Mordkhe Schaechter, 79, who turned a boyhood fascination with Yiddish into a life's work promoting the language, eventually earning a top prize in the field, died Thursday at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, N.Y., after a long illness.
Throughout his life, Schaechter not only studied Yiddish but also founded organizations devoted to the language and wrote dictionaries designed to standardize it. Yiddish, along with Hebrew and Aramaic, is one of the three main literary languages in Jewish history. Its first speakers were Ashkenazic Jews in central and eastern Europe.
Schaechter taught Yiddish studies at Columbia University from 1981 to 1993 and in the Weinreich Program in Yiddish Language, Literature and Culture, based in New York, from its start in 1968 until 2004.
In 1994, Schaechter received the Itzik Manger Prize, a distinguished Yiddish literary award.
He was born Itsye Mordkhe Schaechter on Dec. 1, 1927, in what was then Cernauti, Romania and is now Chernivtsi, Ukraine. He studied linguistics at the University of Bucharest and earned a doctorate from the University of Vienna.
Schaechter moved to New York in 1951 and served during the Korean War in U.S. Army military intelligence.
He helped edit the Great Dictionary of the Yiddish Language and the Language and Culture Atlas of Ashkenazic Jewry. He wrote several books, including "Authentic Yiddish" and "Pregnancy, Childbirth and Early Childhood: An English-Yiddish Dictionary."