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Shapiro, Moyshe

(1899–1973), Yiddish linguist. Born in Khmelnik, Ukraine, into a religious teacher’s family, Moyshe Shapiro received a traditional education but also attended a Russian high school. In 1923 he was appointed director of a Yiddish school, in which he taught Yiddish and Russian language and literature, as well as mathematics. He graduated from the Kiev Pedagogical Institute in the late 1920s, and also received a degree in mathematics via a correspondence course.

Shapiro’s first methodological publication appeared in 1928 in the Kharkov Yiddish pedagogical journal Ratnbildung. In 1929, he collaborated with Ruvn Lerner (1902–1972) on an orthographic textbook, Shraybt on grayzn (Write without Mistakes). Shapiro then studied philology at the Kiev Institute for Jewish Culture between 1933 and 1937 and participated in a project, organized by Elye Spivak, to compile Yiddish mathematical terminology (published in 1935). Shapiro’s 1937 dissertation analyzed formalism in studies of Yiddish grammar; this mode, regarded as an ideologically harmful deviation in Soviet linguistics, was ascribed to Ayzik Zaretski’s early works.

Between 1936 and 1941, Shapiro published a number of textbooks and studies (notably in the Kiev Institute’s philological journal Afn shprakhfront [On the Language Front]), including a study of gender in Yiddish. During World War II, he worked at the Bukhara Pedagogical Institute as a lecturer in linguistics. He returned to Kiev in 1944 and resumed his academic activity at the Institute for Jewish Culture, headed by Spivak. From 1946 he also took part in Spivak’s project to compile a Russian–Yiddish dictionary. Following the liquidation of the Kiev Institute in 1949, during the repression of Soviet Jewish intellectuals, Shapiro was arrested and sent to a labor camp.

After his liberation in the mid-1950s, Shapiro worked as a senior lecturer in Russian linguistics at the pedagogical institute in Tiraspol (in the Moldovian Republic). From 1962 he lived in Moscow, where he was an active contributor to Sovetish heymland and continued editing the comprehensive Russko-evreiskii (idish) slovar’ (Russian–Jewish [Yiddish] Dictionary), which appeared posthumously in 1984 and was reprinted in 1989. This dictionary canonized the style used by Sovetish heymland and the Moscow publishing house Sovetskii Pisatel’. Although the dictionary is rife with Soviet political terminology, Shapiro and other compilers included numerous idiomatic expressions illustrating the proper usage of words. One such illustration, included in the entry for the word twelfth, became a clandestine epitaph to friends who had been killed: this ordinal is illustrated through the phrase “on the twelfth of August”—the day when the most prominent personalities of Soviet Yiddish culture were executed in 1952.

Suggested Reading

Gennady Estraikh, Soviet Yiddish: Language Planning and Linguistic Development (Oxford, 1999); Wolf Moskovich, “An Important Event in Soviet Yiddish Cultural Life: The New Russian-Yiddish Dictionary,” Soviet Jewish Affairs, 14.3 (1984): 31–49.