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Falkovitsh, Elye

(1898–1979), Yiddish linguist. Elye Falkovitsh was born in Gomel, where he spent the first 19 years of his life. At age 15, he began giving private lessons as a tutor and soon joined the local Tse‘ire Tsiyon organization. He then worked as headmaster of a Jewish school in Sarapul in 1917 and 1918, and directed a children’s club in Kiev in 1918 and 1919. Subsequently, in 1920 and 1921 he served in the Red Army as a cultural worker, stationed in the Moscow region.

Falkovitsh worked for the Commissariat of Enlightenment and studied at Moscow State University in 1921 and 1922. Thereafter he lectured on Yiddish linguistics at the Second Moscow State University (later transformed into the Moscow Teachers’ Training Institute) and the Communist University of the National Minorities of the West. With Ayzik Zaretski, he was a central figure in molding lexical, grammatical, stylistic, and orthographic standards of Soviet Yiddish. Malke Lifshits Frumkin (the political activist known as Ester), rector of the Communist University, praised Falkovitsh’s professionalism, but saw in him “traits of a petty-bourgeois intellectual.” He temporarily lost his positions after lecturing in Minsk in March 1937, as he had spoken in favor of studying the Pentateuch as well as the works of Ḥayim Naḥman Bialik and Sholem Asch.

During World War II, Falkovitsh volunteered for the Red Army, working as a medical orderly. During a battle he saved the lives of 88 wounded and was decorated with the Order of Lenin. After the war, he was editor in chief of the Moscow Yiddish Publishing House Emes until its liquidation in 1948. One of its last books, which Falkovitsh edited, was a memorial volume dedicated to Solomon Mikhoels, director of the Moscow State Yiddish Theater, who had been killed that year.

From 1961, Falkovitsh contributed prolifically to Sovetish heymland and helped shape a revised orthography, most notably reintroducing the word-final letters that had been abolished during the 1928–1932 Soviet Yiddish orthographic reform. At the same time, he continued to advocate the doctrine of the 1920s and 1930s, contending that “archaic and bookish” features of the language, most notably of Semitic origin, could not be recommended for current usage, particularly for the Russian–Yiddish dictionary prepared in Moscow under the auspices of the publishing house Russkii Iazyk.

Falkovitsh’s volumes titled Yidish (issued in 1936 and 1940) remain the most comprehensive descriptions of the language standard that was established by the Soviet school of Yiddish linguistics. In a concise form, he described this standard in his article on Yiddish, published in 1984 as an appendix to the Russian–Yiddish dictionary.

Suggested Reading

Gennady Estraikh, Soviet Yiddish: Language Planning and Linguistic Development (Oxford, 1999); E. M. Fal’kovich, “O iazyke idish,” in Russko-evreiskii (idish) slovar’, ed. M. A. Shapiro, pp. 666–667 (Moscow, 1984); Wolf Moskovich, “An Important Event in Soviet Yiddish Cultural Life: The New Russian-Yiddish Dictionary,” Soviet Jewish Affairs 14.3 (1984): 31–49.

YIVO Archival Resources

RG 3, Yiddish Literature and Language, Collection, 1870s-1941.