Comprehensive English-Yiddish Dictionary

Comprehensive English-Yiddish Dictionary


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Containing nearly 50,000 entries and 33,000 subentries, the Comprehensive English-Yiddish Dictionary emphasizes Yiddish as a living language that is spoken in many places around the world. The late Mordkhe Schaechter collected and researched spoken and literary Yiddish in all its varieties and this landmark dictionary reflects his vision for present-day and future Yiddish usage. The richness of dialect differences and historical developments are noted in entries ranging from "agriculture" to "zoology" and include words and expressions that can be found in classic and contemporary literature, newspapers, and other sources of the written word and have long been used by professionals and tradesmen, in synagogues, at home, in intimate life, and wherever Yiddish-speaking Jews have lived and worked.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780253022820
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Publication date: 06/13/2016
Edition description: Bilingual
Pages: 856
Sales rank: 770,699
Product dimensions: 8.90(w) x 11.30(h) x 2.00(d)

About the Author

Gitl Schaechter-Viswanath is Yiddish language editor for Afn shvel magazine and a published poet whose works include Plutsemdiker Regn/Sudden Rain. She worked with her father Mordkhe Schaechter on his numerous Yiddish publications, including collaborating with him in compiling this dictionary.

Paul Glasser is former Dean of the Max Weinreich Center for Advanced Jewish Studies at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. He spent many years working with Dr. Mordkhe Schaechter as a student and colleague.

Read an Excerpt

Comprehensive English-Yiddish Dictionary

Based on the Lexical Research of Mordkhe Schaechter

By Gitl Schaechter-Viswanath, Paul Glasser

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 2016 League for Yiddish, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-253-02282-0


Mordkhe Schaechter, the initiator of this new dictionary, was a Yiddish language institute in and of himself. More than anyone else in living memory, he collected and researched spoken and literary Yiddish in all its varieties — geographical, social, historical, and cultural. He published both descriptive works on authentic traditional usage and prescriptive ones as part of his vision for present-day and future Yiddish. Several lifetimes would have been too little time for him to publish all the knowledge he had accumulated.

Schaechter's professional research spanned many spheres of the linguistic field, particularly dialectology and Yiddish language corpus planning, and had a major influence on the most important Yiddish publications of the past fifty years.

Besides being a meticulous researcher, Schaechter was also a successful and much beloved Yiddish professor at Columbia University and the Jewish Teachers Seminary/Herzliah. One need only look at the number of his students who went on to become Yiddish professors to realize the impact that he had on the development of Yiddish as a subject of serious study. His personal relationship with Yiddish — not just as an academic field of study, but also as the indispensable language of our thousand-year-old Yiddish heritage — informed his entire life.

In the late 1950s, Schaechter initiated the Committee for the Implementation of the Standardized Yiddish Orthography, which would be active for several decades in promoting the standardized Yiddish spelling system originally promulgated by YIVO and TsIShO (Central Yiddish School Organization in Poland). In 1964, he co-founded Yugntruf Youth for Yiddish in order to promote the speaking of Yiddish among young people. In 1979, he founded and served as the longtime executive director of the League for Yiddish. This organization — through educational and literary ventures, including its magazine Afn shvel — continues to this day to pursue the goals of encouraging people to speak Yiddish in their everyday life; enhancing the prestige of Yiddish as a living language, both within the Yiddish-speaking community and outside it; and promoting the modernization of Yiddish.

Through his multi-faceted research, Schaechter curated approximately thirty terminological collections reflecting day-to-day spoken and written Yiddish in prewar Eastern Europe. These lists, which range literally from A (agriculture) to Z (zoology), include words and expressions used by professionals and tradesmen, in synagogues, in schools, on the street, in the military, at home, and in intimate life — wherever Yiddish-speaking Jews lived and worked — and can be found in Yiddish literature, newspapers, and other sources of the written word.

Towards the end of the twentieth century, as the Yiddish language began to undergo a minor renaissance, and the existing dictionaries gradually lost their utility in providing the necessary vocabulary for a natural spoken Yiddish in a rapidly changing linguistic environment, Schaechter recognized the need for a new English-Yiddish dictionary.

His belief in the value of Yiddish as a living language for both secular and religious Jews never wavered. A living language is a growing language, as he eloquently put it in his article "We Are Not Standing Still." During the peak period of terminological creativity in Yiddish, between the two World Wars in Eastern Europe, the Yiddish school systems and YIVO did their utmost to enrich the language with words for all modern endeavors; Yiddish — not merely a vehicle for home, synagogue, and in-group speech — would be on a par with all national languages.

In the post-war era, Yiddish philologists, including the young Mordkhe Schaechter, recognized the urgent need to collect and preserve traditional Yiddish, as well as to continue to fill lexical gaps. Among the results of this philological approach were Uriel Weinreich's Modern English-Yiddish Yiddish-English Dictionary (1968), which Schaechter assisted in editing; Yudel Mark and Judah A. Joffe's Great Dictionary of the Yiddish Language (1961-1980); and the Language and Culture Atlas of Ashkenazic Jewry by Marvin I. Herzog et al. (1992-), for which Schaechter served as principal interviewer during the field research of the 1950s to 1960s. As in any given modern age, new inventions and concepts require new terminology, and all languages must strive to keep pace. In the case of technology and computer science, for example, many innovations have arisen in English-speaking countries; hence, the relevant words have originated in English. Even widely spoken European languages, such as French, Spanish, German, and Russian, utilize three different approaches to fill lexical gaps: recycling older words, coining new ones, and borrowing.

In the case of Yiddish, a language spoken by a minority people surrounded by various majority nations, borrowing from other languages has been prevalent throughout its history. In spite of that, Schaechter notes that "the tendency of its development has been toward greater independence [from its origins in Middle High German]." After the rise of modern Yiddish literature and the Yiddishist movement in the latter part of the nineteenth century — along with contemporaneous efforts to reverse the prevailing tendency and make Yiddish more closely resemble German — borrowing was considered the least desirable approach to enrich the language: "They looked [for terms] in traditional folk language or coined [new ones]." Where borrowing was necessary, it was considered best to borrow pan-European terms of Greco-Latin origin, as widespread borrowing from local languages could lead to unintelligibility between speakers from different regions. This has, to some extent, taken place in the post-Holocaust era, as Yiddish speakers have found themselves even more far-flung than before; whereas a degree of unintelligibility may be tolerated in colloquial speech, it is decidedly not so in a literary language, let alone in scientific discourse.

The present dictionary arose out of what would have been Schaechter's most ambitious publication, tentatively titled "How Would You Say It in Yiddish?" which he intended to include the words both spontaneously and mindfully coined since the publication of the Modern English-Yiddish Yiddish-English Dictionary. Without these, it would be difficult to discuss contemporary topics in Yiddish.

As Schaechter stated in his original (unpublished) preface, his planned dictionary was to be "mainly a complement to our existing bilingual lexicography in general, to the English-Yiddish part of the Weinreich dictionary in particular." He did, however, plan to include English words listed in earlier dictionaries if they had acquired new meanings or if the Yiddish equivalents were obviously outdated. Here, Schaechter cited the example of Paul Abelson's English-Yiddish Encyclopedic Dictionary (1915), in which many "Yiddish" glosses were lifted wholesale from German dictionaries.

Rather than simply issue a complement to the Weinreich dictionary, however, the editors of this dictionary decided to considerably expand its scope to encompass the broad range of words and expressions found in most bilingual dictionaries, as well as contemporary English slang and colloquial usage prevalent mainly in North America.

Many entries were drawn from Schaechter's card files. Where he may have proposed several possible Yiddish equivalents for an English term, the editors selected the one or two that appeared to be most felicitous, and supplemented them with known existing synonyms. Where a draft entry included only an English term (intended by Schaechter to be further researched at a later point in time), the editors added Yiddish equivalents based on further in-depth review of existing Yiddish dictionaries, in particular Nahum Stutchkoff's Thesaurus of the Yiddish Language (1950), and by comparison to pan-European and Middle Eastern usage: French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Polish, Russian, Czech, Hungarian, Israeli Hebrew, and Arabic dictionaries, both hard-copy and internet editions.

Moreover, in keeping with Schaechter's striving for maximal comprehensiveness and contemporaneity, English terms that have arisen since his retirement have been added and Yiddish equivalents have been found or coined for them.

This new dictionary is significantly larger than most previous ones. The Weinreich dictionary, for example, includes approximately 20,000 entries each in both the English-Yiddish and Yiddish-English sections; Alexander Harkavy's Yiddish-English-Hebrew Dictionary includes around 30,000; the Comprehensive Yiddish-English Dictionary by Solon Beinfeld and Harry Bochner — about 37,000; the Comprehensive English-Yiddish Dictionary includes close to 50,000 entries and 33,000 subentries.

The initiator and editors of this dictionary have also taken a somewhat different approach to Yiddish dialectal usage than is evident in previous works, consistent with Schaechter's approach to dialect variation. A majority of Yiddish monolingual and bilingual dictionaries have evinced an implicit preference for the lexicon and usage originating in the northeastern region of Yiddish-speaking Eastern Europe (Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Belarus, and Northeastern Poland). The present dictionary emphasizes the usage of other regions as well, including Central Yiddish (spoken in Poland, Galicia, Hungary, and northwestern Romania) and Southeastern Yiddish (spoken in Ukraine, Moldova, and northeastern Romania), thereby presenting the richness and depth of the language over its entire geographic spread.

The editors-in-chief are Gitl Schaechter-Viswanath, a Yiddish editor and poet, who collaborated with her father on this dictionary and edited a number of his publications, and Paul Glasser, a Yiddish linguist who studied extensively with Dr. Schaechter and also collaborated with him on many of his publications. Associate editor Chava Lapin has been teaching Yiddish and related studies for forty years both in the United States and overseas.

The League for Yiddish is proud to be partnering with Indiana University Press in the publication of the Comprehensive English-Yiddish Dictionary.


Excerpted from Comprehensive English-Yiddish Dictionary by Gitl Schaechter-Viswanath, Paul Glasser. Copyright © 2016 League for Yiddish, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
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