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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[edit]

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[citation needed], 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]


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.

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]

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[edit]

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 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.

Controversial statements[edit]

In Can Threatened Languages Be Saved? (1999: 458), Fishman claims that Sweden has "recognised five minority languages as co-official languages of Sweden (among them Finnish, a regional variety of Finnish, Eskimo, Romani and Yiddish) [..]". However, no 'Eskimo' language is spoken in Sweden.

In Do Not Leave Your Language Alone: The Hidden Status Agendas Within Corpus Planning in Language Policy (2006: 48), Fishman claims that the Estonian language is "a member of the small Baltoslavic language family which, today, includes Lithuanian and Latvian as well." However, Estonian is a Finno-Ugrian language. On page 42 of the same book, he does mention two Finno-Ugrian languages, Hungarian and Finnish, claiming that "[t]he Finns and Hungarians remained stranded in Europe after Ghengis Khan and his thousands of Mongol horsemen, who followed him to and through the very gates of Rome, withdrew, and left behind a genetic pool that is still evident in European DNAs to this very day."


  • 1965. Yiddish in America: socio-linguistic description and analysis. Bloomington: Indiana University Press; The Hague, Netherlands: Mouton
  • 1966. Language loyalty in the United States; the maintenance and perpetuation of non-English mother tongues by American ethnic and religious groups. The Hague: Mouton
  • 1966. Hungarian language maintenance in the United States. Bloomington: Indiana University Press
  • 1968. Language problems of developing nations. New York: Wiley
  • 1968. Readings in the sociology of language. The Hague, Paris: Mouton
  • 1970. Sociolinguistics: a brief introduction. Rowley, Mass.: Newbury House
  • 1971. Bilingualism in the barrio. Bloomington: Indiana University Press
  • 1971-2. Advances in the sociology of language. The Hague: Mouton
  • 1972. Language in Sociocultural Change. Essays by Joshua A. Fishman. Ed. Anwar S. Dil. Stanford: Stanford University Press
  • 1972. The sociology of language; an interdisciplinary social science approach to language in society. Rowley, Mass.: Newbury House
  • 1973 (c 1972). Language and nationalism; two integrative essays. Rowley, Mass.: Newbury House
  • 1974. Advances in language planning. The Hague: Mouton
  • 1976. Bilingual education: an international sociological perspective. Rowley, Mass.: Newbury House
  • 1977. Advances in the creation and revision of writing systems. The Hague: Mouton
  • 1978. Advances in the study of societal multilingualism. The Hague: Mouton
  • 1981. Never Say Die: A Thousand Years of Yiddish in Jewish Life and Letters. The Hague: Mouton. ISBN 90-279-7978-2 (in Yiddish and English)
  • 1982. The acquisition of biliteracy: a comparative ethnography of minority ethnolinguistic schools in New York City. New York, N.Y.: Yeshiva University, Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology
  • 1982. Bilingual education for Hispanic students in the United States. New York: Teachers College Press
  • 1983. Progress in language planning: international perspectives. Berlin & New York: Mouton.
  • 1985. The rise and fall of the ethnic revival: perspectives on language and ethnicity. Berlin & New York: Mouton
  • 1987. Ideology, Society and Language: The Odyssey of Nathan Birnbaum. Ann Arbor: Karoma Publishers
  • 1991. Bilingual education. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: J. Benjamins Pub. Co.
  • 1991. Reversing language Shift: Theory and Practice of Assistance to Threatened Languages. Clevedon, Multilingual Matters. (ISBN 185359122X) (ISBN 978-1-85359-122-8)
  • 1991. Language and Ethnicity. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: J. Benjamins Pub. Co
  • 1996. Post-Imperial English: The Status of English in Former British and American Colonies and Spheres of Influence. (ed.) Mouton de Gruyter, Berlin
  • 1997. In Praise of the Beloved Language; The Content of Positive Ethnolinguistic Consciousness. Berlin, Mouton de Gruyter
  • 1997. The Multilingual Apple: Languages in New York (with Ofelia Garcia). Berlin, Mouton de Gruyter
  • 1999. Handbook of Language and Ethnicity (ed.). New York, Oxford University Press. Revised ed. 2009. (ISBN 0195374924)
  • 2000. Can Threatened Languages Be Saved? Clevedon, Multilingual Matters
  • 2006. Do Not Leave Your Language Alone: The Hidden Status Agendas Within Corpus Planning in Language Policy.Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. (ISBN 0805850244) (ISBN 978-0-8058-5024-6)


  • Baker, Colin, & Jones, Sylvia P. (eds.) (1998). Joshua A. Fishman. In Encyclopedia of Bilingualism and Bilingual Education, p. 198. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.
  • Chassie, Karen et al. (eds.) (2006). Fishman, Joshua Aaron. In Who’s Who in the East. New Providence, NJ: Marquis Who’s Who[page needed]
  • Cooper, Robert L., & Spolsky, Bernard (eds.) (1991). The Influence of Language on Culture and Thought: Essays in Honor of Joshua A. Fishman’s Sixty-Fifth Birthday. Berlin: Mouton.[page needed]
  • Fishman, Joshua A. (2006). Joshua A. Fishman. Retrieved on August 24, 2006 from
  • Fishman, Gella Schweid and Charity Njau. 2012. Joshua A. Fishman bibliography (1949-2011). International Journal of the Sociology of Language 213: 153–248.
  • García, Ofelia & Dow, James R. & Marshall, David F. (eds.) (1991). Essays in honor of Joshua A. Fishman: Volume 1: Focus on Bilingual Education; Volume 2: Focus on Language Planning; Volume 3: Focus on Language and Ethnicity. 3 Volumes (set). Amsterdam: John Benjamins[page needed]
  • Peltz, Rakhmiel; Schiffman, Harold F.; Fishman, Gella Schweid (July 10, 2006). Garcia, Ofelia, ed. Language loyalty, continuity and change : Joshua A Fishman's contributions to international sociolinguistics. Clevedon: Multilingual Matter Ltd. ISBN 978-1-85359-902-6. [page needed]
  • Spolsky, B. (1999). Fishman, Joshua A. (1926– ). In Spolsky, B. (ed.), Concise Encyclopedia of Educational Linguistics, p. 758-759. Amsterdam: Elsevier


External links[edit]

  1. ^ abcdefghijkHult, 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. ^ abcZuckermann, 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)


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