A Paper I wrote on the Sociocultural status of Jewlangs

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Shemtov
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A Paper I wrote on the Sociocultural status of Jewlangs

Post by Shemtov » Sat 14 May 2016, 00:43

So some people here were interested in seeing a paper I wrote for an anthropology course on the Sociocultural dynamics of Jewish Diaspora Languages. Here it is:
Over the past two millennia, the Jewish People, during their diaspora, have adapted the languages of the countries they lived in into “Jewish Languages”, that were used as a colloquial language by the Jews. The three most historically important of these languages are Yiddish (Judeo-German), Judezmo (Judeo-Spanish- also known as Ladino) and Judeo-Arabic. There are many points that these languages force one to consider, such as what languages qualify as a “Jewish” language, and the interaction of these languages' statuses with their speakers' social-cultural contexts.

The first point these languages call to our attention is what languages qualify as a “Jewish” language, and the perceptions of their speakers and surrounding gentiles of these languages. Fishman (1-2) defines a “Jewish Language” as “any language that is phonologically, morpho-syntactically, lexicon-semantically or orthographically different from that of non-Jewish” language. He goes on to say that the perception of the language of both the speakers and outsiders can help define a language as being “Jewish”. (2) The speakers of both Judezmo and Yiddish saw their languages as being different from their Gentile “parents”. As proof, speakers of the former would use Judezmo as a “secret jargon”. (Bunis 32) Yiddish speakers also saw Yiddish as being different from German- to the point that when an assimilationist movement called the Haskalah arose among Yiddish speakers, they originally wanted to switch to Gentile languages, (Klein 123) and later, when the Haskalah adopted a practice which the author of this paper sees as similar to what Mordecai Kaplan (the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism) would later call “Judaism as a civilization”, (Cf. Bunis 24) they encouraged the Yiddish as mark of distinction, (Katz 22; Klein 124) an act which Klein, a modern-day traditionalist author, calls a “highjack[ing]” of Yiddish. (123-124) However, the German Christians saw Yiddish as “basically a German variant”; in fact “Jiddisch” was not used in German until the turn of the 20th century, as they preferred the term “Jüdisch-Deutsch” (Jew's German) instead. However, they still noted the Hebrew elements of “Jüdisch-Deutsch”.(Elyada) However, Judeo-Arabic speakers saw their language as being more of a dialect of Arabic, (though not totally so) with 11th century Biblical commentator and Hebrew Grammarian Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra referring to a Judeo-Arabic work as being in “the language…..of the Arabs” (Blau 39).


Another point that must be considered is the circumstances of these languages' development. Though one might be tempted to define these languages as “Creoles”, the fact is that the Jewish languages developed as the speech of one minority group, instead of multiple linguistic groups coming together, as is normal for Creolazation. Fishman proposes a “wave theory”, that is, as different groups within a Jewish community had different levels of contact with Gentiles, they adopted different aspects of the “parent” language over time. (7) Bunis similarly describes a “superstratum” effect in the development of Judezmo, pointing to the fact that before reaching Spain, the speakers of Judezmo lived in Greece, and that there are Greek words throughout Judezmo. Furthermore, after the expulsion from Spain, Judezmo speakers would borrow words and morphology from Turkish and even Yiddish.(29) The borrowing of diverse elements into Yiddish created (at least according to one 1750 Christian author) a Jewish saying that “with Yiddish you can travel he world” {Katz 21). On the other hand, Blau points to the fact that Jews had already discarded Hebrew for Aramaic, when the later was the dominant language during the Babylonian Exile of the Jews. After this, he claims, using a version of the language of the surrounding gentiles was “the most natural and….effortless thing to do” (21) However, the difference between Blau on one side, and Fishman and Bunis on the other could be attributed to the fact that Blau was focusing on Judeo-Arabic, which like Hebrew and Aramaic is Semitic, and is very close to both of them, to the point that the 11th century Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra, in his work on Hebrew Grammar, Safah Berurah, considered Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic to be “one language”. If this is true, then Judeo-Arabic developed through different means then non-Semitic Jewish Languages, such as Judezmo and Yiddish.

While this paper is on the topic of Hebrew and Aramaic, it would be good to examine the effects of loanwords from those languages in Jewish Diaspora languages. The first point to consider in this, is that the phonology of languages like Yiddish and Judezmo were no effected by the very Semitic phonologies of Hebrew and Aramaic, as loanwords from those languages were adapted to the phonology of the “parent” language”; in fact, the Hebrew and Aramaic used for liturgical purposes often had their phonologies adapted to the phonology of the commonly used language. (Weiner 177) However, the Jewish Diaspora languages were often written in the Hebrew script. Most of the Hebrew/Aramaic words introduced into Jewish Diaspora languages were concepts specific to the Jewish religion. For example, Bunis points out the word for “Sabbath” came directly from the Hebrew, and was not influenced by “filtered” borrowing from the “parent” languages, saying that “...the senses conveyed by the term for that day [Saturday] do not overlap in the conciousness of Jews, Christians and Muslims, it was natural that, in all Jewish languages, the Hebrew word shabbat- in diverse phonological variants...be preserved to denote...this concept…..”. (27) In Yiddish, there would often be two different implications for a Hebrew-derived word and the German-derived word. An example would be the Hebrew “oyrech” and German “gast” both meaning “guest”. The Hebrew word was specifically used for guests for Sabbath and the Jewish Festivals. (Weinstein 38) Often in Jewish Diaspora languages, Hebrew words and concepts would be used idiomatically. As an example Bunis points us to the Judezmo idiom “azerse ose shalom”, literally “to do Ose Shalom”, but whose idiomatic meaning means “to leave”, coming from the three steps taken backwards while saying the words ”Ose Shalom Bimromav” at the end of every Jewish prayer service. (28) A general rule may be said for all Jewish Diaspora languages from what Weinstein says about Yiddish: that they and Hebrew “are inextricably linked…..[Hebrew] never became remote, like Latin [in Christian culture].” (39)


In conclusion, the Jewish diaspora language have many commonalities between them, and may even be considered the same concept. Judeo-Arabic may be considered an outlier, however, possibly due to it being Semitic. Still, the fact remains that all Jewish Diaspora languages are descended from gentile languages, adapted by Jews with many Hebrew elements.


















Sources:

Blau, Joshua. The Emergence and Linguistic Background of Judeo-Arabic Great Britain: Oxford University Press, 1965. Print.

Bunis, David M. “Judezmo: The Jewish Language of he Ottoman Sephardim” European Judaism 44.1 (2011)

Elyada, Aya “”Eigentlich Teutsch?” Depictions of Yiddish and its Relations to German in Modern Christian Writings” European Journal of Jewish Studies 4.1 (2010)


Fishman, Joshua A. The Sociology of Jewish Languages from the perspective of the General sociology of Language.


Katz, Bernard “Yiddish Civilization: The Story of Yiddish and the People who Spoke it” Jewish Affairs, 2010

Klein, Reuven Chaim, Rabbi. Lashon Hakodesh: History, Holiness & Hebrew Mosaica Press, 2014. Print.

Wiener, Leo “On the Hebrew Element in Slavo-Judaeo-German” Hebraica 10.3 (1894)

Weinstein, Miriam Yiddish: A Nation of Words South Royalton, VT: Steerforth Press, 2001, Print
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Re: A Paper I wrote on the Sociocultural status of Jewlangs

Post by Davush » Sun 15 May 2016, 21:52

This is useful and informative.

Am I correct in understanding that Fishman proposes a theory of successive waves of the language being more influenced by the 'gentile' languages, whereas Blau proposes that successive generations simply adopted the majority language?

I am more inclined to take Blau's position on this, especially if we take modern day South Asian (Punjabi) communities in the UK as an example. These communities are often tight-knight based on ethno-religious lines, similar to the pre-War Jewish situation. However, nearly all second and third generations speak English as a native language and may code-switch to varying degrees depending on the situation.

Also, at the end you say the Jewish languages have been influenced by 'many' elements of Hebrew, but surely as your paper points out, the only real element here is lexical? Hebrew phonology hasn't affected Yiddish (and as you point out, the opposite actually happened), and I don't know of any Hebrew grammatical features that were adopted?

I would also be very interested to know if there are any sources which tell us up to when Aramaic was spoken amongst the early European Jewry? It could equally be the case that by the time there was a large Jewish population in the German speaking areas, the majority were already non-Semitic speaking (maybe coming from Italian or Greek speaking communities)?
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Re: A Paper I wrote on the Sociocultural status of Jewlangs

Post by HoskhMatriarch » Thu 28 Jul 2016, 23:32

I thought Hebrew did influence Yiddish phonology in some pretty subtle ways. I remember talking to a Yiddish-speaker once who said something like "It's pronounced [ɪχ], not [ɪç]. Don't say [ɪç] when trying to speak Yiddish or people will get very mad at you". The uvular [χ] in all positions in Yiddish seems to me to be from Hebrew, but then, a lot of High Alemannic dialects also shift [x] (and sometimes even their [k͡x]) to a uvular place of articulation even when the environment doesn't promote that, and I don't think they've had much contact with Semitic languages.
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Re: A Paper I wrote on the Sociocultural status of Jewlangs

Post by Rosenkohl » Mon 05 Dec 2016, 21:02

Thank you for posting this! Very interesting, and I'll make sure to make use of your references.
davush wrote:I don't know of any Hebrew grammatical features that were adopted?
This may be pushing it a bit, but I think there are several nouns of Slavic origin (usually with the singular ending in -e) with plural forms in -עס, from Heb. ות- (presumably in analogy with Hebrew-origin nouns, usually feminine, that formed the plural like that). Off the top of my head, thinking of kinship terms: mames, tates, bubes, zeydes, etc., and foods you have for Chanukah, latkes, pontshkes.

[edit: oh dear, sorry for necroing this, I only realised after posting...]
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Re: A Paper I wrote on the Sociocultural status of Jewlangs

Post by Sumelic » Mon 05 Dec 2016, 22:56

HoskhMatriarch wrote:I thought Hebrew did influence Yiddish phonology in some pretty subtle ways. I remember talking to a Yiddish-speaker once who said something like "It's pronounced [ɪχ], not [ɪç]. Don't say [ɪç] when trying to speak Yiddish or people will get very mad at you". The uvular [χ] in all positions in Yiddish seems to me to be from Hebrew, but then, a lot of High Alemannic dialects also shift [x] (and sometimes even their [k͡x]) to a uvular place of articulation even when the environment doesn't promote that, and I don't think they've had much contact with Semitic languages.
Yeah, that seems like it's so subtle that it's not even clear that it's an influence from Hebrew at all.

The only type of phonological influence I would expect from Hebrew on Yiddish is phonotactics.
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Re: A Paper I wrote on the Sociocultural status of Jewlangs

Post by Davush » Wed 07 Dec 2016, 21:31

Rosenkohl wrote:Thank you for posting this! Very interesting, and I'll make sure to make use of your references.
davush wrote:I don't know of any Hebrew grammatical features that were adopted?
This may be pushing it a bit, but I think there are several nouns of Slavic origin (usually with the singular ending in -e) with plural forms in -עס, from Heb. ות- (presumably in analogy with Hebrew-origin nouns, usually feminine, that formed the plural like that). Off the top of my head, thinking of kinship terms: mames, tates, bubes, zeydes, etc., and foods you have for Chanukah, latkes, pontshkes.

[edit: oh dear, sorry for necroing this, I only realised after posting...]
I don't think that counts as adoption of a grammatical feature. More likely re-analysis of the slavic words as Hebrew feminine nouns because they both end in /ǝ/ in Yiddish, and there wasn't a Germanic plural form for them.
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