Letter from Nokem Shtif to Yoysef Opatoshu, 1929. From Nokem Shtif in Kiev to Yoysef Opatoshu in New York, 6 February 1929, expressing his delight that Opatoshu is a reader of Di yidishe shprakh, unlike other Yiddish writers who, he claims, scorn all attempts to improve the Yiddish language and have fallen under the sway of the Yiddish of the masses and the popular press. He complains of the Russification of Yiddish and Yiddish linguistics, maintaining that most Yiddish scholars are “Litvaks” and that Polish Yiddish is being neglected. He asks if Opatoshu will have a look at some folk expressions from the town of Siedlce that were recently published in the journal; could he contribute additions or corrections? Yiddish. Russian and Yiddish letterhead: Di yidishe shprakh, Kultur lige cooperative press, Kiev, Red Army 43. RG 436, Joseph Opatoshu Papers, F271. (YIVO)

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Yidishe Shprakh, Di

Yiddish linguistic journal published in Kiev from 1927 to 1930. A bimonthly journal, Di yidishe shprakh (The Yiddish Language) was published by the cooperative publishing house Kultur-lige and was the main philological publication of the Kiev Yiddish academic center. Its editor was the veteran Yiddishist Nokhem Shtif, a founder of YIVO, who had returned to Kiev from Germany in 1926.

The journal’s inaugural issue (March–April 1927) was published under the auspices of the Central Yiddish Bureau of the Ukrainian Commissariat for Education. With the next issue, Di yidishe shprakh was an organ of the Chair, and from July to October 1929, it was an organ of the Institute for Jewish (later Proletarian Jewish) Culture at the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences. Initially defined as a “journal for practical Yiddish linguistics,” from May to June 1927 it appeared as simply a “journal for Yiddish linguistics.”

Shtif distinguished three language registers: the vernacular of the old generation, partly represented in the works of Sholem Aleichem and predecessors; the highbrow language of modern writers, such as Dovid Bergelson; and the contemporary “culture language,” most notably of the press. Although Shtif sought to target speakers of the mass “culture language,” the journal’s circulation hovered around 500 copies, read mainly by Yiddish teachers.

Apart from Shtif, who published articles on various language-planning problems, the most active contributors to Di yidishe shprakh were Ber Slutski, Ayzik Zaretski, Elye Falkovitsh, Lipe Reznik, and Shimen Dobin. In early 1929, Moscow literary critic Aron Gurshteyn criticized the journal for its purist approach to language planning. In the July–October 1929 issue, Shtif published his article “Di sotsyale diferentsiatsye in yidish” (The Social Differentiation in Yiddish), heralding an intensification of Soviet linguists’ anti-Hebraist campaign. That issue of Di yidishe shprakh adopted completely reformed Soviet spelling, omitting, for example, final consonant letters.

Although the last—twenty-fifth—issue of the journal was dated November–December 1930, it included materials from the First All-Union Yiddish Language Conference, convened in Kiev from 8 to 13 February 1931. Published under the imprint of the Central Publishing House, this issue also signaled the demise of the remaining vestiges of the Kiev Kultur-lige. Yoysef Liberberg’s article “Far parteyishkayt in der yidisher visnshaft-arbet” (For a Party Approach to Yiddish Linguistics) marked a full break with YIVO scholars, particularly with YIVO director Max Weinreich, whom Liberberg ridiculed for presenting Yiddish as an emanation of the Ashkenazic Jews’ soul. The Yiddish Language Conference decided to change the name of the journal. Between 1931 and 1939, it appeared sporadically under the title Afn shprakhfront (On the Language Front), reflecting its new, more aggressive, and politically charged approach.

Suggested Reading

David Shneer, Yiddish and the Creation of Soviet Jewish Culture, 1918–1930 (Cambridge and New York, 2004).