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Veynger, Mordkhe

(1890–1929), Yiddish linguist and dialectologist; creator of the first atlas of Yiddish-speaking regions. Born in Poltava, Ukraine, Mordkhe Veynger moved as a boy to Warsaw, where he went on to study Germanic philology in the faculty of philology at Warsaw University. In 1912 and 1913 he published studies on Yiddish syntax and on the role of Hebrew sounds in Yiddish, and also proposed spelling reforms for Yiddish. His work was included in Shmuel Niger’s Vilna Pinkes (Record Book) of 1913.

The outbreak of World War I a few weeks after Veynger graduated in 1914 interrupted his research for years. After serving in the army (with a stint in Persia) and then with the Soviet government in various capacities, including a period of tent-dwelling in Turkestan, he settled in Minsk in 1923, where he became a leading figure in the Belorussian center of Soviet Yiddish scholarship (other centers were in Kharkov, Moscow, and Kiev). He was a lecturer in Yiddish and Germanic philology at the Belorussian State University in Minsk and from 1925 served as the academic secretary of the Jewish studies section of the Institute for Belorussian Culture. In addition to teaching, he published widely in Soviet Yiddish publications and initiated two projects: an academic Yiddish dictionary and an atlas of Yiddish-language regions. Trying to combine the spirit of “general Yiddishism” (the modern Yiddish language and culture movement) with the Soviet conception of scholarly research as a proletarian enterprise, he also published a number of somewhat popular pamphlets, including Forsht yidishe dyalektn! (Research Yiddish Dialects!; 1925).

Veynger’s major project was his language atlas. Titled Yidisher shprakhatlas fun Sovetn-farband (Yiddish Language Atlas of the Soviet Union), it contained an introduction and 75 maps. However, its methodology was somewhat flawed. First, it was based on postcard questionnaires rather than on the empirical findings of traveling fieldworkers. Moreover, the project was limited to that era’s borders of the Soviet Union; much attention was accordingly given to Northeastern (“Lithuanian”) and Southeastern (“Ukrainian”) Yiddish but none to the most populous dialect area, Mideastern (“Polish”) Yiddish.

Veynger committed suicide on 4 February 1929, apparently over a failed love affair (though conspiracy theories continue to surface). His Yidishe dialektologye (Yiddish Dialectology; 1929) appeared in Minsk after his death, and his atlas was brought to press by his pupil Leyzer Vilenkin in 1931.

Suggested Reading

Hans Peter Althaus, “Yiddish,” in Current Trends in Linguistics, ed. Thomas Albert Sebeok, vol. 9 (The Hague, 1972); Alexander Pomerantz, “Veynger, Mordkhe,” in Leksikon fun der nayer yidisher literatur, vol. 3, pp. 356–358 (New York, 1960); David Schneer, Yiddish and the Creation of Soviet Jewish Culture, 1918–1930 (Cambridge, 2004); Max Weinreich, Review of Veynger’s “Atlas,” YIVO Bleter 1 (January 1931): 81–84. Periodicals: Di yidishe shprakh (Kiev, January–April 1929).