The Mendele Review: Yiddish Literature and Language
              (A Companion to MENDELE)
Contents of Vol. 08.013  [Sequential No. 152]
Date: 28 December 2004

1) Editor's Note (L.P.)
   a. This issue --  replies by  Paul Glasser and Ghil'ad Zuckermann
   b. Ordering information for _Yiddish After the Holocaust_
   c. Ordering information for Ghil'ad Zuckermann's _Language Contact
   and Lexical Enrichment in Israeli Hebrew_
   d. The next paper from  _Yiddish After the Holocaust_ to be given
   in TMR
   e. Future books reviews

2) Ghil'ad Zuckermann Responds to the _Forward_'s "Philologos" On
   the Glottonym "Israeli" (as Different from "Hebrew")

3) Paul Glasser Responds to Ewa Geller's "The Perils of Idealizing
   Yiddish" from _Yiddish After the Holocaust_, ed. Joseph Sherman
   (Oxford 2004)
Date: 28 December 2004
From: Leonard Prager 
Subject: Editor's Note

a) This end-of-secular year issue of TMR carries resounding replies
to published views which have in the past few weeks generated heated
debate. Though not without ideological dimensions, these debates have
centered primarily on linguistic questions. In the wake of his/her
extended review of Dovid Katz's controversial _Words On Fire_ in the
_Forward_, the widely read "Philologos" has argued against Ghil`ad
Zuckermann's proposed glottonym "Israeli" (as differing from the
common term "Hebrew"). Zuckermann here presents, albeit briefly, a
defence of his position, thoroughly rejecting the imputation of "post-
Zionist" or any other ideological motives behind his theoretical
stand. His relevant book, _Hebrew as Myth_, will be published in 2005
by Am Oved (Tel Aviv).  An earlier version of this letter was
submitted to the Jewish Languages listserv.

Ewa Geller is certainly just in uncovering the inadequacies of many
translations from Yiddish holocaust documents (in her paper "The
Perils of Idealizing Yiddish"), but Paul Glasser takes her to task
for loose generalizations and unsupported claims. "Yivo Yiddish,"
unfortunately, appears to have gathered negative associations in some
circles. Geller finds a supposedly discriminatory attitude towards
the Slavic component of Yiddish. "Yivo Yiddish" at rock bottom means
Yiddish with a standard orthography. Regardless of how one pronounces
words, they are spelled according to certain widely accepted rational
principles as codified in the _Takones fun yidishn oysleyg_. One can
not teach modern Yiddish literature effectively without a written
standard. But a well-trained Yiddishist, as Glasser argues, should be
able to handle any Yiddish text, printed or written.

b)  Ordering information for _Yiddish After the Holocaust_

_Yiddish after the Holocaust_, edited and introduced by Joseph
Sherman. Published with the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish
Studies. 326pp /  ISBN 1899460 31 4 / Publishing date: 30th January
2005. Price 15.00/$25.00.

  Boulevard / 71 Lytton Road  Oxford OX4 3 NY UK
  WEB   /   Tel/Fax  00 44 (0)1865 712 931

  Trade distribution: Gazelle Book Services Limited White Cross Mills,
  High Town, Lancaster. LA1 4XS. tel +44(0)152468765 fax+44(0)

  In the USA & Canada ISBS
  920 NE 58th Ave., Suite 300Portland, Oregon 97213-3644
  tel 00 1 503 287 3093 fax 280 8832 / email:

c) Ghil'ad Zuckermann is author of _Language Contact and Lexical
Enrichment in Israeli Hebrew_. Houndmills, Basingstroke: Palgrave
Macmillan, 2003. [1-4039-1723-X]. Priced at 55 pounds sterling. For
UK purchase orders (not inspection copies) add 2 pounds postage. For
non-UK orders, add 2.50 pounds for every book thereafter (minimum
charge 5 pounds). This book is part of the Palgrave Series in
Language History and Language Change series.

d) The next paper from  _Yiddish After the Holocaust_ to be given in
TMR is  'Pour l'amour du Yiddish': The Literary  Itinerary of Regine
Robin by Ben-Zion Shek.

e) Dovid Katz's _Words of Fire_ has occupied center stage for several
months now, but we have not forgotten his impressive _Lithuanian
Jewish Culture_ (Vilna:  Baltos Lankos, 2004, 398 pp), a review of
which will yet appear in TMR. We also look forward to a review of
Nancy Sinkoff's _Out of the Shtetl_ (Providence: Brown Judaic Studies,

Date: 29 December 2004
From: "Dr Ghil`ad Zuckermann" 
Content: Response to _Forward's_ "Philologus" Regarding the Glottonym

Dear Yiddish scholars,

The Genesis of the Israeli Language: A Brief Response to "Philologos"'
s "Hebrew vs. Israeli" (Forward, 24 December 2004)

In his/her column "Hebrew vs. Israeli" (24 December 2004), "
Philologos" took issue with my letter explaining why the term "
Israeli" is not  " denigrating", but a positive description of a
beautiful, complex language  with hybrid vigour. Jumping to
conclusions, "Philologos" makes outrageous  remarks about my
historical linguistic theory of the genesis of Israeli as  being "
driven by the agenda of post- (if not anti-) Zionism". S/he might be
pleased to learn that I have also received angry responses from
Israeli  Arabs claiming that the term " Israeli" is Zionist
propaganda (because they  are both Israeli citizens and native Arabic-

Faced with an uncongenial opinion, it is all too easy to  categorize
one's opponent as Zionist,  post-Zionist, communist, fascist etc. In
this respect, "Philologos" is not  alone. A Jerusalem academic has
accused me of being a "self-hating  JEW". When I asked him how he had
arrived at such a strange  conclusion, he said that Yiddish is a
diasporic "zhargon" and urged me (in  fact, warned me!) to stop
mentioning it in the same breath as Hebrew!

Unfortunately, the abusive and often groundless _ad hominem_ logical
fallacy is much used. I have no agenda whatsoever other than to
uncover  historical linguistic facts. This is what a professional
historical  descriptive linguist is supposed to do.

Here are some of the historical and linguistic flaws from which 
"Philologos"'s response suffers: (1) The confusion between mother
tongue  and literary language; (2) The mutual intelligibility myth; 
(3) The  irrelevance of mutual intelligibility to linguistic genesis;
(4) The  confusion between evolution and genesis, and the internal
development myth.

(1) The Confusion Between "Mother Tongue" and "Literary Language"

"Philologos" insightfully admits that Israeli "is a very different
language  from the many varieties of Hebrew spoken and written in the
past, and of  course, too, many of its syntactical and grammatical
features are no longer  Semitic". However, s/he then adds the

"yet why this makes it less 'Hebrew' than, say, the heavily
Yiddishized  Hebrew of Hasidic literature in Eastern Europe, or the
heavily Arabized  Hebrew of the Jewish 'Golden Age' in Muslim Spain,
is beyond me. Or would  Mr. Zuckerman[n] suggest that we begin
referring to the Hebrew of Nachman  of Braslav as 'Hasidic', to the
Hebrew of Shmuel Hanagid and Abraham Ibn  Ezra as 'Andalusic', and so
on, treating each as a different language?"

The comparison of a living mother tongue (Israeli) to four literary
forms  of Hebrew which have no native speakers is problematic. It is
hard to find  a linguist these days who would deny that there is a
crucial difference  between the acquisition of a mother tongue and
that of a second language.  Regardless of the damage it might have
caused, directly or indirectly, to  the study of cultural linguistics
and language contact, generative  linguistics has usefully
demonstrated that the linguistic faculty is  innate. In other words,
we are born with a linguistic module in our brain  responsible for
the acquisition of our first language(s). No matter how  intelligent
we are, we acquire our mother tongue(s) perfectly and do not  make
grammatical mistakes.

The refusal to acknowledge that Hebrew was _not_ spoken as a mother
tongue  between the second and nineteenth centuries CE grossly
distorts our  understanding of the genetic nature of Israeli. The
evolution, and  certainly the genetics, of a spoken first language 
(such as Israeli) are  not parallel to the evolution of a literary or
liturgical language (see 4  below).

>From the above-mentioned paragraph, "Philologos" accuses my
hybridizational  theory, according to which Israeli is both Semitic
and Indo-European, of  "greatly underestimating the continuity
between it [Israeli] and the  various kinds of Hebrew that have
preceded it." The fact is, however, that  my view clearly
acknowledges Hebrew as a *primary contributor* to Israeli.  I do
believe that the ideology of language revival (and I do not think
there is anybody - not even "Philologos" - who would deny the
important  ideological component in the emergence of Israeli; i.e.,
there is no _ad  hominem_ here) did (partially) work. Israeli is
(partially) the result of  Hebrew revival.

But the advantage of my balanced, non-mono-parental theory is that it
also  recognizes another very important continuity, totally
overlooked by  "Philologos": the continuity between Israeli and the
mother tongue(s) of  the founder generation (i.e., the revivalists
and their followers, who were  mostly native Yiddish-speakers). Thus,
it looks as if the position which  underestimates continuity here is
not my hybridizational theory at all, but  rather that which blindly
believes in Hebrew revival *only*. "Philologos"  wrongly accuses me
of ignoring continuity (of Hebrew) whereas it is her/his
position which - without any historical explanation - ignores
continuity (of Yiddish...).

The ultimate question, one which "Philologos" ignores, is whether it
is  possible to bring an unspoken language back to life **without the
occurrence of cross-fertilization from the revivalists' mother tongue

(2) The Mutual Intelligibilty Myth

"Philologos" writes the following:

"Although no Israeli I know of thinks he is speaking the eighth-
century BCE "language of Isaiah," a large amount of this language is
still easily understandable to every Israeli. Indeed, if we take the
book of Isaiah's opening verse, "The vision of Isaiah, the son of
Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of
Uzziah, Yotam, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah," there is not one
word here that even the most uneducated speaker of modern Hebrew
would not comprehend immediately. This holds true for many passages
in the Bible."

However, despite eleven years of studying the Old Testament at school,
Israelis depend on the extensive use of glosses (e.g. of Hartom-
Cassuto). Moreover, many Israelis believe that they understand the
Old Testament as it is, whereas they actually "understand" it from
the point of view of Israeli, not of Hebrew!

I am in warm Israel and decided to informally check whether
"Philologos" is right about Isaiah.I have invited seven non-linguists,
native Israeli-speakers, who know nothing about my linguistic
theories. One served with me in the IDF in 1989-93 and we had not
seen each other since; he also brought several people I had never met.
Their ages vary between 18 and 59. They all studied the Bible at
various secular primary and secondary Israeli schools for eleven
years. I showed them the beautiful First Chapter of Isaiah (which is
easier than many other books in the Bible).

They faced difficulties not only with lexis, but, much more
importantly, with structures, constituent order, aspects/moods/tenses,
etc. The following are some of the items they found hard to
understand. (Please forgive my Israeli transcription of the Hebrew.
If one heard the Book of Isaiah using Isaiah's
own phonetics and phonology, one would in any event have understood
much less):

-evus?: only one person knows the meaning; -hoy goy khote: several
understand goy as "non-Jew" -keved avon?; -nazoru akhor?; -lo zoru?; -
(kimluna) bemiksha?; -olot (eilim); -meriim?; -atudim?; -khodesh
veshabat kro mikra?; -lo ukhal aven vaatsara?; -ashru khamots?; -rivu
(almana)?: they understand almana but not rivu; -eykha hayta lezona
kirya neemana?: they understand zona as prostitute, find the syntax
confusing, some do not understand eykha, and one wonders, jocularly I
hope, which kirya is referred to here (Kiryat Motzkin?); -(kaspekh
haya) lesigim, sav'ekh (mahul mayim)?; -kabor sigayikh?; -veshaveha
(bitsdaka)?; -vetakhperu mehaganot asher bekhartem?; -ki tihyu keela
novelet aleha, ukhegana asher mayim en la?; -vehaya hekhason lin`oret,
ufo`alo lenitsots?...

All the seven informants showed signs of frustration, and one of them,
who is 33 years old, suggested that we should translate the Bible
into our own language (i.e., Israeli [my term]). He claimed to know
many people who failed tanakh exams which allegedly test
understanding of Biblical processes, not because they were stupid or
lacked historical perspicacity, but because they did not comprehend
the language. An 18 year-old informant then mentioned that he had
failed an exam about the literature of the Nobel Laureate Sh. Y.
Agnon (who often tried to write in Mishnaic Hebrew) because he could
not understand Agnon's language.

I decided to take the opportunity of such "pgishat makhzor (or rather
tanakh)" to check whether they understood the following notorious
Biblical noun-phrases or sentences. Most of them thought they did,
although the meaning they indicated was actually not the Biblical
meaning but the distinct Israeli "faux ami" meaning:

-bau banim ad *mashber* (Isaiah): crisis?; -yeled shaashuim (Jeremiah)
: playboy?  :-) ; -kol haanashim hayodim ki *mekatrot* neshehem
leelohim akherim (Jeremiah): complaining?  :-) ; -vayehi hashemesh baa
(Genesis): sunrise?; -napila goralot veneda (Jonah): they thought it
was rhetorical future (rather than cohortative); -avanim shakhaku
mayim (Job): syntactically, it was against their grammar that the
stones eroded the water, although in this case they managed

At that stage, one of the women present said that as a primary school
pupil she was told by her teacher that the Bible was written in the
same language that she spoke ("Hebrew"), and that made her feel silly
as she could not make head or tail of it (she used the Israeli
expression "lo hevanti ma rotsim mehakhaim sheli, ma ze leazazel "al
tsvi israel al bamotekha khalal"?" - cf. 2 Samuel 1: 19, the
beginning of David's Eulogy for Jonathan, which many Israelis are
required to learn by heart).

I tried to console her by suggesting that she did understand better
the meaning of "ekh naflu giborim", which brings me to the next point,
which is, in fact, much more important from the perspective of
linguistic genetics.

(3) The Irrelevance of Mutual Intelligibility to Linguistic Genetics

I have briefly demonstrated Israelis' misunderstanding of the Old
Testament. However, even if Israelis can understand some Hebrew, that
does not automatically mean that Israeli is a direct continuation of
Hebrew only. In fact, mutual intelligibility is not so crucial in
determining the genetic affiliation of a language.

After all, it is "Philologos" who mentions "the circa eighth-century
C.E. "Beowulf," which, although it is written in what is known as Old
English, does not have a single line of which the contemporary
speaker of English can make sense." Indeed, speakers of Modern
English cannot understand even Geoffrey Chaucer, who is much more
recent (c. 1343-1400). **However, no one would claim that his/her
language is not genetically related to contemporary English!**

By contrast, a Spanish-speaker might understand Media Lengua (a mixed
language spoken in Ecuador), which consists of Quechua grammar but
whose lexis is 93% Spanish. Who would argue that Media Lengua is
genetically Spanish (only)?

Ben-Yehuda might have liked to have cancelled the heritage of the
Diaspora and "Diasporism", and taught Israelis to speak Biblical
Hebrew. **Had he been successful**, they would *indeed* have spoken a
language closer to ancient Hebrew than Modern English is to Chaucer,
because they would have bypassed more than 2000 years of natural

On the other hand, let us assume for a moment that Hebrew never died
as a spoken language in the second century CE. It continued to be the
mother tongue of generations of Jews. They eventually returned to the
Land of Israel, continuing to speak Hebrew. It might well be the case
that mutual intelligibility-wise, that Hebrew would have differed
more from Biblical Hebrew than does our lovely Israeli. But this is
irrelevant to the issue of the origins of Israeli!

(4) The Confusion Between Evolution and Genesis; the Internal
Development Myth

"Philologos" continues:

"Even Shakespeare, writing a mere 400 years ago in what is already
known as "modern English," is more difficult for the average American
than the Hebrew books of Genesis or Samuel are for the average
Israeli. Therefore, would Mr. Zuckerman[n] suggest that we stop
referring to the language he has addressed me in as "English" and
call it something else - 'Neo-Anglo-French', perhaps?"

Indeed, too many Israelis have been indoctrinated to believe that
their language is different from Biblical Hebrew in the same way as
the English of the American novelist John Grisham (b. 1955) is
different from that of William Shakespeare (1564-1616), let alone the
above-mentioned Chaucer. Others might refer you to the Greek spoken
in today's Athens, which is obviously very different from that of the
playwright Aristophanes (c. 448-380 BCE) or the historian Thucydides
(c. 460-400 BCE) or the language of Homer's _Iliad_ and _Odyssey_.

However, such analogies are flawed. Between Chaucer and Grisham, as
well as between Ancient and Modern Greek, there has always been a
continuous chain of native-speakers. For generation after generation,
the language was transmitted as a mother tongue. **All languages
change over time**, but **the fact that Hebrew went unspoken for 1700
years sets it apart.** This circumstance we can neither remedy nor
ignore. Although it still developed as a literary and liturgical
language, its evolution cannot be compared to that of a spoken

"Philologos" says:

"Mr. Zuckerman[n] is missing the linguistic point in more ways than
one. The rule of thumb is that we call modern languages by names
different from those of their ancestors when two or more of them have
the same ancestor and need to be differentiated; this is why we don't
call both Italian and French "modern Latin," or both Hindi and
Bengali "modern Sanskrit. When the ancestor has had only one
offspring, on the other hand, as is the case with Greek or Japanese,
we call the modern language by the same name as the ancient one, no
matter how different it is. Hebrew falls into the latter category,
and only someone with an ideological ax [tries? -- ed.] to make an
exception of it."

"Philologos" believes *axiomatically* that Israeli is a pure
continuation of Hebrew, totally overlooking the historical fact that
Hebrew was not a mother tongue for more than 1700 years. S/he is not
aware of the very basic linguistic difference between evolution (of a
pre-existent mother tongue) and genesis (of a new language). His/her
confusion between linguistic typology and linguistic genetics results
in the "internal development myth". Inter alia, because of a lack of
distinction between Hebrew linguistics and Israeli linguistics, this
myth argues that every linguistic feature in Israeli is the result of
an internal development within Hebrew.

However, the formation of Israeli was _not_ the result of language
contact between Hebrew and a powerful superstratum, such as English
in the case of Arabic, Kurdish in the case of Neo-Aramaic, or French
in the case of English. Rather, *ab initio*, Israeli, which is only
100 years old, had two primary contributors: Yiddish and Hebrew (and
many other secondary contributors). The unique case of Israeli is,
therefore, not parallel to Greek or Japanese.

A Final Remark on Terminology

Finally, it is of great importance to keep in mind that this dispute
is not just about terminology. It also has "meat", adding substance
to our knowledge of history and language. If you are convinced that
Israeli is a hybrid language but dislike the name "Israeli", I would
still regard my efforts as successful. Several months ago, I went to
a Tel Aviv cafe for a meal. Seeing Greek salad on the menu, I decided
to play a small trick on the waitress. "Excuse me, but why is it
called "Greek" salad?" (slikha, lama korim leze salat yevani?), I
enquired. Clearly in a hurry, and impatient with such obvious
questions, she answered nonchalantly, and a little arrogantly: "Can't
you see that it has Bulgarian cheese in it?!" (ma z'tomeret, ata lo
roe sheyesh beze gvina bulgarit?!).

It took her four seconds to realize the beautiful paradox in her
explanation. Words can often bear a paradoxical relationship to their
meaning. Yet (despite these obvious sense-reference, de re - de dicto
contradictions), people rarely think twice about how appropriate the
signifier they are using really is.

Yours respectfully,

Ghil`ad Zuckermann

Date: 28 December  2004
From: Paul (Hershl) Glasser 
Subject: Ewa Geller's "The Perils of Idealizing Yiddish"

In her "The Perils of Idealising Yiddish" (in _Yiddish after the
Holocaust_, edited by Joseph Sherman,  Oxford, 2004), Ewa Geller
claims that there is a gap between "college-Yiddish" speakers and the
"native Yiddish speaker." In particular, she is interested in those
researchers who have learned  Yiddish as a second language and are
unable to translate Holocaust memoirs properly. It seems to me,
however, that while her point of departure may be valid, her
conclusions are not supported by the facts.

Throughout her paper, E.G. states directly or indirectly that there
has been a deliberate attempt on the part of teachers and researchers
in Yiddish studies, verging on a conspiracy, to inculcate students,
in particular those outside Eastern Europe, with an idealized form of
Yiddish, a standard, Germanized Yiddish that is quite distinct from
the living, Slavicized Yiddish spoken by Holocaust survivors. The
reason for this conspiracy is that at some point, it was decided
arbitrarily that Yiddish was a Germanic language, descended from
German, regardless of the facts, which dictate that Yiddish is a
Slavic-based language that happens to have a large German-origin
vocabulary. However, it was felt that the prestige of Yiddish would
suffer if Yiddish were attributed to the Slavic family and that its
prestige could only be enhanced if Yiddish were a member of the
Germanic family. All this came to a head when Paul  Wexler proclaimed
that Yiddish was a Slavic language and other specialists in the field,
scandalized by this break with dogma, reiterated the Germanic origins
of Yiddish and the German roots of the standard language.

It will become clear that this hypothesis is not supported by the
facts.  There is a grain of truth -- it is true that researchers who
acquire a  smattering of Yiddish in the classroom are not well
prepared to converse with native speakers or to translate Holocaust
memoirs, especially those that are handwritten. Beyond that, however,
the "facts" E.G. elicits to buttress her case, as well as her
conclusions, border on fantasy.

E.G. writes that "the linguistic incompetence of the college-Yiddish
interviewer vis-a-vis the native Yiddish speaker" causes the two to
speak "totally different languages." However, the idea that a
conspiracy to  idealize Yiddish has caused this is absurd. Moreover,
the scholarly debate over the Germanic or Slavic origins and
affinities of Yiddish has absolutely  nothing to do with the path
taken by literary and by classroom Yiddish. A more  impartial look at
the problems of teaching Yiddish to a new generation after the
Holocaust would reveal that the gaps in the knowledge of Yiddish
students is caused by a) the lack of advanced courses and advanced
textbooks -- most students study only elementary Yiddish; b) the lack
of a Yiddish-speaking country or even large numbers of native
speakers to practice with -- students have all too little contact
with the living language for practical, not ideological reasons; c)
the lack of qualified teachers.

E.G. makes a related point as well, that Polish speakers acquire a
knowledge of idiomatic Yiddish more quickly and easily than, for
example, native English speakers. However, the reason she gives, viz.
deliberate slighting of the Slavic component, is absurd, and again
has nothing to do with the debate  over the origins of Yiddish. No
one disputes that Yiddish and Polish are closely related after
centuries of coexistence, even though Yiddish and English  may be
more closely related genetically (depending on your view in the
scholarly debate). But Yiddish teachers and scholars in the West do
NOT make a  point of downplaying the Slavic component. If they fail
to stress it adequately,  it is because of their own ignorance of
Slavic languages. While that is a serious problem, it is a practical
one, again, not an ideological one.

In order to prove her case, E.G. states that "today's student of
Yiddish is usually instructed that words of Slavic origin make up
some five percent of Yiddish vocabulary, and that extensive use of
these words should be  avoided." No more and no less! An outrageous
generalization, to say the least --  how many Yiddish classes has she
attended and how many times has she witnessed this sort of
instruction? I suspect that the answer is none because in the
relevant footnote, she states merely that "this attitude can be
illustrated by the editors of the _Groyser verterbukh  fun der
yidisher shprakh_ [my translation, P.G.]: 'We use the abbreviation sl.
as a warning that this is not a word appropriate to the standard
language...' (vol 1, p. 17)."  However, E.G. has overlooked the first
part of the relevant paragraph, which  disproves her thesis
completely. It states (my translation again, P.G.): "Words  derived
from Slavic languages are divided into two large categories: a) those
[words] that are frequent and widespread, as well as those that are
useful in the standard language, are given without any reservations;
b) all those words that are used in the living language over a large
area or even one region, but which have elicited doubts from a purist'
s point of view  -- are considered Slavisms." Only at this point do
the editors note that they use the abbrevation "sl." to denote words
of the second category, Slavic-origin words that may not be
admissible in the standard language. E.G. has  neglected to mention
that here is a whole category of Slavic-origin words whose
admissibility is questioned by no one and gives the totally false
impression that the editors of the _Great Yiddish Dictionary_ were
against all Slavic-origin words. If she had read the whole paragraph,
she would know that.

Moreover, she neglects to mention the change over time in the
attitude  to the Slavic component, implying falsely that it has
always been negative. It is well known that Mendele Moykher-Sforim (=
Sholem-Yankev Abramovitsh) revised his Yiddish novels and in the
process replaced a large number of Slavic-origin words with words of
other components because he felt that Slavic was too prominent in his
Yiddish. However, over time, this attitude has changed. See, for
example, the editor's introduction (by Max Weinreich) to the _Oytser
fun der yidisher shprakh_, pp. XIV-XV. He writes (my translation, P.G.
): "Until 1939, when our Yiddish-speaking communities  in the Slavic
countries appeared so solid, our attitude to Slavisms was much
stricter. The tendency to [heavily] Slavicize Yiddish vocabulary, as
in 'Di derevyes pakhnen mit a priyatnem zapakh' [where all the
lexical items are derived from Russian and are not considered part of
standard Yiddish], although it was buttressed by the Yiddish-speaking
'street', was rejected by the entire modern development of Yiddish.
Mendele was supposed to have created the slogan 'No Russian' and even
Soviet Yiddish linguistics, if not Soviet Yiddish reality,  observed
this rule. Today, however, things are different: ... there is no
longer even a theoretical possibility of [Yiddish] being flooded by
Slavic.... The _Oytser_ does what needs to be done at this stage of
the history of Yiddish: it does not recommend [Slavisms of doubtful
admissibility], it sets them apart - but it does list them." What a
far cry from permanent ideological bias against the Slavic component!

Again, if Yiddish teachers are themselves not familiar enough with
living, idiomatic Yiddish in general and the Slavic component in
particular,  that is a problem to be dealt with, but the impression
that it is caused by  ideological bias is ridiculous.

Next, E.G. gives examples of handwritten Yiddish with a correct
translation, as well as mistranslations that she has encountered,
produced by poorly trained translators. She notes the following

a)   False reading because of poor knowledge of Hebrew- and Slavic-
origin vocabulary.
b)   False reading because of poor knowledge of extralinguistic facts.
c)   False reading because of poor knowledge of older vocabulary.
d)   Lack of competence in Yiddish idioms.
e)   Lack of knowledge of Yiddish syntax.

E.G. concludes: "Although these are extreme examples, one is appalled
to consider how many inaccurate translations of this kind have
already been published." No argument there, but the remedy is more
Yiddish teaching,  not an ideological overthrow. She goes on to make
an outrageous charge:

"Of the six translation samples I reviewed, only two passed the test.
One of these translators was a Polish, non-Jewish student of Yiddish.
... She was the one who most adequately understood the rules of
grammatical and semantic collocation ... This is an additional proof
that there exists a very close structural and semantic affinity
between Yiddish and Slavic languages.... Since these linguistic facts
do not fit the 'de-slavicized,' idealized image of standard Yiddish
and its long-accepted Germanocentric historicity and grammaticality,
they are not only neglected but are also even rejected  in the
teaching and research of standard Yiddish." Yet E.G. evinces no
evidence to back this charge. The problem, as we have stated, is
incomplete knowledge on the part of Yiddish students, not ideological
bias on the part of teachers and researchers. We have already seen
how a quote from the _Great Yiddish Dictionary_ taken out of context
gives a false impression of the views of its editors. Here,
unwarranted generalizations also produce a false impression. Let's
break it down:

a)    Native speakers of Polish grasp Yiddish more quickly than
native  speakers of English. - True, but a function of the history of
Yiddish, not of ideological bias.

b)    This proves that Yiddish has affinities with Slavic languages.
No one would disagree. However, this is irrelevant to the matter at

c)    I wish E.G. would name a single teacher or researcher who makes
a  point of denying that Yiddish and Polish have many idioms in
common. Blanket generalizations weaken her case, rather than
strengthening it.

d)    Once again, poor knowledge of Yiddish on the part of students
is a practical matter, not an ideological one. Making unproven
charges serves no purpose.

Next, E.G. shifts gears in order to make more outrageous charges.
According to her, Yiddish classes and summer programs teach Yiddish
as a vehicle  for nostalgia. Once again, I wonder how many classes
she has actually  observed. In my experience, on the contrary, the
problem, if anything, is that Yiddish classes are too academic! She
also complains that Yiddish civilization  is not given its proper
place in Western culture, since she believes that "the Yiddish
language and its culture belong to the Judeo-Christian legacy of
Europe as much as do the Italian, French, German or Russian cultures."
This is a debatable assertion at best. On the contrary, see Joseph
Landis, "Who  Needs Yiddish?" and Maurice Samuel, _In Praise of
Yiddish_, for the view that  Yiddish language and culture are
incommensurate with Western, Christian  civilization.

E.G. goes on to say that "Eastern European intellectuals and their
German assimilationist helpers from the West elaborated the desired
historicity," i.e., that Yiddish was German-based and that the Slavic
component is a minor one and concerns mostly Yiddish vocabulary.
Again, since she gives no specifics, this argument is difficult to
refute, but we will try. For  example, if she were to read the
relevant portion of Max Weinreich's _Geshikhte  fun der yidisher
shprakh_, she would see that this, too, is a straw man. Weinreich
begins his discussion of the Slavic component by writing (II:185;
English translation, p. 526): "In pursuing the Slavic contribution to
Yiddish, the first thing that stands out is words," but hastens to
add (II: 186; 527): "On the whole it is misleading to reduce the
entire matter of the Slavic determinant to vocabulary. Slavic has not
only enriched Yiddish vocabulary, but modified the structure of the
Yiddish language," and he goes on to  explore Slavic influence on
Yiddish verbal prefixes, verbal suffixes, on derivational suffixes,
such as diminutives, on syntax, on place names, etc., etc. Moreover,
Weinreich  echoes Alfred Landau, "Di slavishe elementn un hashpoes in
yidish," who also goes out of his way to stress the broad impact of
Slavic on Yiddish. E.G. also complains about Uriel Weinreich's and
Alexander Harkavy's dictionary, which supposedly give the Slavic
component short shrift. I wonder if she has bothered to open either
dictionary, both of which cover the Slavic component, Harkavy being
especially generous in this respect. Where is the derision for the
Slavic component that she decries? She does state that "the claim for
a Slavic substrate for Eastern Yiddish, which some researchers in
Eastern Europe put forward," but does not give any specific names; I
assume that Weinreich and Landau were not who she had in mind.
Moreover, their thorough analysis of the Slavic component is
apparently not enough to cleanse them of the stain of failing to
acknowledge her  view of the genesis of Yiddish.

E.G. also makes the surprising statement that  the reason that Jews
were  able to shift wholesale to German in Germany was because their
language, Western Yiddish, was actually a form of German, whereas the
attempt to Germanize Eastern European Jews failed because their
language was not Germanic, but rather Slavic. It's a stretch to claim
that this is evidence for her case, to say the least. Moreover, she
adds that "the ... spoken language of Eastern European Jews were so
distant from German" that there was no way they could make the switch.
However, she is well aware that in the Eastern European provinces of
the Austrian Empire, such as Galicia and Bukovina, Jews who chose to
easily made the switch from Yiddish to German. The obvious conclusion:
that the inability of Jews in the Russian Empire to acquire German
has _nothing_ to do with the genesis of Yiddish (again that red herring!
) and everything to do with the fact that there were not enough
German speakers in Russia for Jews to learn the language from. Where
there were large numbers of German speakers, Jews frequently did
shift from Yiddish to German.

E.G. also disagrees, as does Wexler, with the thesis that Western
Yiddish and Eastern Yiddish are one language, preferring to believe
that the Yiddish of Western Europe is of a different order of that of
Eastern Europe. Again,  this is a question worth debating, but
without  ascribing ulterior motives to one's opponents. She accuses
modern Yiddish linguists of being in cahoots with the Haskole and
Wissenschaft des Judentums in the "idealization" of Yiddish, as if
the attempt on the part of the Haskole in modern times to transform
Yiddish into modern German were the equivalent of believing that
Yiddish is historically a German-based language!  In one breath, she
lumps the Yiddishist movement in with the Haskole; in the next, she
states that linking Yiddish to German was the way for Yiddishists to
gain a foothold for Yiddish in modern Jewish life, whereas for the
maskilim and their  successors, it was a way to wipe Yiddish out and
replace it with German. She disparages Birnbaum for believing that
East and West Yiddish are one language - a little respect for your
opponents! - and then quotes him approvingly; she disparages Uriel
Weinreich's dictionary, but mentions  his linguistic work approvingly;
she mentions Joshua A. Fishman approvingly, but declines to discuss
his actual work, for it would become clear that he disagrees with
much, if not all, of what she claims.

These are the major points of E.G.'s article that are at variance
with the facts. Since she gives so few specifics, she makes argument
more difficult than it should be. But the pattern is clear: charges
unsupported by facts.

Paul (Hershl) Glasser
End of The Mendele Review Vol. 08.013
Editor, Leonard Prager

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