Malkiel, Yakov, 1914-1998

Alternative names
Birth 1914-07-22
Death 1998-04-24
French, German, Russian, Spanish; Castilian, Italian, Portuguese, English

Biographical notes:

Yakov Malkiel was born in Kiev, Ukraine in 1914. He fled Russia during the civil war and moved to Germany where he received his Ph.D. in Romance Linguistics. He emigrated to the United States in 1940 and joined the University of California, Berkeley faculty in 1942. There he participated in founding the Department of Linguistics and in 1965 became a member of the department where he taught until his retirement. Malkiel wrote and edited more than a dozen books and wrote hundreds of scholarly articles. He founded the journal Romance Philology in 1946 and received many awards and honors during his career. His wife, Maria Rosa Lida, an Argentine scholar, died in 1962. Malkiel died of a heart attack in 1998 at the age of 83.

From the description of Photographs from the Yakov Malkiel papers [graphic]. ca. 1875-ca. 1995. (University of California, Berkeley). WorldCat record id: 742062011

From the description of Yakov Malkiel papers, 1882-1998 (bulk 1942-1992) (University of California, Berkeley). WorldCat record id: 62313730

Biographical Information

Yakov Malkiel was born into an intellectual Jewish family in Kiev in 1914, but civil war in Russia forced the family to move to Berlin. By the time he was of college age, Germany was becoming an increasingly difficult place for Jews. He had to overcome serious difficulties before he was admitted into Berlin's Friedrich-Wilhelms Universität, where in 1938 he received his Ph.D. magna cum laude, specializing in romance linguistics. The worsening situation for Jews in Germ,any made his safety tenuous, and he left soon after receiving his degree. After emigrating with his parents to the United States in 1940, he worked briefly in Wyoming and then joined the University of California, Berkeley faculty in 1942, first as lecturer, then as an Assistant Professor of Spanish and Portuguese, and eventually as Professor of Romance Philology. He participated in the 1952 founding of the Department of Linguistics, and in 1965 he became a member of the department, where he taught until his retirement.

In 1948, Malkiel married María Rosa Lida, a brilliant fellow scholar from Argentina, who from then on published under her married name, María Rosa Lida de Malkiel. After her untimely death in 1962, he spent several years devoting hiimself to the completion of her unpublished works, and for the rest of his life he kept her memory alive in numerous publications of his own.

Malkiel is the author of more than a dozen books and literally hundreds of articles, and is the editor or co-editor of half a dozen other books. His list of publications is itself of monograph length: in 1987, his colleagues and students prepared with him and for him his Autobibliography, a book listing 822 of his works with annotations; it was published by the University of California Press as a special issue of Romance Philology . His pubications include works on historical linguistics, the history of linguistics, etymology, linguistic typology, and Romance linguistics. Among his best-known books are Etymology Dictionaries: A Tentative Typology (1976) and From Particular to General Linguistics: Selected Essays, 1965-1978 (1983). An astounding polyglot, he pubished in English, German, Italian, French, Portuguese, and Spanish, and lectured as well in Russian. In 1946 he founded Romance Philology, a highly respected and thriving journal of international stature, which he served as editor-in-chief for many years. He continued to publish until failing eyesight brought his research to a halt.

Malkiel received many awards and honors in his distinguised career, including three Guggenheim Awards. He was awarded honorary degrees by seven universities: Chicago (1966), Illinois (1969), Paris (1983), the Free University of Berlin (1983), Georgetown (1987), Oxford (1989), and Salamanca (1994), where he was the first Jew to be so honored since the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492.

In 1998, Malkiel died of a heart attack at the age of 83.

(from memorial in collection: "Yakov Malkiel, Professor Emeritus of Linguistics, 1914-1998")

From the guide to the Yakov Malkiel papers, 1882-1998, bulk 1942-1992, (The Bancroft Library)


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  • Spanish literature
  • Linguists--Pictorial works
  • Romance philology--Study and teaching
  • Romance literature
  • Philologists--Pictorial works
  • Linguistics--Study and teaching


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  • California (as recorded)