Shikl, what did you do for Yiddish today? An appreciation of activist scholarship

Bernard Spolsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Academic biographies seldom go into details about motivation, but in the case of Joshua Fishman, we have his statement that much of his career was directed by the question posed to him by his father, What did you do for Yiddish today? Answering this question did not just lead to his personal decision to speak Yiddish with his wife and children, but also to make sure that his grandchildren would be fluent speakers. But as he explains, his pioneering academic work in the sociology of language had a similar purpose: to explore the nature of language maintenance and shift and to build a scientific basis to support language activists who wished, like him, to fight what seems to be the inevitable evolutionary forces leading to the endangerment and loss of minority languages. His scholarly work included many pioneering contributions to the study of Yiddish sociolinguistics, but it expanded to include not just other threatened languages but also to build a solid academic basis for studying what happens when stronger languages meet weaker. Thus he was the creator of the field of the sociology of language and provided support for language minority activists, all the time making sure he was doing something for Yiddish.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-38
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Journal of the Sociology of Language
Issue number243
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 by De Gruyter Mouton.


  • Fishman
  • Gella
  • Yiddish
  • activism
  • sociology of language


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