JEWISH LANGUAGES.

The indefatigable aldiboronti (in a thread at his usual haunt, Wordorigins.org) has turned up another great resource, the Jewish Language Research Website:

Throughout the world, wherever Jews have lived, they have spoken and/or written differently from the non-Jews around them. Their languages have differed by as little as a few embedded Hebrew words or by as much as a highly variant grammar. A good deal of research has been devoted to a number of Jewish languages, including Yiddish, Judeo-Spanish, Judeo-Arabic, Judeo-Italian, Jewish English, and Jewish Neo-Aramaic. This website displays information about several Jewish languages, as well as about some of the researchers who have written about them.

The list of languages for which they provide contacts, descriptions, and basic bibliographies includes Hebrew, Jewish Aramaic, Jewish English, Jewish Malayalam, Judeo-Arabic, Judeo-French, Judeo-Greek, Judeo-Iranian, Judeo-Italian, Judeo-Persian, Judeo-Portuguese, Judeo-Provençal, Judeo-Spanish/Judezmo/Ladino, and Yiddish; other languages for which they provide only Ethnologue links are Israeli Sign Language, Judeo-Alsatian, Judeo-Berber, Judeo-Crimean Tatar/Krimchak, Judeo-Georgian, Judeo-Slavic/Canaanic, Judeo-Tadjik/Bukharan, Judeo-Tat/Juhuric, and Karaim—a tantalizing list!
Here’s a bit from the Jewish Malayalam page:

One of the most notable features of Jewish Malayalam is the presence of fossilized elements from the pre-Malayalam layer. These archaisms exist at several levels, including lexicon, morphology, phonology, and semantics. A semantic example can be found in one of the wedding songs: the bride is described as covering her head with three types of flowers that have NaRRam. The word NaRRam exists in contemporary Tamil, Malayalam, and other local languages with the meaning ‘bad smell’. However, in this case the word is used with its old Tamil sense: ‘good smell’. This is just one example of the many elements of Jewish Malayalam that may seem like contemporary Tamil borrowings but are actually archaic remnants from before Malayalam split off from Tamil.

Comments

  1. I think that everyone will agree that there is a Jewish German (Yiddish) and a Jewish Spanish (i.e. Ladino; Judaeo-Spanish; Hebraeo-Spanish) but the other proposed Jewish languages are more tentative, even questionable. I’ve never read any discussions about Jewish Arabic, Jewish Russian or Jewish English. All of the Jewish immigrants I’ve known from Russia and the Ukraine speak the standard forms of these languages. The few Yiddishisms that turn up in the English of New York and New Jersey (mensch, nosh, shlmeel, yenta etc.) are probably not enough to qualify it as a special “Jewish-English” except if one goes by a very liberal interpretation; However I’ve read that linguists , in general, are a very cautious and conservative lot.

  2. I too would like to see what is meant by Jewish English. Some Yiddish loan words, a distinctive accent and other speech patterns do not make for even a dialect, let alone a language.

  3. Well, you don’t have to wonder; they have a page on it. They don’t claim it’s a separate language, just a distinctively Jewish form of English.

  4. Intriguing: “Jewish English seems to be following the progression explained by Fishman (1985), in which a group of Jews moves to a new land, picks up the local language, and speaks progressively *MORE* distinctly over time” (emphasis mine).
    Also intriguing is what you already mention, but which is mentioned at a number of the pages there: that Jews preserved various elements of local dialects that died out in the population at large. Apparently some dialects of Judeo-Iranian preserve the wee bit of ergativity that Persian lost more than 1200 years ago.
    Thanks for the link!

  5. Jewish Arabic is well established in the literature. Several, I believe (since Arabic itself is not a single modern language). There was a nice paper I read somewhere on the differences between Christian, Jewish and Muslim Arabic in Baghdad, for example.

  6. Charles Perry says:

    The paper was “Confessional Dialects of Baghdad,” by Chaim Blanc; rather hard to find these days.

  7. Wow, it sure is!
    Your search – “Confessional Dialects of Baghdad” – did not match any documents.
    Google has only three hits for the author’s name, one of which appears to be a reference to this paper:
    Thus, Chaim Blanc (1948?) described the division of Arabic in Baghdad at the time into a Muslim, Christian and Jewish dialect.
    It’s really hard to believe that a paper on such an interesting subject could have so thoroughly descended into oblivion.

  8. That’s not the paper I’m thinking of, I’m thinking of something that came out of a conference a few years ago from someone who’d been doing fieldwork.

  9. You could also try Google Scholar – there are odd references but I didn’t delve into them.

  10. The Hebrew / Yiddish examples in “Jewish English” which Sarah Bunin Benor lists in her description are not unlike the various forms of Spanish code switching that you find in the English of some recently arrived Hispanics in the United States e.g. M’IJA (My child; My dear); My NOVIO (boyfriend); Sexy CADERAS (hips); ABUSADOR (Woman beater); DESPOTA (Bossy woman); DON PERFECTO (Mr. Perfect); LATINO POSTRES (Spanish deserts); Grab EL TORO by the horns; LA CONQUISTA (The Spanish colonization of Latin America); Don’t just sit on your POMPI (duff) and do nothing; full of bad BURUNDANGA (karma; vibes); …he and Gloria are PADRINOS (godparents) to my kids…; Most days MAMI (mommy) was a HURACáN (bundle; hurricane) of energy… and He’s a free-loader who disappears and reappears like a FANTASMA (ghost).
    I’ve also read articles about similar Russian code switching in Armenian, Kirghiz, and Uzbek.
    However this phenomenon usually lasts in a language community only for only a few generations and eventually their descendents either go over completely to the new language or back to the old one.

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