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Mordkhe Schaechter, at 79; was leading Yiddish linguist

NEW YORK -- Mordkhe Schaechter, who turned a boyhood fascination with Yiddish into a lifetime of promoting the language, eventually earning a top prize in the field, has died at the age of 79.

Mr. Schaechter died at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, the hospital confirmed yesterday. His daughter Rukhl said her father, a Bronx resident, died Thursday after a long illness.

Mr. Schaechter not only studied Yiddish, but also founded organizations devoted to the language and even 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 the Ashkenazic Jewry of central and Eastern Europe.

Mr. Schaechter taught Yiddish studies at Columbia University from 1981 to 1993 and in the Weinreich Program in Yiddish Language, Literature and Culture from its start in 1968 until 2004. In addition, he taught at various Jewish seminaries and other institutions.

He had a lengthy association with the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York, a leading organization devoted to the study of Ashkenazic Jewry.

In 1994, Mr. Schaechter received the most distinguished Yiddish literary award, the Itzik Manger Prize.

He was born Itsye Mordkhe Schaechter on Dec. 1, 1927, in what was then Cernauti, Romania, and is now Chernivtsi, Ukraine. As a student, he grew fascinated with Yiddish. He went on to study linguistics at the University of Bucharest and earned a doctorate from the University of Vienna, where he wrote a dissertation about Yiddish, according to his daughter.

Mr. Schaechter came to New York in 1951 and served during the Korean War in Army military intelligence.

He helped edit "The Great Dictionary of the Yiddish Language" and "The Language and Culture Atlas of Ashkenazic Jewry." He also served for years in various positions, including editor, at YIVO's Yiddishe Shprakh, a journal about the language.

Organizations that he founded or helped found included the Committee for the Implementation of the Standardized Yiddish Orthography; Yugntruf, which means "Call to Youth," a worldwide group for teaching Yiddish to younger generations; and the New York-based League for Yiddish.

He authored several books, including "Authentic Yiddish," "Pregnancy, Childbirth and Early Childhood: An English-Yiddish Dictionary" and "Plant Names in Yiddish: A Handbook of Botanical Terminology."

In addition to his daughter Rukhl, of Yonkers, he leaves his wife of five decades, Charne; two other daughters, Gitl Viswanath of Teaneck, N.J., and Eydl Reznik of Israel; a son, Binyumen of Manhattan; a sister, Bella Schaechter-Gottesman of the Bronx; and 16 grandchildren.