ALFRED LANDAU (November 25, 1850-March 27, 1935)
He was born in Brod (Brody), eastern Galicia, into a family with an extraordinary pedigree (which can be found in the volume Landoy-bukh [Landau book]). In 1865 he entered the fifth class in high school in Vienna, Austria, and he went on to study law at Vienna University. In 1875 he received his doctor of law degree and over the course of twelve years was a practicing attorney in Vienna. In his youth in Brod, it was conspicuous to Landau how Yiddish and German differed, and in Vienna his thirst for knowledge relentlessly tempted him from that time on to clarify for himself the specificity of the Yiddish language, especially in the field of vowels, but first acquaintance with Middle High German, which one would then have studied in grade seven of high school, showed him the correct path, and from then on he devoted himself consistently to collecting materials for a grammar and a dictionary of Yiddish and to studying general linguistics, the Yiddish dialects, and Slavic languages. A resident of Vienna since age fifteen, without a direct link to the living source of the vernacular Yiddish language, Landau was largely dependent for his philological studies on the memories of his childhood years, and for the task he had set for himself, he perforce concentrated primarily on the state of the Yiddish language as it was spoken in Brod, familiar to him, roughly in the middle of the nineteenth century—of course, not without a comparison with other Yiddish dialects and with the older Judeo-German. He planned a Yiddish grammar, built upon a historical foundation, and a dictionary which was to be not only a listing of words translated into German, but also each word should also have indicated an etymology, its usage in a sentence, an idiom, or a saying. He had already begun his life’s work in 1887, but for reasons which did not always turn on his free will, he repeatedly had to postpone without direction his basic work and devote his attention to studies of a small scope. Dominated by a constant apprehension that in his larger work he had not yet accomplished the desired completion, he only rarely published portions of his preliminary work; he frequently would offer an invitation to friends, thereby enabling him to attend to the small-scale studies as important contributions to the general plan of his major work. Landau’s published studies remain scattered through a variety of German scholarly journals and anthologies. In Landoy-bukh, which YIVO published in 1926 in honor of his seventy-fifth birthday, there is as well a bibliographic listing of his published works—altogether fifty-four items. The most important of them: “Das Deminitivum der galizisch-jüdischen Mundart” (The diminutive in the Galician Yiddish dialect), Deutsche Mundarten (German dialects) 1 (1895), pp. 46-58; “Bibliographie des Jüdisch-Deutschen” (Bibliography of Judeo-German), Deutsche Mundarten 1 (1895), pp. 126-32; a grammatical treatment and glossary of Glückel von Hameln’s language in her memoirs; Jüdische Privatbriefe aus dem Jahre 1619 (Private letters in Yiddish from 1619) (Vienna: W. Braumüller, 1911), with Dr. Bernhard Wachstein; a piece on Russian Yiddish klezmer language, with Sh. Weissenberg; Shrpikhverter un redensarten (Sayings and idioms). These remaining items on the list were no less important. His essay “Der deminutiv in galitsishn yidish” (The diminutive in Galician Yiddish) was published in Yivo-bleter (Pages from Yiddish) 11 (1937), 137-72; Landau’s historical work, “R’ hirsh ornshteyn un di opsmung fun rabiner avrom koyen” (Reb Hirsh Ornstein and the poisoning of Abraham Kohn), was published in Historishe shriftn (Historical writings) 1 (Warsaw: YIVO, 1929). He died in Vienna. His linguistic bequest was after his death for the most part handed over to YIVO, and together with other YIVO treasures lost in the years of the Holocaust. “Yiddish linguistics,” wrote Chaim Gininger, “looks upon Landau as one would upon the great builder of its foundations. Unfortunately, until the present day, it has not had sufficient time to enjoy their [i.e., Landau’s works] full breadth of his concerns. In his lifetime Landau published only a small portion of his achievements, and after his death the catastrophe visited upon the Jewish people brought about the destruction of Landau’s scholarly heritage.”
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2 (with a bibliography); Landoy-bukh (Landau book), writings from the philology section of YIVO (Vilna, 1926); Dr. Max Weinreich, “Tsugobn un bamerkungen” (Addenda and notices), Tsaytshrift (Minsk) 2-3 (1928); Yivo-bleter (Vilna) 8 (1935); obituary in Literarishe bleter (Warsaw) (April 5, 1935); Chaim Gininger, in Yivo-bleter (Vilna) 12 (1937), pp. 396-409, 13.1-2 (1937), pp. 275-306, 13.3-4 (1938), pp. 228-31; Gininger, in Vakhshteyn-bukh (Wachstein book) (Vilna, 1939); Gininger, in Yorbukh (New York) (1950/1951).