THE GLORIES OF YIDDISH.

A reader sent me a link to Harold Bloom’s 2008 NYRB review (single page) of the new Yale University Press edition (with restored footnotes, “extraordinarily copious and rich”) of Max Weinreich’s History of the Yiddish Language (only $300!). I’ve called Bloom a blowhard, and he is, but when he’s talking about Yiddish (of which he is a native speaker, which I hadn’t known), he’s much more interesting than when he’s bloviating about the anxiety of influence. In his discussion of Weinreich’s Chapter 2, “Yiddish in the Framework of Other Jewish Languages,” Bloom says “Hebrew itself probably began as a fusion language” before mentioning Babylonian, Aramaic, Hellenistic Greek, Persian, Judeo-Arabic, and Ladino:

Weinreich’s zest for Jewish languages was awesome; you can drown happily in his oceanic discussions of Marranos (converted Jews secretly practicing Judaism) using the Portuguese language, or of deviations from Arabic and Turkish idioms in the other varieties of Ladino. The byways lead Weinreich into folklore, which aids him in asserting that “of all Jewish languages Yiddish has…the largest degree of individuality.” Literary achievement in Yiddish, even now underestimated, sustains the linguistic esteem that Weinreich conferred on a tongue that he himself had not spoken as a child.

He also quotes at length from another wonderful book on Yiddish that I do own and am surprised I haven’t mentioned on LH, Benjamin Harshav’s The Meaning of Yiddish, about which the Times Literary Supplement said, quite accurately, “It is a remarkable feat of high popularization, written with great flair and without a hint of pedantry. . . . The book should be read by all who are interested in language.” An enjoyable review of a book I’ll probably never read; thanks, Rick!

Comments

  1. Tom Recht says:

    This is very tangentially relevant, but since the history of Hebrew came up I thought I’d mention what is certainly the most linguistically savvy stamp I’ve ever seen, recently designed by the Hebrew Language Academy. It can be seen here: http://hebrew-academy.huji.ac.il/English/WhatsNew/Pages/default.aspx.
    The conceit is quite ingenious, I think: the Hebrew language is represented by a seedling (whose leaves spell “Ivrit”, Hebrew), and the roots are groups of lexemes, issuing from four different layers of soil, i.e. historical strata. So from the uppermost layer (“Modern Times”, symbolized by a computer keyboard) come words for computer, taxi, oxygen, etc.; the next layer down, the Middle Ages (a manuscript book) gives words like comparison, melody, horizon; next, Mishnaic Hebrew (a parchment scroll) – client, assembly, and, oddly, beehive; and the deepest layer is Biblical Hebrew (an ostracon), giving words like thunder, soul, family.
    What’s missing, of course, is any recognition of the existence of loans from other languages, but I thought it was very clever nevertheless.

  2. That is clever!

  3. I have a 4.0-meg, 28-slide PowerPoint show in Hebrew about this stamp. If any LH readers want a copy I’ll be pleased to send it.

  4. I’ve been reading Blackmur recently. Now I know where Bloom gets his style. Bloom (on lit anyway) is like a shit modern Blackmur.

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