A Semantic Study of Yiddish-Origin Lexemes in English icon

A Semantic Study of Yiddish-Origin Lexemes in English


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3.2. Jewish English


Jewish English is a collective name for all varieties of English used only or mostly by Jews, which differ phonologically, grammatically, lexically, stylistically, and paralinguistically from non-Jewish English lects (Gold 1986b: 95). In this chapter I will deal mainly with the varieties of Jewish English in the United States.
^

3.2.1. Jewish Settlement in the United States.


The Jewish settlement in the United States can be divided into three main periods (e.g. Milton Doroshkin 1969):

A) The Sefaradic - 'Spanish' - period which lasted from the second half of the seventeenth century until the second or third decade of the nineteenth. The newcomers were Iberian Jews and their descendants. The first recorded settlement of Jews in the American Colonies is from 1654 when a tiny bark, St. Charles, arrived in Nieuw Amsterdam carrying a cargo of 23 Jews. This era of Jewish immigration left no traces on non-Jewish varieties of English.

B) The period of Western Ashkenazim, i.e. Yiddish speakers and their descendants. After 1700 additional Jews from different parts of Europe: Germany, Holland, Bohemia, Poland, and England started coming and by 1776 the total Jewish population was over 2000. By 1820 the number was about 5000, most of them from Germany or places under the influence of German rulers. This era lasted until the 1870s or the 1880s and left some lexemes in non-Jewish English, like kosher (see below 4.5.1.) or shlemiel (see below 4.7.3).

C) The period of Eastern Ashkenazim, i.e. Jews from the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires and their successor states, from the 1870s to the present. Between 1880 and 1910 1.5 million Jews arrived, most of them Yiddish speakers.


These eastern European immigrants pursued many cultural activities, like publication of newspapers and books, maintaining theaters and being involved in the entertainment industry, establishing Yiddish academic studies etc. and they have left their marks in many fields, including non-Jewish English.


In ^ Notes on Yiddish, which appeared in American speech in 1928 (58-66), H.B. Wells wrote:

Since Yiddish is definitely not an essential to Judaism, its decline or disappearance would have no effect on the ancient religion. There are reasonable doubt that American Yiddish will within a very few years lose its identity, at least as Judeo-German, will turn into Judeo-English, expire quietly, and finally become as delightfully musty and passé, a subject for doctor's theses as Anglo-Saxon is today.

Yiddish has not disappeared yet but, other then this, Wells' prophesy was fulfilled. Yiddish language and culture have flourished in the U.S.A. only as long as there have been fresh immigrants whose mother tongue was Yiddish. By the time the new immigrants have assimilated into the new culture, they and subsequently their children have turned to Jewish English (JE), what Wells might have called Judeo-English.
^

3.2.2. Varieties of Jewish English


Steinmetz (1981: 14) defines Jewish English as "a form of Yiddish- and Hebrew- influenced English used by Jews, regardless of the extent of its hybridization." The spectrum of Jewish-English speakers includes in one extreme Modern Orthodox Jews, who might be fluent in Yiddish, and at the other end secularized Jews who may be familiar with Jewish-English but employ it only slightly. Gold (1988: 277) defines Jewish English as "a cover term for a continuum of lects whose distance from non-Jewish English (i.e., general English) varies.


There are several reasons why Jewish varieties of English developed. For example, a native speaker of Yiddish who learns English as an adult may speak English which shows Yiddish influence. This influence is passed on to the succeeding generation and becomes fused. When a hearer becomes acquainted with a certain topolect, he would begin hearing the vestiges of a certain substratum in one's speech. In his famous sociolinguistic work The Social Stratification of English in New York City (1966) William Labov demonstrated that certain features of New York speech, such as raised [_] in word like off, cough, are more common among Jewish Americans than among Italian American and Irish Americans.


The American Jewish humorist and dramatist Arthur Kober (1900- -----), using Jewish dialects with a Bronx setting, gave the phenomenon an artistic expression:

Gentlemen of the jury, sure my client is guilty. But hommany people in this room wouldn't have done the same thing in the same circumstances? (1955: 366; emphasis added)

Oh, he's simply movvelous, that Lionel! (p. 367)

In its mildest form JE may be manifested in allolingual influence in the form of phonological patterns passed on from previous generation. The speaker, who probably does not know the 'hidden' language, may even be unaware of such allolingual influence on his or her speech. The difference can be also manifested in intonation pattern and syntactic construction: constructions of Yiddish origin like "great art it isn't" or "this is coffee!?" appeared in the editorial page of the New York Times (Gold 1986b: 118).


Communal variations concern, for example, the speech pattern of members of different religious synagogues (e.g. Orthodox, Conservative, Reform) or between them and secularized Jews (see bellow 4.5.4 sit shive). Jewish dietary laws are universally known as kosher but a few Sefaradic Jews hold out for kasher. This word can serve also as an example for geographical differences. In Jewish American English it is kosher, in Jewish British English kasher. Native speakers of Israeli Hebrew would more likely say kasher when speaking English since the word in Israeli Hebrew is kasher. In American Jewish English to nosh is 'to nibble, to eat a snack between meals'; in British Jewish English it is 'to eat' in general.


There are different styles. There are American Jews who communicate in vulgar varieties of JE to express swearing and obscenity (see the writings of P. Roth, L. Rosten). Style-shift occurs when one discusses Jewish subjects with a non-Jew (for example invitation to bris, see above 3.) or in order to be more cryptic i.e., so that non-Jews will not understand.


Jews may avoid expressions with un-Jewish connotations like the ^ Old Testament, B.C. 'before Christ', A.D. 'anno domini'. Instead they would use the Hebrew Bible when communicating with non-Jews or Tanakh with other Jews. C.E. 'Common Era' and B.C.E. 'before the Common Era' may be substituted for B.C. and A.D. Paralinguistic markers may be revealed in the form of gesticulation, swaying hands and body etc. It is said the Jews uses hands when talking more than others.



Most speakers of JE use those varieties which are based on Eastern Yiddish and called collectively ^ Eastern Ashkenazic English. Most other varieties of JE, for example the variety based on Judezmo - a Jewish language based on Spanish, are obsolete or hardly used. Indeed, those JE lexemes which where domesticated in general English are of Yiddish origin.



Jewish English is, in my opinion, a case of diglossia. The term was coined by Charles A. Ferguson in his famous article of 1959 to describe a situation where two varieties of a language exist side by side throughout the community, each having a definite role to play. In many respects English and Jewish English indeed fit into Ferguson's model. We have the H "high" variety (English) and the L (low) variety (Jewish English) where H is used in contact with the non-Jewish surrounding and L within the family and among other Jews.



What makes the situation somewhat more complicated is the fact that Jewish English is not yet a very well defined linguistic entity and is still taking shape. As a matter of fact, there are varieties which are very different from non-Jewish English and others which are not. One has also to distinguish between incidental individual influence and a stabilized Jewish English form.






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