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!