Scots Yiddish.

Philologos at the Forward has a fine column on a long-forgotten dialect:

Recently, as Scotland’s independence vote began to loom large in the media, someone asked me if I had ever heard of Scots Yiddish. “I canna say that I have,” I answered, only to be told that there was an entire chapter on the subject in David Daiches’s autobiographical “Two Worlds: An Edinburgh Jewish Childhood.” Scots Yiddish? I decided to have a look.

The dialect turns out to be “merely a Scottish version, one might say, of the English that Eastern European Jewish immigrants were speaking on the streets of New York in the same period”:

Still, such “Scots Yiddish” has a charm that the English of Orchard or Delancey Street never had. “Vot time’s yer barmitzvie, laddie?” Daiches recalls being asked by a fellow synagogue-goer shortly before his 13th birthday. “Ye’ll hae a drap o’bramfen. Ye ken: Nem a schmeck fun Dzon Beck.” Bronfn is Yiddish for liquor (in Eastern Europe it generally meant vodka, but Edinburgh is whisky land), while “Nem a shmek,” Yiddish for “Have a taste,” is, as Daiches points out, a clever translation that preserves the rhyme of the first half of the advertising slogan “Take a peg of John Begg.” And when Daiches once asked someone in the same synagogue why he scolded a visitor for talking during services when he was wont to talk during them himself, the reply was:

“Two men vent into a poob and ordered a glass beer. Dey hadna been in dat poob more dan vonce or twice before. Vell, day sip deir beer un’ dey sit talking un’ schmoosing. Dey sit un’ talk un’ talk. At last de barman leans over de counter and he says to dem: ‘Oot!’ Nu, dat’s how it is mit a shul. I come here every veek and Hakodosh Borukh Hu [the Holy One Blessed Be He — that is God] kens me vell, un’ he don’t mind if I take it easy. But dese bleggages dat come vonce or twice a year — no! Dey daven or dey shot op!”

There are more suggested derivations, as well as discussion of the purported mutual intelligibility of broad Scots and Yiddish, at the link. Also, I actually own a copy of Two Worlds, and now I’m even more eager to read it. (Thanks, Paul!)

Comments

  1. The perils of eye-dialect: “twice”, really, with [w]? And what about “-ing” endings? [ŋ] is very English, most probably they said it as [n] or [ng]. What sort of “r” sound was there?

  2. A question entered my mind just now when reading the bits of Yiddish: does any brand of Yiddish have the ü and ö sounds of German ? I don’t think I’ve ever seen the letters used, but I may be wrong about that, and in any case it would not prove that the sounds were not present.

  3. Isn’t Yiddish a dialect of German? You’re treating it as it’s English with a few foreign words mixed in.

  4. No, they were all unrounded long ago, just as in English (foot/feet etc.)

  5. David Marjanović says:

    Most kinds of German have unrounded them, actually; they’re preserved in Low German, Ripuarian or so, High Alemannic, East Franconian or something, and that’s pretty much it. This is thought to be among the biggest factors in why a northern pronunciation became prestigious in Standard German: native speakers of Low German had an easier time making as many distinctions as the conservative spelling. The speakers of the previous prestige accent, the (Upper) Saxons, reportedly had serious trouble articulating ö and ü even in the middle 20th century.

    This unrounding is also why rounded and unrounded front vowels are officially allowed to rhyme in German (ö with e, ü with i, eu/äu with ei), even though they’re not pronounced the same when the poetry is read aloud.

    (Naturally there are complications: ö and ü have in some dialects arisen later, after unrounding, from other sources. The case you’re most likely to have encountered is Central Bavarian L-umlaut.)

  6. Stefan Holm says:

    This unrounding is also why rounded and unrounded front vowels are officially allowed to rhyme in German (ö with e, ü with i, eu/äu with ei)

    Then what do you mean by ‘unrounding’? German speakers certainly make a difference between kennen and können, Tier and Tür, nein and neun. What’s the difference if they’re all ‘unrounded’?

  7. Central Bavarian L-umlaut

    An umlauted consonant ??

  8. German speakers certainly make a difference between kennen and können, Tier and Tür, nein and neun.

    They do insofar as they speak Standard German with a more or less standard phonology. But the majority of germanophones speak it with the phonology of their local Germanic language variety or something close to it, even if they no longer speak the language variety itself. By the same token, though Scots has been in retreat from English for centuries (with a bit of an uptick right now, but we’ll see if that lasts), most Scots speak English with a very distinctive phonology which is directly derived from the phonology of Scots. As a third example, hundreds of millions of Southern and Taiwanese Mandarin speakers don’t use retroflex consonants, and pronounce zh ch sh the same as z s c (which is one reason for spelling them similarly in Pinyin), precisely because their local Sinitic languages have no such consonants. In all three cases, what began as an L2 accent in the standard language, not different in kind from a French accent in English or what not, has become an L1 accent of the standard.

  9. Isn’t Yiddish a dialect of German? You’re treating it as it’s English with a few foreign words mixed in.

    No, it’s a separate language, and I’m not “treating” it as anything, I’m simply quoting the terminology from the article, which quotes it from the book. Daiches was a literary critic, not a linguist.

  10. Stu: L-umlaut is the change in a vowel from the loss of a following L. The usual umlaut process might be, and by historical linguists is, called i-umlaut, as it results from the loss of an original /i/ in the next syllable (e.g. the change of pre-Old English foti to Modern English feet). This creates an unfortunate collision in terminology: the sound /ä/ (pronounced “a umlaut”) is the result of i-umlaut applied to the vowel /a/, whereas the process called “a-umlaut” is a (long dead and buried) change whereby short high vowels were lowered by a following low vowel such as /a/. The difference between gild and gold shows the two umlaut processes operating. The original vowel quality was /u/, which became /ü/ in gild before unrounding, but lowered to /o/ in gold. Similarly, the were- of werewolf means ‘man’ and once had the same vowel as Latin vir, but was lowered by a-umlaut.

    We can see L-umlaut operating in English in the word chalk, which once had a short /a/ vowel and rhymed with talc(um), as the spelling indicates, but has now adopted the vowel of thought under the influence of the lost L. The word all has undergone the same vowel change, but the L has not been lost. In the words calf and half, the L-umlaut operated, giving the 18C pronunciations cawf and hawf, but then the vowel quality was restored from the spelling in American English. In some other varieties it changed further to the /ɑ/ of father, as has happened even in AmE in the word palm.

  11. Similarly, the were- of werewolf means ‘man’ and once had the same vowel as Latin vir, but was lowered by a-umlaut.

    For you, maybe, but for me (and for most Americans, judging by the first pronunciation given in M-W) it has /i/, not /e/.

  12. John: … but has now adopted the vowel of thought under the influence of the lost L. The word all has undergone the same vowel change, but the L has not been lost. In the words calf and half, the L-umlaut operated, giving the 18C pronunciations cawf and hawf, but then the vowel quality was restored from the spelling in American English.

    So the presence of an L sometimes an effect, sometimes it doesn’t, sometimes its absence has an effect, sometimes it doesn’t, and sometimes any effects can be later rescinded ?

  13. for me (and for most Americans, judging by the first pronunciation given in M-W) it has /i/, not /e/.

    In New England it has /e/. I.e. “Beware the werwolf” should rhyme internally.

  14. John, this “L-umlauting” looks more like a disturbance than a process. It seems to be associated with many different effects, as a catalyst would be. So one might say that an L among vowels is like a cat among the pigeons, except that they are all “long dead and buried”.

  15. John, this “L-umlauting” looks more like a disturbance than a process. It seems to be associated with many different effects, as a catalyst would be.

    It’s associated with lowering vowels. Unless I’m not understanding you, which is often the case.

  16. Well, in any case the spelling shows the lowering; in Old English it was already wer, not wir. But I too have always said /werwʊlf/.

  17. “John, this “L-umlauting” looks more like a disturbance than a process. It seems to be associated with many different effects, as a catalyst would be.”

    And John is describing these effects in several different varieties of the language, so the variety of effects is unsurprising.

  18. Well, in any case the spelling shows the lowering; in Old English it was already wer, not wir. But I too have always said /werwʊlf/.

    I imagine the popular version with /i/ is a spelling pronunciation, and if I were several decades younger and more addicted to a certain ideal of accuracy, I would have altered my habits. But I am older and more tolerant (I have long since stopped sneering at The Archies, for instance), and I will stick with my mumpsimus.

  19. David Marjanović says:

    Then what do you mean by ‘unrounding’? German speakers certainly make a difference between kennen and können, Tier and Tür, nein and neun. What’s the difference if they’re all ‘unrounded’?

    When speaking Standard German, German speakers do make a difference nowadays. 200 or 300 years ago, most did not, and that’s why your examples are allowed to rhyme.

  20. I also say “werewolf” with /e/, and am from New England. Until this thread I hadn’t actually been aware that there was a pronunciation with /i/.

  21. I just asked my wife (from New England), and she says “werewolf” with /e/. Very interesting, and I’m glad the subject came up.

  22. I am not clear on what sound you guys mean by /e/, do you mean the ‘egg’ vowel, the ‘fit’ vowel, the ‘bet’ vowel or something else.

    FWIW, I (SoAmE) pronounce it with the ‘fit’ vowel /wɪrwʌlf/.

  23. J. W. Brewer says:

    For me (and, as far as I previously knew, every other L1 Anglophone in the world – if I’ve heard variants they didn’t register), the first syllable of “werewolf” is in the SQUARE set. Is hat’s own spelling-pronunciation variant the FLEECE vowel?

  24. Is hat’s own spelling-pronunciation variant the FLEECE vowel?

    The first syllable rhymes with “mere” and “here.” I still find it odd to think that anyone pronounces it another way; it seems so obvious!

  25. But now I think of “where” and “there”….

  26. The distinction between KIT and FLEECE is neutralized before /r/, which may be either a rhotic consonant or the second part of a centralizing diphthong. So for His Hattishness werewolf belongs to the NEAR lexical set, which includes beer, deer, career, here, mere, sincere, interfere, bier, pier, cashier, weir, fear, ear, appear, yearling, fierce, pierce, weird, Deirdre, beard, serious, mysterious, period, serum, diphtheria, hero, eerie, peerage, Madeira, dreary, weary and in some people’s speech also Korea, diarrhea, Galatea, European, Jacobean, Crimean ratafia, Maria, Sophia, museum, Colosseum, real, ideal (others pronounce these using two syllables rather than a diphthong).

    Likewise, the distinction between DRESS and FACE is also neutralized before /r, so for me werewolf belongs to the SQUARE lexical set, which includes care, share, bare, air, fair, pair, bear, pear, wear, swear, their, their, there, where, Ayr, Eyre, scarce, vary, canary, Mary, aquarium, various, rarity, area, Pharaoh, dairy, prairie, fairy, aerial and also prayer, mayor in some accents.

    The only OED1 pronunciation is the NURSE vowel, neither NEAR nor SQUARE; the word is not yet updated for OED3. ODO BrE gives DRESS, NEAR, NURSE in that order; ODO AmE gives SQUARE; m-w.com gives NEAR, SQUARE, NURSE in that order; Collins gives NEAR, SQUARE; MacMillan BrE and AmE give SQUARE; AHD5 gives SQUARE, NEAR, NURSE; RHD’97 gives SQUARE, NEAR, NURSE.

    (By the way, the -garou of French loup-garou is < Norman garwall, ultimately < Old Norse varg-ulfr, which raises the question of whether the were- prefix in English is really < Old English wer or ON varg, in which case it would mean ‘wolf-wolf’.)

    Of course, my pronunciation is clearly best, since it enables this joke:

    “Werewolf!”

    “Where wolf?”

    Werewolf!

    “Oh, there wolf!”

  27. “which raises the question of whether the were- prefix in English is really < Old English wer or ON varg, in which case it would mean ‘wolf-wolf’.)"

    Ha, good one – but probably not, since the Swedish equivalent is 'varulv'. Well, on second thought, could well be.

  28. For another interpretation (albeit a comic one) of the first syllable of ‘werewolf’, I am reminded of Christian Morgenstern’s “Der Werwolf”,
    http://meister.igl.uni-freiburg.de/gedichte/mor_c24.html,
    where it is taken as being ‘Wer’ meaning ‘who’, and given a suitably ridiculous declension on that basis (Weswolfs, Wemwolf, Wenwolf). Of course it all falls apart in the plural…

  29. David Marjanović says:

    I am not clear on what sound you guys mean by /e/, do you mean the ‘egg’ vowel, the ‘fit’ vowel, the ‘bet’ vowel or something else.

    Do you have different vowels in ‘egg’ and ‘bet’?

    The only OED1 pronunciation is the NURSE vowel, neither NEAR nor SQUARE

    Oh, so the second e is (historically) a lie. I… love when that happens. Like at the end of intestine and medicine

  30. Do you have different vowels in ‘egg’ and ‘bet’?

    Many Americans have FACE in the first, DRESS in the second due to raising of short vowels before velars. Mark Twain makes his backwoods raftsmen in the 1840’s say aig-suckin’ son of a stuffed monkey. See John Wells’s blog.

    Oh, so the second e is (historically) a lie.

    Well, actually, if it had always (instead of only sometimes) been written werwolf, then yes. But the OE spelling is werewulf, with three syllables, which is where the etymological difficulty comes in. It’s a hapax legomenon, actually: the Laws of Cnut (1008) say Þonne moton þa hyrdas beon swyðe wacore 7 geornlice clypigende, þe wið þone þeodsceaðan folce sceolon scyldan: þæt syndan bisceopas 7 massepreostas, þe godcunde heorda bewarian 7 bewerian sceolon mid wislican laran, þæt se wodfreca werewulf to swyðe ne slite, ne to fela ne abite of godcundre heorde. ‘Thus must the shepherds be very wakeful and call out eagerly, who ought to protect the people from the criminal: that is, the bishops and mass-priests, who watch the devout flock and (must) protect it with wise learning, (so) that the madly destructive werewulf does not thus rend or consume too often from the devout flock’, where <to fela (lit. ‘too much’) means in OE idiom that he should not eat them at all.

    By 1425, the word is already obscure and we have folk etymology: Edward of York writes Þer beth some [wolves] þat eten children and men…. And þei be cleped [called] werewolfes, for men shulde be were [wary] of hem, or þe mann see hem.

  31. The “there wolf” joke, from Young Frankenstein, in 2½ different accents. Don’t know how Marty Feldman would have pronounced ‘werewolf’.

  32. I actually heard someone spontaneously describe a person as looking like “an egg with legs”, with egg having the FACE vowel, leg having the DRESS vowel. It’s the sort of thing field linguists remember forever.

  33. “Do you have different vowels in ‘egg’ and ‘bet’?”

    No, but my first wife did. She was born and spent her early years in East Tennessee.

  34. Stefan Holm says:

    Werewolf is definitely ’man-wolf’. OIcel verr (with the final masc. nom. sing. marker ‘-r’) is a cognate to Latin vir meaning ‘man’. Both OHG and OE have werwolf.

    Svensk etymologisk ordbok (Swedish Ethymological Wordbook) from 1922, http://runeberg.org/svetym/
    discusses the word in detail. Unless you know some Scandinavian you will though find it hard to follow (Trond will face no problems). It claims that within western IE, but not in Indo-Iranian, the concept of a man turning into a wolf is all over the place. OFr has garoul (‘obviously from Gmc’) and modern Fr the reduplicated loupgarou. Greek has lykánthropos and Latin versipellis, meaning ‘a wolf’s fur’. The same meaning occurs in OCS vlukodlaku.

    The ‘wer-‘ word for ‘man’ also turns up in world (Sw. ‘värld’, Da/Nor ‘verden’, Ger ‘Welt). It’s in OIcel verold, in OSax werold and in OHG weralt from ‘man’+’age’. So it originally means ‘human age’.

  35. Both OHG and OE have werwolf.

    But it’s precisely the second e of OE werewulf that is inexplicable on the wer-theory.

  36. David Marjanović says:

    Could that single werewulf be epenthetic? OHG has irregular optional epenthetic vowels all over the place. (Apparently it was moving towards becoming more of a CV-syllable language, while later German has been moving towards marking word boundaries at the expense of syllables.) I don’t know how comfortable paleographers are with assuming freak mistakes on the part of a writer… I think I’m much more likely to anticipate letters when I write by hand than to repeat them later…

    raising of short vowels before velars

    *lightbulb moment*

    American /æ/ has long been a mystery for me. Maybe that’ll change now!

  37. I would have thought that versipellis meant “skin-changer.”

  38. Quite likely, but the concepts are closely related:

    “If you must know more, his name is Beorn. He is very strong, and he is a skin-changer.”

    “What! a furrier, a man that calls rabbits conies, when he doesn’t turn their skins into squirrels?” asked Bilbo.

    “Good gracious heavens, no, no, NO, NO!” said Gandalf. “Don’t be a fool Mr. Baggins if you can help it; and in the name of all wonder don’t mention the word furrier again as long as you are within a hundred miles of his house, nor, rug, cape, tippet, muff, nor any other such unfortunate word! He is a skin-changer. He changes his skin; sometimes he is a huge black bear, sometimes he is a great strong black-haired man with huge arms and a great beard. I cannot tell you much more, though that ought to be enough. Some say that he is a bear descended from the great and ancient bears of the mountains that lived there before the giants came. Others say that he is a man descended from the first men who lived before Smaug or the other dragons came into this part of the world, and before the goblins came into the hills out of the North. I cannot say, though I fancy the last is the true tale. He is not the sort of person to ask questions of. […]”

         —The Hobbit, Chapter 7, “Queer Lodgings”

  39. Another example of Scots-Yiddish, by the poet A.C Jacobs:

    “Ah’m no froom
    Bit whan Ah see them
    Ee’in in the trayfi meat
    It scunners me.”

    WP’s article on the History of the Jews in Scotland mentions “… a case of a Jewish immigrant who settled in the Highlands who spoke no English and was only able to speak Gaelic and Yiddish.”

  40. Wonderful!

  41. Another poem by Jacobs, from the same reference:

    PLACE

    “Where do you come from?”
    “Glasgow.”
    “What part?”
    “Vilna.”
    “Where the heck’s that?”
    “A bit east of the Gorbals,
    In around the heart.”

  42. Y: I recall having heard/read a similar story about an immigrant from Eastern Europe (whose L1 I cannot remember, assuming I ever knew) who immigrated to Cape Breton (Nova Scotia, Canada) sometime in the nineteenth century and who after several years there spoke (L2, obviously) Gaelic but no English.

  43. David Eddyshaw says:

    I recall an article from the Spectator (in the days when it was still worth reading) about a trip to the far south of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. The writer had found a Pakistani corner shop in this remote place (not surprising.) The proprietor’s daughter was sitting outside chatting with her friends in Gaelic.

    If there is ever a demand for the works of Muhammad Iqbal in Gaelic (and why wouldn’t there be?) she should be able to corner the market in translations.

  44. David Marjanović says:

    Specifically, the daughter and her friends were teenagers at the time.

  45. Two things, slightly related to this:

    — Donegal, the corner of Ireland I work in, while economically not thriving at the moment, was really very very grim in living memory, such that a typical life history of patients when I was working in old-age psychiatry was “grew up monolingual (Irish) Gaelic speaker, moved to Glasgow because of the economic opportunity there(!), learned their English in Scotland, now can just about talk to this young doctor whose Munster Irish is no use here”. Glasgow is not really the land of opportunity these days.

    — Mike Prats, over at an ultrasound podcast, used ‘schmutz’ in passing to refer to faeces; is that a yiddishism? I’ve no idea of his personal history, though he’s a doctor with an unremarkable North American accent, the pre-test probability of yiddish in his family is reasonably high.

  46. schmutz ‘dirt; filth; garbage’ < Yiddish shmuts or German Schmutz, Middle High German smuz; cf. smudge, smut, Middle English bismotered bespattered, soiled (all presumably expressive variants of same Germanic base)

    As a New Yorker, I am very familiar with this word and use it frequently (for general dirt, not feces).

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