Joshua Fishman

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.

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, which emphasized mastery of the Yiddish language along with a focus on literature, history, and social issues. He graduated from Olney High School. In 1947, he obtained a master's degree from University of Pennsylvania.[1]


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. The same year, he married Gella Schweid, with whom he shared a lifelong commitment to Yiddish. 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.

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."

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]

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]


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.[2] 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."[3]:149–152

And "One ought to assess the breadth and depth of Fishman’s work through a combined Jewish-sociolinguistic lens."[3]: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."[3]: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.

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.[4]


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.




  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. Fishman, Joshua. 1991. Reversing Language Shift. Clevendon: Multilingual Matters.
  3. 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
  4. Joshua Fishman (1926-2015)

External links

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