as "how a person understands his or her relationship to the world, how that relationship is structured across time and space, and how the person understands possibilities for the future". Recognizing language as a social practice, identity highlights how language constructs and is constructed by a variety of relationships. Because of the diverse positions from which language learners can participate in social life, identity is theorized as multiple, subject to change, and a site of struggle.

<i>International Journal of the Sociology of Language</i> journal

The International Journal of the Sociology of Language is a peer-reviewed academic journal covering the field of sociology of language. It was established in 1974 by the eminent sociologist of language Joshua Fishman, who has served many years as editor-in-chief,. Today, the editor is Ofelia Garcia Otheguy. Each issue focuses on a single topic within the scope of the journal's field, for example "Sociolinguistic Issues in Azerbaijan", "The Official Language Minorities in Canada" and "Jewish Language Contact". Each issue also publishes a book review and many issues also include a study relating to the sociology of endangered languages or small language communities. The journal is published by Walter de Gruyter.

Masahiko Minami is a linguistics professor at San Francisco State University where he specializes in Japanese language and cross-cultural studies. He is also President of the Foreign Language Association of Northern California (FLANC) and coordinator for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test for Northern California. In addition, he was President of the Northern California Japanese Teachers’ Association (NCJTA).

Lǐ Wéi is a British linguist of Manchu-Chinese parentage. He is a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. He is Chair of Applied Linguistics and Director of the UCL Centre for Applied Linguistics at the UCL Institute of Education, University College London. Currently he is Director of the ESRC UCL, Bloomsbury and East London Doctoral Training Partnership. Until the end of 2014, he was Pro-Vice-Master of Birkbeck College, University of London and Director of the Birkeck Graduate Research School. His research interests are in bilingualism and multilingualism.

Moha Ennaji Moroccan linguist

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William Alexander Stewart was a linguist specializing in creoles, known particularly for his work on African American Vernacular English.

The term "linguistic ecology" was first used in an article on the "language situation" in Arizona.

The bibliography of code-switching comprises all academic and peer-reviewed works on the topic of code-switching. It is sorted by category, then alphabetically.

Flore Zéphir was a Haitian American academic and author.

A social domain refers to communicative contexts which influence and are influenced by the structure of such contexts, whether social, institutional, power-aligned. As defined by Fishman, Cooper and Ma (1971), social domains "are sociolinguistic contexts definable for any given society by three significant dimensions: the location, the participants and the topic". Similarly, Bernard Spolsky defines domains as "[a]ny defined or definable social or political or religious group or community, ranging from family through a sports team or neighborhood or village or workplace or organization or city or nation state or regional alliance".


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Hult, Francis. "Obituary: Joshua A. Fishman". The Linguist List. Indiana University, Department of Linguistics. Retrieved 9 March 2015.
  2. "In Memoriam: Dr. Joshua (Shikl) Fishman (July 18, 1926-March 1, 2015)" . Retrieved 28 April 2019.
  3. "In Memoriam: Joshua A. Fishman". Center for Applied Linguistics. Retrieved 28 April 2019.
  4. "Joshua Fishman (1926-2015)". YIVO . Retrieved 26 October 2018.
  5. Fishman, Joshua. 1991. Reversing Language Shift. Clevendon: Multilingual Matters.
  6. 1 2 3 Zuckermann, Ghil'ad (2012). "Introduction to the Joshua A. Fishman comprehensive bibliography", International Journal of the Sociology of Language (Int’l. J. Soc. Lang.) 213
  7. Garcia, Ofelia; Peltz, Rakhmiel; Schiffman, Harold F. (2006). Language Loyalty, Continuity and Change: Joshua A. Fishman's Contributions to International Sociolinguistics. Multilingual Matters. p. 78. ISBN   9781853599026.
  8. Garcia, Ofelia (March 2, 2015). "Joshua Fishman (1926-2015)". Language Log.