Changing Languages.

Aidan Doyle, author of the forthcoming A History of the Irish Language, has a mini-rant at OUPBlog that begins:

In the literature on language death and language renewal, two cases come up again and again: Irish and Hebrew. Mention of the former language is usually attended by a whiff of disapproval. It was abandoned relatively recently by a majority of the Irish people in favour of English, and hence is quoted as an example of a people rejecting their heritage. Hebrew, on the other hand, is presented as a model of linguistic good behaviour: not only was it not rejected by its own people, it was even revived after being dead for more than two thousand years, and is now thriving.

He says, “In language, as in life, it sometimes happens that a certain code outlives its use,” pointing out that “Language does not exist independently of society and culture, and if a community comes under intense pressure from another one, it has to adapt to survive.” There’s nothing profound or especially new, but it’s an enjoyable read, and of course I heartily approve of his conclusion: “Change is part of language: you can embrace it, or resist it, but there’s no escaping it.” Thanks for the link go to Trevor, who adds that he is bothered by “the omission of any mention of the penalties for using Irish in the 19th century and before.”

Comments

  1. it is a bit older that he doesn’t even mention the active repression of Irish, but maybe he didn’t want to muddy the argument. Even if they had been no reflection, it would still have been “okay” for the Irish to choose English purely for the socioeconomic advantages it conferred. (Corollary: the Irish were not merely hapless colonial victims tossed this way and that by the whims of the English, but active exercisers of their own agency even in the face of oppression.)

  2. Er, reflection = repression, of course.

  3. And older = odder?

  4. Older = odd, they had been = there had been. Sorry, that whole comment was a mess — I’m trying to use dictation more for health reasons, but my self-editing isn’t yet up to par.

  5. Hebrew, as I’ve heard, was selected as a national language of Israel instead of Yiddish not because the letter was a language of galut, but because Hebrew was the common language for Jews with different native tongues. And are there really people out there who fault (most) Irish for not speaking their own non-English language?

  6. In 1840, there were 8 million people living on the island of Ireland, most of them Irish speakers. By 1860, there were 6 million – at least a million dead, the rest emigrated, and the dead and the emigres were the poorest and most rural – the speakers of Irish. The population continued to fall for another century, through emigration and low birth rates – only 4 million in 1960, and even today the population of the island is only 6.5 million.

    The Irish did not voluntarily give up their language. The Famine killed the language by killing the people. The proper comparison for Irish is not Hebrew but Yiddish, another language that was destroyed when the people who spoke it were destroyed and dispersed.

  7. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Hebrew, on the other hand, is presented as a model of linguistic good behaviour: not only was it not rejected by its own people, it was even revived after being dead for more than two thousand years, and is now thriving.

    That seems self-contradictory: how come it was dead for more than 2000 years (considerably more than that, in fact) if it was not rejected by its own people? If Irish is successfully revitalized 2000 years hence will a future Aidan Doyle claim that it was not rejected?

    I think Bloix’s explanation of the disappearance of Irish is probably right. After all, Welsh was also actively suppressed, but it has survived, though it would be an exaggeration to call it thriving. I believe that Ireland is the only country in Europe (maybe in the world) that has a smaller population today (4.6 + 1.8 million) than it had in 1841 (more than 8 million).

  8. Regarding “the omission of any mention of the penalties for using Irish in the 19th century and before”; Aidan does allude to this: “Usually, we just hang our heads and mutter something about 800 years of colonization … I’m going to try a different tack here.”

    “are there really people out there who fault (most) Irish for not speaking their own non-English language?” It’s a common gripe in Ireland itself, though not by Irish speakers or “language enthusiasts”. There are people who decry cultural cringe without having any interest in native culture. Moaning about lost culture is like moaning about the weather; it’s idle chat and nobody expects you to do anything about it.

    Irish was in retreat geographically long before the Famine. But if the Famine had somehow not happened in the 1840s, there might have been enough of a base of speakers left in the 1890s for the nationalist revival to work with. Hungarian or Hapsburg Slavic languages might be the comparison instead of Yiddish; or Welsh at the least.

  9. SFReader says:

    Hungary had population of 15 million back in 1840.

    It’s down to 9.8 million now.

  10. Chris McG says:

    But Hungary lost about 70% of its territory and with that over 60% of its population in the Treaty of Trianon in 1920. Ireland is the same size it always was (given we’re counting the populations of the North and South together).

  11. Ti’s many years since I read Sean De Freine’s ‘The Great Silence’, but didn’t he suggest that the Irish kept their language until the gradual reform of the Penal Laws gave people opportunities that would be improved if they spoke Irish? I seem, vaguely, to remember something about children being beaten by their parents for speaking Irish.

  12. ‘It’s’, and I don’t even have the good excuse of having to rely on dictation software. 🙁

  13. BLIMEY!!!!
    For “improved if they spoke Irish” read “improved if they spoke English” throughout.
    Porf raednig id not in my skiil sett!!!

  14. J.W. Brewer says:

    Scottish Gaelic likewise suffered a fairly catastrophic decline over a somewhat similar timeframe to its Irish cousin. Maybe the political and economic situation of its erstwhile speakers was just as bad (legacy of Culloden, Highland clearances, mass emigration) or maybe other factors were at play. Moderately interesting that afaik there was no Irish-Gaelic equivalent to the parts of Nova Scotia where such a high percentage of immigrants were Gaelic-speakers that they kept it the dominant local language in their bit of the New World for a number of generations until assimilation to English finally (largely) triumphed.

  15. J.W. Brewer says:

    As of say 100 years ago did the Ashkenazim of Germany whose ancestors had shifted away from Yiddish several generations prior feel like they had via forced assimilation lost their own heritage, or did they see this as a marker of emancipation and progress, and the persistence of Yiddish further east as confirmation that the social status of the Ashkenazim there remained more problematic? The Soviet Union was a horrible oppressive place for Jew and Gentile alike, but the shift in Soviet-controlled territory from Yiddish to monolingual Russian usage over the course of the 20th century may have coincided with a diminution of the strength of the social barriers between the Ashkenazim and their goyische neighbors compared to what had been the case under the ancient regime. (Although of course the wild swings in Soviet language policy from being very pro minority languages to being not-so-pro may have been an additional factor.)

  16. or did they see this as a marker of emancipation and progress

    That seems to me self-evidently true for the most part (although of course there were partisans of Yiddish), but it’s very hard — sometimes it seems impossible — to discuss these things without interference from the later developments that cast such a dark cloud over the whole issue. I have been chided on MetaFilter for daring to suggest that Jews in pre-WWII Germany by and large saw themselves as Europeans, not Middle Easterners in exile.

  17. did they see this as a marker of emancipation and progress

    They did. The general attitude of “Germans of the Jewish faith” to the Ostjuden makes that clear enough; indeed, this attitude often spread to ordinary Germans and even Nazis:

    It was the same with the conscience of a certain Wilhelm Kube, an old Party member and Generalkommissar in Occupied Russia, who was outraged when German Jews with the Iron Cross arrived in Minsk for “special treatment.” Since Kube was more articulate than Eichmann, his words may give us an idea of what went on in Eichmann’s head during the time he was plagued by his conscience: “I am certainly tough and I am ready to help solve the Jewish question,” Kube wrote to his superior in December, 1941, “but people who come from our own cultural milieu are certainly something else than the native animalized hordes.” This sort of conscience, which, if it rebelled at all, rebelled at murder of people “from our own cultural milieu,” has survived the Hitler regime; among Germans today [1961], there exists a stubborn “misinformation” to the effect that “only” Ostjuden, Eastern European Jews, were massacred.

  18. Oopsie. Eichmann in Jerusalem ch. 6.

    I would go further than Hat and say that German Jews saw themselves as Germans tout court, not merely “Europeans” (a fairly abstract notion at the time). The phrase “it can’t happen here” could have been invented for them, and why not? Nowhere, not even in France, had the Napoleonic reforms taken greater root than in (non-Prussian) Germany; indeed, the fact that Antisemitism became a political philosophy in the Second Reich is a reflection of its recession as a universal social convention among German gentiles. Even the term Antisemitismus was devised to emphasize the difference between those who professed it and those with old-fashioned Judenhass.

    Napoleon himself, though privately hating Jews as much as anybody (“the most despicable of mankind”, he called them in a private letter), expressed his motives for political philo-Semitism in exile thus:

    During the conversation, I took the liberty of asking the emperor his reasons for having encouraged the Jews so much. He replied, “I wanted to make them leave off usury, and become like other men. There were a great many Jews in the countries I reigned over; by revoking their disabilities and by putting them upon an equality with Catholics, Protestants, and others, I hoped to make them become good citizens, and conduct themselves like others of the community. I believe that I should have succeeded in the end.

    “My reasoning with them was, that, as their rabbins explained to them, that they ought not to practise usury to their own tribes, but were allowed to do so with Christians and others, that, therefore, as I had restored them to all their privileges, and made them equal to my other subjects, they must consider me to be the head of their nation, like Solomon or Herod, and my subjects as brethren of a tribe similar to theirs. That, consequently, they were not permitted to practise usury with me or them, but to treat us as if we were of the tribe of Judah. That having similar privileges to my other subjects, they were in like manner, to pay taxes, and submit to the laws of conscription and others. By this I gained many soldiers. Besides, I should have drawn great wealth to France as the Jews are very numerous, and would have flocked to a country where they enjoyed such superior privileges.

    “Moreover, I wanted to establish an universal, liberty of conscience. My system was to have no predominant religion, but to allow perfect liberty of conscience and of thought, to make all men equals whether Protestants, Catholics, Mahometans, Deists, or others; so that their religion should have no influence in getting them employments under government. In fact, that it should neither be the means of serving, or of injuring them; and that no objection should be made to a man’s getting a situation on the score of religion, provided he were fit for it; in other respects. I made every thing independent of religion. All the tribunals were so.

    “Marriages were independent of the priests; even the burying grounds were not left at their disposal, as they could not refuse interment to the body of any person, of whatsoever religion. My intention was to render every thing belonging to the state and the constitution, purely civil and independent of any religion. I wished to deprive the priests of all influence and power in civil affairs, and to oblige them to confine themselves to their own spiritual matters, and meddle with nothing else.”

    I asked if uncles and nieces had not a right to marry in France. He replied, “Yes, but they must obtain a special permission.” I asked if the permission were to be granted by the pope. “By the pope?” said he, “No;” catching me by the ear and smiling, “I tell you that neither the pope, nor any of his priests, had power to grant any thing. — By the sovereign.”

         —Barry Edward O’Meara, Napoleon in Exile (1822)

  19. Nova Scotia (‘Alba Nuadh’) has a Ministry of Gaelic Affairs that “works to promote the Gaelic language and ensure that Gaelic culture continues to thrive in Nova Scotia.” There’s a bilingual newsletter on the site. Wiki says there are some 1200 people in Nova Scotia who can speak Gaelic, of which about 300 are L1 speakers. The Glenora Inn & Distillery in Glenville, Cape Breton, “produces North America’s first and Canada’s only single malt whisky.” It’s, uh, not Laphroaig.

  20. I would go further than Hat and say that German Jews saw themselves as Germans tout court, not merely “Europeans” (a fairly abstract notion at the time).

    Sure, but the “Europeans” classification was in the context of the MeFi thread. Here‘s the comment I was responding to (and I’m still boggled at the reaction to my comment).

  21. I think Joe in Australia’s final word is basically sound, except that he should distinguish between the (Napoleonic) West and the (non-Napoleonic) East. The former was pretty much the only locus of assimilation for Jews until the rise of American immigration and the founding of the USSR.

  22. Etienne says:

    Hmm. Comparing different situations (Gaelic in Ireland, Yiddish in Germany) is always tricky, but it seems to me that the latter case differs sharply from the former in that the linguistic distance (“Abstand”) between Yiddish and German was low, and as a result all too many Jews came to perceive Yiddish as “bad German”, and not as a separate language. In Ireland, on the other hand, Gaelic and English are far too dissimilar for either to be perceived as a corruption/degenerate form of the other.

    Ashkenazic Jews as Middle Easterners: Okay, that awakens a bittersweet memory…I was thirteen, taking swimming lessons, and she was fifteen, doing the same: a beautiful redhead with snow-white skin, freckles, very nice legs, teasing brown eyes and a very sweet voice: the granddaughter of Jewish immigrants from Lithuania. My first real crush, which alas went nowhere, as she was more interested in older boys, preferably from the local high school football team…

    Well, that same year, in religion class, the teacher was quite puzzled: I was normally extremely good at geography, yet when we had been asked where (in terms of modern political geography) the historical Jewish homeland/Promised Land was located, I had answered…either Scotland or Ireland.

  23. Ha! Great story.

  24. J. W. Brewer says:

    One salient difference for Irish v. Hebrew is that when the Irish republic became independent of the UK the overwhelming majority of its new citizens were already fluent in a common language, viz English, so trying to revive Gaelic was always going to be a purely symbolic gesture. By contrast, the new citizens of the state of Israel upon its independence lacked a common language, and even if the Ashkenazic elite had not had their own mixed-at-best feelings about Yiddish as a symbol of the prior historical situation Zionism was supposed to deliver them from, pressuring all of the non-Ashkenazic Jews to learn Yiddish so that there would be a lingua franca for the new nation might have aggravated existing ethnic tensions. So there was a functional need for *some* language that did not belong to any one faction of the new nation’s Jewish citizens to fill the gap (Arabic was presumably deemed also unsuitable for that role despite being probably the most common L1 for those without any Yiddish), and if the gap-filler used seems more audacious or romantic than Swahili or Bahasa Indonesia (which served similar neutral-as-between-ethnicities functions in other newly-independent nations) that still doesn’t take away from its functional aspect.

  25. David Marjanović says:

    ^ Very good point.

  26. gwenllian says:

    “are there really people out there who fault (most) Irish for not speaking their own non-English language?” It’s a common gripe in Ireland itself, though not by Irish speakers or “language enthusiasts”. There are people who decry cultural cringe without having any interest in native culture. Moaning about lost culture is like moaning about the weather; it’s idle chat and nobody expects you to do anything about it.

    I agree that native speakers rarely do it, but it’s common to hear it from language activists. Irish is in grave danger so many are just resorting to desperate measures, trying to guilt trip the population into supporting it and maybe learning it. But some really do buy into it, and I feel sorry for them. Not only is it a ridiculous thing to feel guilty about, all this pining over a past they never knew seems to prevent some from realizing that they do have a mother tongue, and appreciating it as such.

    Irish was in retreat geographically long before the Famine. But if the Famine had somehow not happened in the 1840s, there might have been enough of a base of speakers left in the 1890s for the nationalist revival to work with.

    Apparently 30% of the population was Irish speaking just before the famine. Judging by the Welsh example, I’d say Irish was doomed in the long term even then. Language revival doesn’t really work (except in extraordinary circumstances, such as those of Hebrew in Israel). Language preservation can work,but only under the right circumstances, and those don’t really exist in either country. Looking at Welsh, the revival isn’t working – nobody or next to nobody in areas where Welsh died out is taking it up as an everyday language. But language preservation isn’t working either, and all of the conditions which make it impossible in Wales are also present in the gaeltachts. The minority language areas in both countries are poor and somewhat out of the way. They’re places to retire to, not places where young people can stay and find work. Faced with demographic and economic reality, language policy can’t really do much.

    Hungarian or Hapsburg Slavic languages might be the comparison instead of Yiddish; or Welsh at the least.

    Were any of the languages in the Habsburg lands in serious retreat though?

  27. SFReader says:

    In the first half of 19th century, Czech and Slovak were spoken mostly by peasants, their upper classes all spoke German or Hungarian.

    Significant areas formerly populated by Czech speakers switched to German. Cities and most towns were German-speaking as well.

    I’d say Czech was in serious retreat since 1620.

  28. J. W. Brewer says:

    Perhaps the position of Czech and Slovak was not unlike the position at the same time of Estonian/Latvian/Lithuanian? So the lesson is perhaps that a language spoken primarily by the peasantry can achieve high status if political change incident to war or revolution affects the social position of the non-peasant classes (and thus the social role of the languages they speak) in the relevant society. But in Ireland even the peasants were majority Anglophone by the time the political winds shifted.

  29. Bohemian is what happens when almost everyone in the Czech lands starts to speak a kind of German.

  30. gwenllian says:

    What percentage of the Czech and Slovak-identified population had switched to German? A lot of the higher classes in Croatia switched, but they were such a tiny part of the population, it barely made a dent.

    Perhaps the state of Irish at independence could be better compared to that of Belarusian? I don’t really know much about the Belarusian situation, just the statistics.

    Perhaps the position of Czech and Slovak was not unlike the position at the same time of Estonian/Latvian/Lithuanian?

    Where could I find historical language statistics for the Baltics?

  31. SFReader says:

    It’s very difficult to assess the numbers. Neither the Czechs nor the Germans are willing to acknowledge true scale of assimilation.

    Because it would prove to be too embarrassing…

    PS. Great-grandfather of a certain German chancellor was called Johann Nepomuk Hiedler, named after most famous Czech saint and presumably this is an indication of Czech ancestry. Czechs are not very eager to embrace such a compatriot…

  32. St. John of Nepumuk, or Johannes (von) Nepomuk, or Jan Nepomucký, is not only revered by Czechs. Googling will turn up a handful of Johann Nepomuks with German last names.

  33. Notably the composer Hummel: Hattic Nepomuk talk.

    I first ran across the name when one of my wife’s students bore it: he was Hispanic. I discovered St. Anianus, Pope of Alexandria (this is before the Orthodox-Miaphysite split) and direct successor to St. Mark the Evangelist, in the same fashion.

  34. @gwenllian: I wonder if the retreat of Belarusian has a sense of geographic direction to it, like that of Irish, or if it’s more uniform across the country. Is Western Belarus more resistant to Russian, in a similar way to Western Ukraine?

    Also, the indigenous people in my part of Masschusetts are the Nipmuc. They’re Algonquian, though, not Czech.

  35. Also Johann Nepomuk Mälzel, the Henry Ford of metronomes, and father of the mechanical Turk.

  36. Huh. Interesting fellow. As a child, I practiced the piano with a Maelzel’s Metronome, so marked, the mechanical type (though perhaps by that time “Maelzel” was in the public domain, like “Webster”, “Hoyle”, “Roget”).

    ObHat: What an odd word metronome is! Etymologically it’s ‘regulator of measure’. No mention of time or music in it.

  37. SFReader says:

    Linguistic divide in Belarus lies between urban (almost 100% Russian speaking) and rural (mostly Belarusian speaking) population.

    Towns in Western Belarus are Russian speaking and countryside is Belarusian speaking.

    Rural population in southwestern part of Belarus speaks local Western Polesie dialects which are not really Belarusian (closer to Ukrainian, actually). Ethnically, they used to identify themselves as tutajsie (locals).

  38. Discussed at LH here.

  39. per incuriam says:

    What an odd word metronome is! Etymologically it’s ‘regulator of measure’. No mention of time or music in it

    Not perhaps so odd in French where musical time is la mesure. This is also an obsolete sense of the English word: OED 8e.

  40. And meter fits rather nicely in this picture.

  41. George Gibbard says:

    J.W. Brewer says:
    “As of say 100 years ago did the Ashkenazim of Germany whose ancestors had shifted away from Yiddish several generations prior feel like they had via forced assimilation lost their own heritage, or did they see this as a marker of emancipation and progress, and the persistence of Yiddish further east as confirmation that the social status of the Ashkenazim there remained more problematic?”

    but isn’t it the case that German Jews mostly never spoke Yiddish, meaning the language of the Jews of eastern Europe? If I recall correctly the latter spread from Bohemia to Poland, having been brought from the Rhineland, while Jews in Germany may well have spoken the local German dialect. Or did they speak specifically southwestern dialects of German?

  42. Those who have a better German and Yiddish could decide if Judeo-Alsatian sounds Yiddish or Alsatian: http://judaisme.sdv.fr/dialecte/

  43. If the metronome were invented today in Peoria, it would be called the MeterMeter™

  44. Mollymooly: I first read that as in Persia, and was mightily confused.

    George Gibbard: It’s hard to get authoritative citable information, but my understanding is that Western Yiddish did exist and has a common ancestor with Eastern Yiddish, with shared innovations separating it from the rest of German other than characteristic Jewish vocabulary; it was no longer merely the Jewish variety of Middle High German. (My mother was able to read a 19C Purim play (in Latin transliteration with notes) with profit and enjoyment, however, so the Abstand couldn’t have been too large.) During the 19C, Western Yiddish was steadily replaced by a newly created variety of Jewish German, a process essentially complete well before the Holocaust. Here is a map of Yiddish varieties (unfortunately in Russian, but a map is a map).

  45. David Marjanović says:

    Those who have a better German and Yiddish could decide if Judeo-Alsatian sounds Yiddish or Alsatian: http://judaisme.sdv.fr/dialecte/

    That’s fascinating. I haven’t downloaded Real Audio, but from the transcriptions & translations it looks completely Alsatian to me, plus a few Hebrew words. This can hardly representative of West Yiddish as a whole.

    …and indeed the map puts a border around an unnamed subdialect centered around Strasbourg.

  46. Etienne says:

    George Gibbard, John Cowan: Actually, this scholar believes that Eastern and Western Yiddish grew separately, out of different German dialects:

    http://ukcatalogue.oup.com/product/9780198739319.do

  47. For £125.00 he can keep his opinions to himself.

    (I do in fact know that scholars aren’t responsible for the princely sums charged for their books by the gatekeepers.) My review of one of Beider’s articles.

  48. While we’re at it, I recently got to hear some young Israeli orthodox people speaking Yiddish, which in many communities is the language of everyday life, and was startled by how Israeli-accented it sounded, in contrast to the Yiddish of older immigrants. I didn’t hear it for long enough to note what phonetic features caught my ear.

  49. John, your review is more like a summary. What did you think of the soundness of Beider’s argument?

  50. I’m not really fit to judge it, but it makes all kinds of sense to me.

  51. J.W. Brewer – but as a historical matter that’s not how it happened.

    The Jewish community in Palestine irrevocably committed itself to Hebrew by the 1910s. Tel Aviv, founded in 1909, was a Hebrew-speaking town – administration, public signs, newspaper, and language in the street – from the beginning. Israel’s first university, the Technion, founded in 1912, taught in Hebrew from the beginning (there was a public debate about this, with one faction arguing for German – not Yiddish – as being more useful for international scientific communication). Hebrew University, founded in 1925, always taught in Hebrew.

    By the mandatory period, Hebrew was well-established as the language of the Yishuv – the organized Jewish community in Palestine. By the time of the establishment of the State, there was no possibility that Yiddish or any other language would replace it.

  52. Huh, I hadn’t known that, though of course I knew the desire to revive Hebrew was there that early. Thanks!

  53. The WP article says that Ben-Yehuda and his colleagues imported a lot of words from modern standard Arabic and etymologically nativized them. Somehow, one doesn’t see Wexler claiming that Israeli, as he calls it, is actually just one of the Arabic colloquials.

    “Before Ben‑Yehuda, Jews could speak Hebrew; after him, they did.” —Cecil Roth

  54. J. W. Brewer says:

    I think “no possibility” is a strong claim when it comes to historical paths not taken. By approx 1952 half or more of the Jewish population of Israel was comprised of post-1945 recent arrivals, both from Europe and various parts of the Islamic world. If all or virtually all of that wave of incomers had had Yiddish as their common L1 (rather than being quite a mix of Yiddish-speakers, Arabic-speakers, and “misc”) the odds that they would have smoothly linguistically assimilated to the revived Hebrew of the Yishuv would have been lower.

  55. David Marjanović says:

    Actually, this scholar believes that Eastern and Western Yiddish grew separately, out of different German dialects:

    http://ukcatalogue.oup.com/product/9780198739319.do

    The abstract makes a lot of sense, in particular the location of where East Yiddish would have originated: basically in Prague.

  56. JW Brewer –

    You pose the counterfactual, what if post-State immigration had been overwhelmingly Yiddish-speaking? Would the country have given up on Hebrew?

    Well, you can never prove that a counter-factual is wrong. But in this case the evidence points the other way.

    During the Mandate period (1922-1948), 90% of Jewish immigrants were from Europe, and most of these were from Eastern Europe. Nonetheless, they gave up Yiddish and adopted Hebrew.

    The Israeli Declaration of Independence (in Hebrew) notes that the “Pioneers,” among other accomplishments, “revived the Hebrew language.”

    The Jews from Arabic-speaking lands did not begin to arrive en masse until after the ’48 War of Independence. 1949-1951 were the peak years. By that time, Hebrew was well-established.

    I suppose you could argue that the entire administrative, commercial, educational, military, and cultural apparatus, which was ideologically wholly committed to Hebrew, might have given it up under the pressure of arriving Holocaust survivors if there had been no immigration from Arab and other eastern countries. But even that thesis misreads the relationship between the survivors and the Israeli state. The survivors were impoverished, traumatized, and demoralized. They were looking to start new lives in a new country, not to reestablish their old lives in a new place.

    Of course, the number of European Jews that emigrated to Palestine and then to Israel before and after WWII was a small fraction of the number of Yiddish-speakers in Europe before the war. I don’t mean in the least to imply that Israel had anything to do with the destruction of Yiddish, or that the Jews as a people abandoned Yiddish.

  57. David Marjanović says:

    I’ve now read about half of this paper by the same author as the forthcoming book. I’ll have to interrupt and go to sleep. So far I like the paper very much, but two paragraphs stand out like sore thumbs.

    Other scholars who adhere to the Judeo-Centric approach generally provide no linguistic argument to support their position. The “demonstration” of the structural validity of Weinreich’s concepts by Jacobs (2005:17) represents one of rare exceptions. This author points that the initial /s/ is, on the one hand, impossible in German and the German component of Yiddish, but, on the other hand, is possible in certain words from the Hebrew component of Yiddish. His example is St[andard ]Y[iddish] soyne ‘enemy,’ derived from Hebrew שׂוֹנֵא. From this observation, Jacobs concludes that the phonological system of Yiddish was different from that of any German dialect from the very inception of Yiddish. However, we cannot be sure that (1) this particular word or other words with similar structure were really present in the vernacular language of the first Ashkenazic communities in Germany, and (2) if they were present, they were pronounced with initial /s/. And even if they were, this would not be evidence of enough structural difference to consider Jewish vernacular a separate language. 21 Moreover, sources from the 13th–15th centuries mention a series of names of Hebrew, Aramaic, or Old Czech origin, in which the initial /s/ present in the language of origin was realized as the affricate /ts/ when used by Jews in German-speaking provinces. Among the examples are: (1) various names related to biblical שָׂרָה (Sarah): צריט (Zaret) in 1283 in the Rhineland, צערלין (Zerlin), צורלין (Zorlin), and צרליף (Zarliep), all three in 1298 in East Franconia, Zara and Czara in late-14th-century Vienna; (2) hypocoristic female forms צימלין (Zimlin) in 1298 in East Franconia, צימלא (Zimle) and Czimla in 14th-century Nürnberg and Moravia; (3) Zadia in 1381 in Regensburg from סַעַדְיָה (Saadiah); and (4) Zlawa in 1457 in Austria, from Czech sláva ‘glory’ (Beider 2001). These examples make Jacobs’ argument particularly weak for the medieval period.

    (Endnote 21 is irrelevant to my point.)

    What is this nonsense about “impossible in German”? That’s “German north of the White Sausage Equator”! [z] plainly doesn’t exist south of that line (Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg, Switzerland, Austria). For me it’s a thoroughly exotic sound that I had to consciously learn to articulate when I started learning French and English.

    Of course the interesting question is how old this situation is. Polish has loanwords from MHG where /s/ is represented by the voiced ż /ʒ/, so the existence of [z] must be pretty old at least far enough north; and while “standard” troubadours’ MHG – centered in the southwest, in modern Baden-Württemberg – had no way of spelling out the distinction of [s] and [z], it consistently used v for initial /f/, and [v] for Germanic *f actually survives in at least one Walser dialect above the Aosta valley in Italy, so [z] was probably more widespread in the High Middle Ages than it is now. But did it ever reach the southeast?

    “Zara and Czara in late-14th-century Vienna” could be evidence that [z] did reach all the way to the southeastern corner… unless the people who bore those names had immigrated from farther northwest, which I don’t know and the author doesn’t mention. “Zlawa in 1457 in Austria” does not count: word-initial /s/ in front of consonants was no longer allowed by that time, and [ts] was considered a better match than the only alternative, [ʃ]. The town of Zwettl in northeastern Austria is from světlo, “light” – a clearing in the forest.

    Surely, the linguistic concepts discussed in the two previous paragraphs are relatively new. Weinreich clearly meant something else when he posited the fusion character of Yiddish “from its very beginning.” To illustrate his point, Weinreich proposes the following model StY sentence: nokhn bentshn hot der zeyde gekoyft a seyfer ‘after the blessing, the grandfather bought a religious book’ (Weinreich 1973.1:33). This example perfectly illustrates the possibilities of having—within the same sentence—elements belonging to various origins: the root of bentshn is Romance; zeyde and seyfer belong to the Slavic and Hebrew components, respectively; other elements (including the ending of bentshn) are High German. It also serves to show Yiddish developments that are not found in the stock languages: German has no equivalent for nokh-n (although both of its morphemes are of High German origin); contrary to Yiddish zeyde, the word meaning ‘grandfather’ starts with /z/ in no Slavic language (but with /dz/ in Polish and /d/ in many other languages), and the root diphthong is also specific to Yiddish; not a single Romance language has the root /bentš/ in verbs ultimately derived from Latin benedicere ‘to bless’; seyfer means ‘religious book’ only in Yiddish, while its Hebrew etymon signifies simply ‘book’; the syntax is mainly German but for the placement of the word gekoyft, whose equivalent would be placed at the end of the sentence in NHG. 26

    I understood nokhn immediately; my dialect, for one, obligatorily fuses nach dem into [ˈnɒ̈xm̩] or, more commonly, [ˈnɒ̈xŋ̩].

    Footnote 26: “To estimate the age of the only syntactic peculiarity in comparison to modern written German (a peculiarity for which Weinreich suggests a possibility of Hebrew or Slavic influences), it would be appropriate to check German dialects and early Yiddish texts.”

    Indeed this “syntactic peculiarity” is shared at least with Swabian (Baden-Württemberg strikes again), though of course Slavic influence is a strong contender.

  58. David Marjanović says:

    (My new favorite sentence: they get trust until they hit Eric.)

  59. Where is that sentence from?

  60. J. W. Brewer says:

    OK, consider my hypothesis fully retracted. The refugee incomers post-1948 (especially those from Arabic-speaking backgrounds) were at the mercy of the existing elite, and presumably would have assimilated in time to whatever language (Hebrew, Yiddish, German, English, Esperanto . . .) that elite had chosen. That the language they were asked to assimilate to might be less of an imposition in some symbolic/abstract way than other alternatives might have been was simply a pleasant coincidence.

    But maybe a more important takeaway is that the earlier the ascendancy of Hebrew (assuming the whole Yishuv project worked out successfully as a whole) was assured from a path-dependency point of view, the more highly motivated and self-selected the relevant group of Yishuvites was. The level of personal commitment to the project implied by making aliya in 1910 is probably hard to find among the sort of people (and lovely people they no doubt are) trying to revive Manx.

  61. SFReader says:

    Wikipedia says that Hebrew was native language of only 49% of population in 2011.

    That’s rather low and calls into question success of assimilation process.

  62. SFReader: no, the other 50% are mostly either Arabs, or Jewish immigrants. The latter mostly speak Hebrew which was acquired as a second language, even if their native language is Russian, Amharic, Yiddish, etc.

    Quote from the late humorist Ephraim Kishon: “This is the only country in the world where a mother learns the mother tongue from her children.”

  63. In context, I don’t think that number is so surprising.

    According to a 2011 Government Social Survey of Israelis over 20 years of age: 49% report Hebrew as their native language, Arabic 18%, Russian 15%, Yiddish 2%, French 2%, English 2%, 1.6% report Spanish and 10% – other languages (among others Romanian, German and Amharic, which were not offered as answers by this survey).

    The Arab figure here is roughly equal to the population of Israeli Arabs – a distinct ethnolinguistic community who arguably shouldn’t be counted against Hebrew assimilation efforts. Among the Jews, the largest unassimilated group is the Russian speakers: “modern” Soviet/Russian immigration to Israel began in the 1970s, with the largest part of it happening after 1989, so it stands to reason that the overwhelming majority of the over-20 Russophones in this survey were indeed born in Russia or Ukraine. Admittedly, I don’t know what the situation is with their children. But the paucity of Yiddish and Ladino – and of Arabic outside the Israeli Arab population – indicates that Israel has historically done a good job of assimilating its immigrants into the Hebrew speech community.

  64. More, from various internet sources I’m too lazy to refer to:

    —In 1948 Yiddish was the mother tongue of about half the Jews in Israel.
    —Ben Gurion, first prime minister of Israel, a self-styled cultural arbiter, and a native Yiddish speaker, from his 1950 diary entry: “And as to Yiddish, if [H. Leivick] had spoken to me 40 years ago, I wouldn’t even have wanted to hear anything about Yiddish. We had to zealously hold on to Hebrew, because the revival of the language was almost preternatural, and in Ireland to this day they haven’t managed it. Nowadays I am able and willing to discuss Yiddish more broadmindedly, and I am pleased that my children understand Yiddish. But I don’t see Yiddish as he does.”
    —In 1949, most Yiddish theater was prohibited in Israel by government order. One theater group, the Goldfaden Theatre, appealed in the courts. Ben Gurion wrote: “I’m afraid we’re going to lose. I also believe that the matter itself is not right. When we were few in this land, I was a zealot. Today I am also zealous about the Hebrew language, but when we were few we could be mean about it. Nowadays you can’t sentence 100,000 people to some degree of displeasure.”
    —When talkies came to Israel, there was a lot of pressure to avoid screening any movies speaking any language but Hebrew. Until such became available, film agents could not resist the easy profit of Yiddish films, and in 1930 the talkie A Yiddishe Mame was to be screened at Mugrabi Cinema in Tel Aviv (sniff… I’ll never forget you, Mugrabi Cinema.) One woman recalls going there (she was 19 then) with some spirited friends, carrying eggshells which had been emptied and filled with ink. A few minutes after the movie started, the signal was given and the eggs were thrown at the screen. The gang was escorted outside by a bunch of cops, to protect them from the angry audience. A protesting mob was gathering outside, and the second screening was cancelled, after sand and stones were thrown from the balcony into the audience below.

  65. David Marjanović says:

    Where is that sentence from?

    The same paper; it’s an example of an English sentence in which every word comes from Old Norse.

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