THE LANGUAGES OF LITHUANIA.

There’s discussion of one of my favorite obscure historical entities, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth (Rzeczpospolita), in a couple of LH threads from 2005 (here and here); I’m now (finally) reading a birthday present I got last year, The Reconstruction of Nations: Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, 1569-1999, by Timothy Snyder (thanks, bulbul!), and finding lots of meaty discussion of that part of the world and its complicated history. Snyder has no truck with modern nationalist simplifications, and he warms my heart by referring to each town and region by the name appropriate to the period under discussion, with a “gazetteer” to help orient the confused reader (Vilnius = Wilno = Vil’nya, Lviv = Lwów = Lemberik = Lemberg, Volhynia = Volyn’ = Wolyń = Wolynien, and so on). I’ll quote some of his fascinating discussion of language in what’s now Lithuania. At the start of Chapter 1, “The Grand Duchy of Lithuania (1569-1863),” he says:

For half a millennium before 1991, Lithuanian was neither the language of power in Vilnius nor the language spoken by most of its inhabitants. Before the Second World War, the language spoken in a third of its homes was Yiddish; the language of its streets, churches, and schools was Polish; and the language of its countryside was Belarusian. In 1939, almost no one spoke Lithuanian in Vilnius. In that year, the city was seized from Poland by the Soviet Union.

Then, on pages 19-20, he surveys a wider area:

The last grand duke to know the Lithuanian language was apparently Kazimierz IV, who died in 1492. When Kazimierz IV confirmed the privileges of Lithuania in 1457, he did so in Latin and Chancery Slavonic; when he issued law codes for the realm, he did so in Chancery Slavonic. During Kazimierz’s reign the printing press was introduced in Poland; Cracow publishers published books in Polish and Church Slavonic, but not in Lithuanian…. In the early sixteenth century we also find biblical translations into the Slavic vernacular, Ruthenian, though not in the Baltic vernacular, Lithuanian. Unlike Skaryna’s, these involved direct translations of the Old Testament from the Hebrew. These Old Testament translations were apparently executed by Lithuanian Jews, who knew Hebrew and spoke Ruthenian. …

As early as 1501 legal texts in Chancery Slavonic are penetrated by Polish terms and even Polish grammar. The introduction to the Grand Duchy’s 1566 Statute records that the Lithuanian gentry was already using Polish in practice. The acts of the 1569 Lublin Union, which created the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, were recorded in Polish only. The position of the Polish language in Lithuania was not the result of Polish immigration, but rather of the gradual acceptance of a political order developed in Poland and codified for a new Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1569. …
As the Polish vernacular was elevated to the status of a literary language in Poland, it superseded Chancery Slavonic (and vernacular Ruthenian) in Lithuania. The Polish and Lithuanian nobility came to share a language during the Renaissance, facilitating the creation of a single early modern political nation. That said, there was a pregnant difference between the Latin-to-Polish shift in Poland and the Chancery Slavonic-to-Polish shift in Lithuania. In the Polish Kingdom the vernacular (Polish) dethroned an imported literary language (Latin). The elevation of Polish to equal status with Latin was an example of a general trend within Latin Europe, which began with the Italian “language question.” In the Grand Duchy of Lithuania an import (Polish) supplanted the native language of politics and law (Chancery Slavonic), and forestalled the further literary use of the local vernacular (Ruthenian). As we have seen, the Baltic Lithuanian language had lost its political importance long before.

I love this kind of analysis, and I’m looking forward to the rest of the book with great anticipation.

Comments

  1. Bathrobe says:

    So basically what happened is that, with the rise of 19th century nationalism, the vernacular was rapidly propelled to the fore and became the defining criterion of the Lithuanian nation — which then presumably prompted a rewriting of the history of the nation and linguistic notions to fit the modern identity?
    Actually, rather than looking to the trend within Latin Europe, I suspect the sudden resurgence of Lithuanian in modern times is part of developments in other parts of Eastern Europe, for example, the development of new standard languages based on vernaculars (peasant vernaculars?) or the elevation of previously suppressed languages within the Austro-Hungarian empire.

  2. Wait, so Lithuanian was a minority language, used neither by commoners nor by nobles, with no political importance, no Bible translations . . . why was it even called “Lithuanian”? How did it come to be thought of as the language of Lithuania? Why do Lithuanians today speak it?

  3. All this makes me extremely uneasy. It becomes clear that (when I have thought about such things at all, which doesn’t happen much) I have tended to imagine that the politico-linguistic history of Germany, or of America and Great Britain, is a template for developments everywhere.
    In particular I have unconsciously assumed that, in each case, an “unbroken” literary tradition encompassing several centuries is available to anyone of average learning. Of course, I imagined, there are always a few trouble-makers who insist on some silly minority language being given more prominence.
    Seeing myself now as a thoughtless legatee of “the winning side” (in the countries in question), I doubt whether I have even the faintest notion of what “literary” and “political” have meant elsewhere.

  4. It’s not so uncommon for a capital city to be settled by foreigners. In the case of Vilnius, it was specifically founded by the native Lithuanian dynasty as a center of trade and modernization: the first group to actually occupy it seem to have been German Jews. Then Lithuania expanded rapidly by conquest and other means, resulting in a country in which Lithuanians were a minority, and the new dynasty was of Polish origin even before the merger with Poland. Modern Lithuania, on the other hand, consists mostly of the core Lithuanian lands (including the other Baltic-speaking groups who were absorbed by the Lithuanians proper), and Vilnius is now mostly Lithuanian-speaking for the first time in its history.
    At the opposite end of Europe, we have Dublin, which has never been a predominantly Irish-speaking city. It was founded by the Danes, and although its name has an Irish etymology, it is not the name of the city in Irish at all.

  5. SFReader says:

    —Wait, so Lithuanian was a minority language, used neither by commoners nor by nobles, with no political importance, no Bible translations . . . why was it even called “Lithuanian”? How did it come to be thought of as the language of Lithuania? Why do Lithuanians today speak it?
    Brief historical note.
    Lithuanians were pagan tribesmen who conquered neighboring western Russian principalities in 13-14 centuries.
    Lithuanian nobility after the conquest immediately assimilated into more advanced Russian/Ruthenian society, while common Lithuanians remained back in original Lithuanian lands and continued to speak Lithuanian language.
    Then came Union with Poland and adoption of Catholic Christianity by Lithuanians. In western Russian/Ruthenian lands, population remained Orthodox Christians.
    Another couple of centuries and both Lithuanian and western Russian/Ruthenian elites have assimilated into Polish society while local languages, Lithuanian and Ruthenian (which by then did not yet split into Ukrainian and Belarussian) were spoken only by peasants.
    Country continued to be called Lithuania until l792, even though Lithuanian was spoken only in the small part of the country (even smaller than Lithuania in current borders, without Wilno/Vilnius area, for example) and majority spoke Belarussian and elites spoke Polish.
    In late 19th century there was a resurgence of Lithuanian nationalism and after the Russian Civil War, Lithuanians managed to establish their own state in areas where Lithuanian language dominated. After WWII, Soviet Union which absorbed Lithuania, gave Vilnius area to Soviet Lithuania and made it its capital.
    Even now, Vilnius is populated mainly by Poles and Russians, who apparently do not much like Lithuanians and Lithuanian state.

  6. SFReader says:

    —In particular I have unconsciously assumed that, in each case, an “unbroken” literary tradition encompassing several centuries is available to anyone of average learning.
    The “unbroken” assumption is very often wrong.
    Take Mongolian, for example.
    At the beginning of 13 century it was a language of illiterate pagan nomads. A century later, Mongolian was a highly developed cultural language of Buddhist people with translations from Sanskrit, Tibetan, Chinese, Uighur, with printed books (a century before Gutenberg!) and functioning Academy of Mongolian language and literature.
    Then the Chinese revolted and almost nothing of this high culture survived. For the next two centuries, Mongols once again became illiterate pagan nomads, perhaps even poorer and ignorant than in pre-imperial days.
    Then cycle repeated once more. In 16-18 centuries, Mongols once again had a high culture imported from Tibet with printing of books, urbanization, monasteries and spread of education.
    And in two decades of 20th century, all of this was lost again. Old books were burned, monasteries closed, educated old elite shot and to make sure, even script was changed into Cyrillic.

  7. Bathrobe says:

    I think we’ve been through this before, but what happens next is that the reemergence of the Mongolian nation requires going back and selectively rewriting the tradition, starting, of course, from the Secret History of the Mongols as the basic foundation text, vaguely salvaging whatever lies in between, and aggressively leaving out anything Chinese.
    This is the history of literature of any country, rewritten to include or exclude whatever the modern identity sees fit. And whatever kids in school learn as their ‘tradition’ becomes their tradition. It all depends on the criteria used to decide what is taught.

  8. SFReader says:

    —selectively rewriting the tradition, starting, of course, from the Secret History of the Mongols as the basic foundation text, vaguely salvaging whatever lies in between, and aggressively leaving out anything Chinese.
    Mongolian historiography of 16-17th century is like that. They really went out of their way to figure out where Mongolian history fits traditional Indo-Tibetan philosophy of history.
    Came up with really inventive ideas

  9. On a chauvinistic note: Traditional Indo-Tibetan historiography, with their rgyal-rabs’ and deb-ther’s are rather deplorable. I much prefer my own tradition of histories when I need a good read.

  10. From Andrejs Plakans, A Concise History of the Baltic States:
    “…during the sixteenth century the Lithuanian-language community continued to lose its most influential members, despite the fact that politically these same persons [the nobility] insisted on maintaining a degree of separateness from the Polish kingdom.
    “At the apex of Lithuanian society, the cultural and linguistic drift continued even as Lithuanian magnates and gentry nurtured institutional separateness in the form of ministries, military contingents, treasuries, codes of law, and control over royal landholdings located in Lithuania. Yet to the outside world, a highly placed noble family of Lithuanian ancestry that bore a Polish-looking and Polish-sounding surname was Polish, regardless of the sentiment of family members. In the commonwealth the process of cultural stratification was being concluded in favour of a ‘high’ culture using a Slavic language, with the Baltic language – Lithuanian – identified almost exclusively with the peasantry, especially in Žemaitija.”
    Plakans says that what later nationalists regarded as a “betrayal”, i.e. the self-polonisation of the Lithuanian nobility, didn’t seem so at the time because the Lithuanian language wasn’t an important part of the nobility’s identity or its maintenance of power. This was because Poland-Lithuania was a multi-ethnic society, containing Poles, Lithuanians, Jews, Belarusians, Ukrainians (or the ancestors of modern Belarusians and Ukrainians), Germans etc. :
    “It was the multilingual nature of the duchy and the commonwealth that partly explains the abandonment by the Lithuanian upper orders of the language and culture of their native realm. Being embedded in a polyglot society, they did not perceive language as a particularly important marker of personal or collective identity as long as institutional arrangements could serve that purpose.”

  11. @SFReader: Even now, Vilnius is populated mainly by Poles and Russians, who apparently do not much like Lithuanians and Lithuanian state.
    It is not true. Vilinius is nowadays a predominantly Lithuanian city but its neighborhoods rest Polish or Belorussian.
    The terms “gente Ruthenus, natione Polonus” or “gente Lithuanus, natione Polonus”, that had been in use since the 16th century, reflect very well the idea of the political nation in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. This double identity allowed Adam Mickiewicz, one of the greatest of the Polish poets born in Nowogródek (nowadays in Belorussia), to write in the 19th century “Litwo! Ojczyzno moja!” (“Lithuania! My fatherland!”).

  12. “Even now, Vilnius is populated mainly by Poles and Russians, who apparently do not much like Lithuanians and Lithuanian state.”
    The rural hinterlands of Vilnius still have a Polish majority largely descended from Belarusians who assimilated a Polish identity, while the city itself has a Lithuanian majority product of post-Second World War migration. The Soviets were quite happy to have the strongly Polish-identified inhabitants of the city of Wilno behind forever, I believe, but didn’t want to depopulate the city’s hinterlands.

  13. Jonas Bretkunas made a complete translation of the Bible into Lithuanian between 1575 and 1590, but it was never published. Samuel Chylinski made another failed attempt in 1657-1660 (“surprisingly,” as Plakans says, “in London”).
    The first complete Bible in Lithuanian was only published in 1753. Significantly, it appeared in Königsberg and was taken from Luther’s German, rather than the original. There was an important Lithuanian-language community in East Prussia (i.e. outside the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth) in a region known as Lithuania Minor. This would play a major role in the revival of Lithuanian in the 19th century, because it was outside the control of Russia and so was free of the tsar’s russification policies.

  14. SFReader says:

    –the city itself has a Lithuanian majority
    Small majority, 57 per cent in 2001 (and in 1979 they were still a minority)
    –Polish majority largely descended from Belarusians who assimilated a Polish identity
    The area was apparently originally populated by Lithuanians until as late as 14th century.
    So probably these original Lithuanians were first Russified (Ruthenified?) and then Polonized.

  15. SFReader says:

    And now they resist attempts to Lithuanize them…

  16. Bathrobe says:

    Mongolian historiography of 16-17th century went out of their way to figure out where Mongolian history fits traditional Indo-Tibetan philosophy of history.
    Came up with really inventive ideas
    Now this sounds interesting. I wrote at another thread about the way the Japanese spun out an identity from the original Chinese-Japanese amalgam, which also required some “invention”. Creating space for yourself in an existing tradition seems to involve a bit of ingenuity.

  17. This article might also be of interest to you:
    http://kogni.narod.ru/gediminas.htm

  18. SFReader says:

    —Now this sounds interesting.
    Briefly, it goes like this.
    Ancient India was the place where people first became enlightened and civilized and where they received teachings of Buddha. Then India’s role as beacon of civilization and true religion was inherited by Tibet.
    Great Mongol khans, Genghis Khan and Khubilai were enlightened universal rulers (chakravartins) whose role was to keep order in the Universe and help spread of true religion with help from great lamas of Tibet.
    But their successors were sinful and imperfect people and lost true faith. As a punishment, Mongols lost their empire and unity.
    Now, that is in late 16th century, the great Altan-Khan of Tumed Mongols has returned Mongol people back to their true faith and entered into holy alliance with great Dalai Lama of Tibet.
    Together, they shall rule over the universe following the “two laws” (“without law of religion, sentient beings will go to hell, without law of great khan, peoples and tribes will perish”).
    Khubilai Khan was khagan-chakravartin, who spread the teaching among sentient beings and ruled the universe in accordance with two laws.
    His descendant Altan-Khan shall be new Khagan-Chakravartin, he shall unite all Mongol people and they shall conquer the Universe and spread true faith of Buddha among all sentient beings.
    So, this is a historical mission of Mongolia and Mongol nation.
    Rather sweeping vision, granted, but Mongols never lacked ambition…

  19. SFReader says:

    —This article might also be of interest to you:
    I liked this part
    “Для установления характера функциональных различий между письменным западно-руccким и церковнославянским большую роль играют такие переводные тексты, как Книга Даниила, где используются в разных частях оба языка, при чем их различие может отражать сходное различие между двумя языками (в частности, древнееврейским и арамейским, см. ниже) в подлиннике.”
    It turns out that in translating Book of Daniel written in two languages, Old Church Slavonic was used to translate Hebrew portion and Aramaic part was translated into Ruthenian.
    Very clever use of Ruthenian-Slavonic diglossia.

  20. Indeed! What fascinating sidelights these discussions produce.

  21. Since before the early years of Lithuanian XV c expansion, there remained a dualism between upland and upwardly mobile Lithuanians and the lowland, traditional Samogitians (known in Ruthenian as Zhmud’ and in Lithuanian as Žemaičiai). A famed Ruthenian chronicle, Кройника литовская и жмойтская, maintains the distinction between the two parts of the Lithuanian ethnos in XVIIc.
    The Samogitians, in Lithuania’s North and West, have never experienced a major linguistic drift towards Slavic languages, unlike their Wilno neighbors to the South-East. In fact Kaunas / Kowno, the capital city of pre-WWII independent Lithuania, always remained the city with the largest Lithuanian-speaking population (although perhaps briefly eclipsed by Chicago).
    So it isn’t quite true to describe Lithuanian as a sort of historically extinct and revived language. Away from the splendor of Wilno, it was alive and well.

  22. /Pet peeve alert/
    SFReader,
    церковнославянский is NOT Old Church Slavonic, it’s Church Slavonic. Old Church Slavonic is what Cyril, Methodius and their students wrote, nasals, jery and all. It was pretty much dead even as a written language by the end of the 11th century and replaced by local varieties (“recensions”) which have come to be referred to as Church Slavonic. With my recent dabblings into the study of apocrypha and pseudepigrapha, many of which are only extant in Church Slavonic, I get fits of rage every time I see someone referring to “Slavonic translations”. The fact that Snyder actually knows the difference between Chancery Slavonic and Church Slavonic only increases my respect for the man. I only wish I had the time to read his books…
    FYI, Church Slavonic originally exhibited a lot of influence from the vernacular, as evident from the 1489 Четья-Мінея. But with the Ottoman conquest, Bulgarian refugees introduced the conservative reforms of patriarch Evtimiy to all the Eastern recensions of Church Slavic. It wasn’t until the late 16th century that the wheel did a full 180 and vernacular elements started entering Church Slavonic again. One of the major examples is the 1591 “Адельфотис” grammar. NB the subtitle: “Грамматика доброглаголивого еллинословенского языка”.

  23. @John Cowan, SFReader, MOCKBA: Thank you! I had failed to register the should-have-been-obvious fact that just because Lithuanian was unimportant in the capital, that doesn’t mean it was unimportant elsewhere in the country.

  24. John Emerson says:

    Jagiello / Jogaila converted to Christianity (in order to marry St. Jadwiga) only in 1436. I’ve seen Catholic propaganda in Spanish portraying him as a filthy beast, and also Lithuanian nationalist rebuttals.
    His army at the battle of Grunwald / Tannenberg in 1410 included not only Jan Zizka (the great Hussite general)but also the ancestors of the Lipka Tatars, for whom Lithuania refuge from Tamerlane. At one point the early Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth controlled the area from the Baltic almost to the Black Sea. My guess is that this was possible only because the area had been virtually depopulated by war.
    The Jagiellons were notably infertile, fathering sons only late in life, but they were also long-lived. At one point (around 1520, I think) Poland-Lithuania, Bohemia, Hungary all were ruled by descendants of Jagiello. I believe that the present Swedish royal house also has Jagiellon ancestry.

  25. Hat, have you gotten far enough in the Aubrey-Maturin books to meet the charming and beautiful Swedish aristocrat Jagiello?

  26. marie-lucie says:

    Is Jagiello (etc) a family or tribal name? in French I have seen references to les Jagellons.
    There is a French linguist of Russian origin, Marina Yaguello (the gu is just “hard g”). Is her last name a form of Jagiello?
    (Unrelated to her name, but interesting): she wrote (at least) two books on linguistics, one Alice au pays du langage, using the French translation of “Alice in Wonderland” (Alice au pays des merveilles) as a atsrting point for discussing various apsects of language, and also Les fous du langage, translated as “Lunatic Lovers of Language”, about language inventors (eg for a “universal character” or an international means of communication), including “speaking in tongues” and other marginal phenomena.

  27. SFReader says:

    Jagiello is a Polish and Lithuanian personal name. There is also a family name Jagiello presumably deriving from people with such first names.
    No relation to Jagiellon dynasty in either case (which went extinct in male line in 16th century)

  28. Jogaila was the personal name of the last pagan Grand Duke of Lithuania. When he converted to Western Christianity in 1385 in order to take the Polish throne, he also took the Christian name Władysław. (This was itself originally a pagan Slavic name, but it had long since been “naturalized” as a Christian name among both Eastern and Western Christians.) Like many converts, he retained his original name as a surname, using the polonized form Jagiełło.
    I don’t know where John Emerson got the 1436 date above; multiple sources agree that Jogaila died in 1434.
    The English translation of Alice au pays du langage is Language Through The Looking Glass. I have not read this, but her book on conlanging is dreadful: it paints all language inventors with a single brush, accusing them of diverting time and attention that ought to be spent on real languages. Excerpt here.

  29. A related story, but a little bit earlier, is the story of the Old Prussians, who had a Crusade directed against them. They did receive aid from their Lithuanian cousins from time to time.
    I find these past times when different futures still had potential existence fascinating.
    According to Wikipedia there are some 200 people attempting to revive the Old Prussian language, a language of the Western Baltic family, whereas Lithuanian belongs to the Eastern Baltic group.

    I believe that Czech is to some extent a revived language, not that it was extinct, but it was mostly spoken by peasants and didn’t have an unbroken literary tradition. The prestige of the language was aided by a movement to create literary works in Czech. This in turn inspired the Gaelic revival in Ireland in the late 19th century. People such as Douglas Hyde attempted to improve the status of Irish by creating a body of literature in Irish that could stand with other European languages. (I admit to not knowing much about Czech, but it is frequently cited as an example by those Irish writers.)

  30. Bathrobe says:

    I understand that Slovak was even more a revived language.

  31. I believe that Czech is to some extent a revived language
    My first reaction: Nonsense.
    My second reaction: You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means. If it wasn’t dead, it can’t be revived.
    but it was mostly spoken by peasants
    More or less nonsense. Take a look at the social and economic structure of any European nation before the industrial revolution and the subsequent nationalist revival and you can say the same about virtually any language.
    and didn’t have an unbroken literary tradition
    I hate to repeat myself, but that’s largely nonsense, althought this time, you are in good company. It has to do with the myth of the great national catastrophe, which was catastrophic enough. But while the political ambitions of the Czechs may have been squashed, the culture was not. It was in the interest of some people, especially the early revivalists, to portray the whole post-White-Mountain period as the new dark ages (and, consequently, themselves as the saviors of Bohemia), especially when compared to the Veleslavín period, but that don’t mean it was true. What is true is that there was a slump in production between 1750 and 1815, but definitely no clear break with the existing tradition.

  32. …although its name has an Irish etymology, it is not the name of the city in Irish at all.
    This map (pdf) shows the two settlements of Duiblinn and Áth Cliath in c.840. The latter gives the Irish name to the merged city.

  33. I understand that Slovak was even more a revived language.
    Trying to piss me off, are you? :)
    Unlike Czech, Slovak never had much of a literary tradition of its own, it was more or less a part of the Czech world. When Bernolák and then Štúr came along*, they had to basically start from scratch. So no, it didn’t have to be revived because it wasn’t dead – quite the contrary, it flourished, just not as a written medium.
    *Well, there were the Calvinists of Zemplín before them, but they don’t count, since they only produced translations, wrote in the Eastern dialect and – worst of all – used Hungarian orthography, the bastards.

  34. According to legend, Vilnius was founded by Grand Duke Gediminas on the spot where he had had a dream about an iron wolf.
    The Iron Wolves were a Lithuanian fascist organisation in the interwar years. Presumably, the legend is also the source of the Polish phrase “bajka o żelaznym wilku” (“a fairy tale about an iron wolf”), meaning “a cock-and-bull story”.

  35. SFReader says:

    –Unlike Czech, Slovak never had much of a literary tradition of its own
    A claim is sometimes made that saints Cyrill and Methodius have developed first Slovak literary language, which is now called Old Church Slavonic….

  36. language inventors … diverting time and attention that ought to be spent on real languages
    I find it hard to disagree with that sentiment.

  37. SFReader,
    A claim is sometimes made that saints Cyrill and Methodius have developed first Slovak literary language
    Yes and that claim is only made by dumb-ass nationalists. Few years ago, Robert Fico (then, as now, the prime minister), in a transparent effort to siphon voters away from the nationalist party, took to referring to the population of Great Moravia as “Old Slovaks”. Needles to say, this earned him the ridicule of historians and linguists alike.

  38. J.W. Brewer says:

    I have a Lithuanian-American friend who views it as a matter of considerable regret that the nationalist movement of a hundred years ago was dominated by “cafe socialists” and small-minded linguistic nationalists in the 19th C. / romantic mode, as opposed to more cosmopolitan/aristocratic sorts interested in reviving the glorious days of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. (Although it’s not clear to me that there was a sufficiently large faction at the non-small-minded end of Polish nationalism to serve as a viable partner in that sort of more cosmopolitan revivalist project; cf the people who allegedly kept Pilsudski from getting the maximum feasible amount of territory from the Reds in ’21 because they didn’t want any more Ukrainians in their nation-state.) So the point may be that the linguistic facts on the ground had not changed so much as their political implications had changed. Yiddish speakers may not have been well-served by the transition to the notion that political entities ought to be language-based.

  39. Yiddish speakers may not have been well-served by the transition to the notion that political entities ought to be language-based.
    Here’s a video of Sorl Lévin, born in Kóvne (Kovno, Kaunas) on 22 November 1922, looking at her bilingual (Lithuanian-Yiddish) birth certificate a day after her 89th birthday, in Klaipeda on 23 November 2011.

  40. Bathrobe says:

    Trying to piss me off, are you? :)
    I was hoping you’d come along and set us right :)

  41. Hat, have you gotten far enough in the Aubrey-Maturin books to meet the charming and beautiful Swedish aristocrat Jagiello?
    Yes indeed! We’re almost halfway through, now (we’re on The Far Side of the World, book 10 of 20).
    I find these past times when different futures still had potential existence fascinating.
    You should read the Snyder book! It’s very eye-opening from that point of view; he keeps pointing out the potential futures that people saw as real possibilities but that we have forgotten about.
    It was in the interest of some people, especially the early revivalists, to portray the whole post-White-Mountain period as the new dark ages (and, consequently, themselves as the saviors of Bohemia), especially when compared to the Veleslavín period, but that don’t mean it was true.
    Snyder has a fascinating excursus on this:

    In 1883, Jonas Basanavičius (1851-1927) decided to establish a Lithuanian-language newspaper…. In 1879 he completed his studies in medicine and emigrated to Bulgaria, where he worked as a doctor and continued his studies of Lithuanian history. This led him to Prague in 1882, where he encountered activists of the Czech national movement. Like his Bulgarian friends, his Czech acquaintances emphasized medieval grandeur, and explained away early modern failure. It was in Prague that Basanavičius decided to found a Lithuanian-language review. Seizing an image used in Prague to suggest a nation awakening from darkness, Basanavičius decided to name the review Aušra (The Dawn)…. Not surprisingly, Aušra‘s decision to skip the early modern period—to go straight from the medieval to the modern—followed the framework developed by Czech activists at the time. The 1569 Lublin Union was for Lithuanians what the 1621 battle of the White Mountain was for Czechs: a clear marker of the end of national life, allowing the foreigner to be blamed, the medieval past to be cherished, the social origins of activists to be explained, and the common people to be exalted. Just as the Lublin Union had (supposedly) deracinated the Lithuanian nobility, so the defeat at White Mountain (supposedly) transformed the Czech nobility into a coterie of foreign adventurers. Thus the national revival required new blood, and the national traditions to be revived could be found only among the simple folk. In both cases, this medieval-modern synthesis was first developed in an early modern language of high culture: German for the Czechs, Polish for the Lithuanians. To convey it back to the people in their own language was the crucial step…

    He goes on to explain how Basanavičius (whose Polish name, by which he was presumably known at the time, was Jan Basanowicz, which makes me think of the bossa nova) used Czech orthography (e.g., č rather than cz) to make Lithuanian look less like Polish, and explains the multiple historical ironies of that. It really is a wonderful book.
    The Iron Wolves were a Lithuanian fascist organisation in the interwar years. Presumably, the legend is also the source of the Polish phrase “bajka o żelaznym wilku” (“a fairy tale about an iron wolf”), meaning “a cock-and-bull story”.
    Snyder goes into this too; the story of Gediminas’s dream was popularized by Mickiewicz’s Pan Tadeusz, which became a foundational work for both Polish and Lithuanian nationalism… but Lithuanian schoolchildren read it “in an abridged translation which expunged all references to Poland and to Poles” [!].
    I find it hard to disagree with that sentiment.
    Oh, for Christ’s sake. Do you seriously think that all the people who enjoy learning Esperanto and Klingon, if deprived of their chosen diversion, would go off and help save aboriginal languages? That’s just silly.

  42. J.W. Brewer says:

    In terms of the anti-Lublin take, that may have I suppose have had the advantage of attributing the fall from grace to a long ago misalliance with the Poles rather than to the then-present oppressive occupation by the Russians (who were likewise oppressively occupying the Poles). Perhaps that was the sort of nationalism the Czarist secret police thought was sufficiently benign as not to be worth suppressing? (The same way I believe some elements within the Russian ancien regime supported 19th century Latvian/Estonian ethnolinguistic nationalism on the view that it would be more directed against the local Baltic German gentry than the central Czarist power structure.)

  43. Treesong says:

    I have not read this, but her book on conlanging is dreadful: it paints all language inventors with a single brush, accusing them of diverting time and attention that ought to be spent on real languages.
    I think of the word ‘conlanging’ to refer specifically to invention for fun, rather than to provide a universal or auxiliary language. But I’m rather outside the conlang community. I disliked her book less because it was tendentious than because it was boring, a great disappointment after Arika Okrent’s wonderful In the Land of Invented Languages.
    I was struck by Yaguello’s surname when I first learned of her book decades ago, but never connected it with Jagiello. Nice thought, marie-lucie!

  44. Latvia and Estonia, of course, had a very different historical experience from Lithuania. Neither were independent states until the 20th century.
    The Baltic German elite in Latvia and Estonia arose from the conquest by the crusader knights who went on to form the Livonian Confederation. They spoke Low German and Latin and, according to Plakans, “exhibited no desire to use any of the littoral’s languages in the business of government at any level”. He writes describes the fluid state of the region’s languages in the Middle Ages: “Among the Estonians, the dialects that existed were sufficiently similar not to be an obstacle to effective communication across regional borders and to further language uniformity. To the south, the Livs probably had better lines of communication with the Estonians – since the languages of both were Finnic – than with their Baltic-language neighbours (the Latgalians, Selonians, Semigallians, and Couronians). Virtually nothing is known about the Selonian language; the Latgalian population covered a large enough territory for their language to have several dialects; and some historical linguists believe that the Semigallians and Couronians spoke kindred languages. But as generations came and went within the framework of the confederation, these pre-confederation languages became increasingly less well defined. The written sources – produced of course by German and Latin users – did continue to differentiate among these peasant peoples (presumably on the basis of languages) long after the end of the conquest. During the fifteenth century, however, the term Letten (Latvians) was used increasingly for all of them. The term evidently derived from the name of the Latgalians. Alternately, the sources also used the terms deutsch and undeutsch (German and non-German) as if further linguistic distinctions in the confederation were of minor consequence”.
    One of the first works in Latvian was entitled Undeutsche Psalmen (1587).

  45. SFReader says:

    —Latvia and Estonia, of course, had a very different historical experience from Lithuania. Neither were independent states until the 20th century.
    There is a treaty on partition of Livonia between Czar Ivan the Terrible and Danish king Frederick II, dated 1562. Reads like Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, particularly the final article
    “Также чухнов и латышей на обе стороны не перезывати и не принимати; а которой за рубеж збежит, ино того сыскав, отдати назад в правду, без хитрости.”

  46. SFReader says:

    “Both sides will not attract or accept Estonian and Latvian defectors. If somebody escapes over the border, he shall be truly returned back after investigation, without any deceit”

  47. Bathrobe,
    well now you know, so go forth and sin no more :)
    hat,
    Do you seriously think that all the people who enjoy learning Esperanto and Klingon, if deprived of their chosen diversion, would go off and help save aboriginal languages?
    No, not at all, but…
    /Pet peeve alert still on/
    Two or three years ago, a couple of friends and I went to London. It was our first time, so once we were done with the nominal purposes of the trip (they went to a programmer shindig, I needed to check a bunch of manuscripts in the British Library), we wanted to go out and experience as much as we could of the greatest city this side of the Atlantic. But first, we’d have dinner. As agreed, I called them as soon as I was done.
    - “Yo fat ass, where are you? We’re waiting for you here at /address/?”
    - “Cool,” says I, “what restaurant?”
    - “Pizza Hut, man, now hurry up!”
    - “I’m sorry, what?”
    - “What are you, stupid AND deaf? We’re in Pizza Hut, move. Hello? HELLO?”
    The last “Hello” was undoubtedly prompted by the silence on my end of the line. I just could not believe that anyone who has found themselves in the culinary capital of the world (and who had heard me raving about this particular facet of London for weeks) would choose to dine at Pizza Hut instead of … well, just about anything else. So I told them as much and having received nothing but derision, I left them with my best Eric Cartman impression. I ended up having dinner at a Ethiopian restaurant nearby.
    I think of that evening every time someone brings up conlanging or artificial languages. No, they don’t have to go and save Warlpiri or Aka, but goddammit, there is so much more out there that’s so much more worthwhile than wanking over some misbegotten piece of fantasy. Klingon et al. get a pass, but only by this much. Esperantists, however, will be the first up against the wall when I become the Supreme Ruler of Known Space.
    Well, ok, first after HR people. And my third grade PhysEd teacher. And the assholes who cancelled Firefly. Shit, I gotta start writing this down…

  48. John Emerson says:

    Descartes (a professional soldier) was present in the Catholic forces at the Battle of White Mountain. Never liked that guy much anyway.
    Since we’re talking about peeves…. if I ever take power a LOT of translators who try to match the rhyme schemes of the original will DIE. That never works. You always get these cutesy phrases and rare rhyming words.

  49. Well, you know what Woody Allen said about wanking: it’s sex with someone I love. Chacun a son gowster.

  50. Of Vilnius languages. My cousin was an EMT in Vilnius, and in her district the 2nd language to know was Romani (almost every other patient was accessible with Russian and basic Lithuanian, but some Gypsy kids and moms knew very little of either). These were sedentary ghetto Gypsies, mostly engaged in traditional trades in home-made pottery and bootleg tobacco.
    After the independence the family was seriously prodded to switch to yet another language, Hebrew. Speaking Russian has turned into a major impediment for employment, and it was like, “if you are Jewish rather than Russian, you ought to embrace your language”. But at the same time, the downtown street, of the demolished synagogue and massacre memories, has been renamed Židu, against the outcry of the Jewish activists. And they were like, if we have to embrace our Jewish roots, we really should do it in a more accepting place. So to Israel they went.

  51. we wanted to go out and experience as much as we could of the greatest city this side of the Atlantic.
    Wait, I thought you were in London?
    the culinary capital of the world
    So you definitely were not in London. Were you in Singapore or New York?

  52. J.W. Brewer says:

    It would take a lot of persecution for me to start sympathizing with Esperantists (at least they’re less effectual than metric-system propagandists . . .), but maybe bulbul could push me over that threshold, although I suppose I’d have to see what sort of dazzling upsides his enlightened despotism might have to offer humanitity. Come to think of it, I do sympathize with the Baha’i for their horrible persecution by the current regime in Iran, although I suppose their Esperanto-symp tendencies probably do not rank very high in terms of why the regime has it in for them.

  53. Bathrobe says:

    the culinary capital of the world – So you definitely were not in London. Were you in Singapore or New York?
    This is a very shallow reading. London has so many fine restaurants precisely because the local cuisine is so bad. And Singapore? You’ve got to be kidding. Food in Singapore lacks a je ne sais quoi. I don’t think Chinese food in Singapore is such great shakes. Try somewhere else.

  54. Etienne says:

    One further division that hasn’t been examined: at what point in history can one speak of “Lithuanian” versus “Latvian” as two clearly separate linguistic entities, as opposed to “Dialects/points of the East Baltic continuum”?
    The two languages, especially when you take a look at their dialects, do seem quite close to one another (whereas West Baltic, best known through its Old Prussian representative, seems to have been far more dissimilar: indeed I believe that some scholars claim that “Baltic” does not exist as a separate branch of Indo-European, and that West Baltic is in fact closer to Slavic than it is to East Baltic).
    My impression (can anyone confirm or deny this?) is that before the Reformation, which split the East Baltic speech community into a Catholic South-Western half which (under heavy Polish influence) was to become Lithuania, and a North-Eastern Protestant half which (under heavy Low and later High German influence) was to become Latvia, East Baltic was a single, dialectally diverse, speech community. Not that I’d expect present-day Lithuanian and Latvian nationalists to acknowledge this, assuming I’m right of course.
    Bulbul: at one level I agree with your irritation about conlanging (although to my mind you’re too lenient: the a******s who cancelled Firefly should be sentenced, first, to several years in prison, during which time they should be made to watch nothing but re-runs of the shows they DID approve for renewal, and THEN executed. And what is this about London as a CULINARY capital? My first conference in Europe was at a famous University in London, where the “food” served by the cafeteria for breakfast and lunch was so horrible (I still shudder when I think of what they called “eggs benedict”) that most of us non-Brits couldn’t eat them, including a number of people who had done fieldwork in South America and West Africa: if it hadn’t been for a small Italian restaurant nearby several of us would have starved): the reality of the diversity of the world’s languages is so much more interesting than fantasy, which quite defeats the whole purpose of fantasy.
    However, down here in the real world, linguistics departments are seeking ways to boost enrollment. My suspicion is that the publicity that Klingon, Elvish and Na’avi have given to the field will attract more students, thereby attracting more funding, some of which may serve to describe some language(s) that might otherwise have died out undescribed.

  55. Bathrobe says:

    if it hadn’t been for a small Italian restaurant nearby several of us would have starved
    QED

  56. What Bathrobe said. What would give anyone the impression I was talking about university cafeterias?
    Etienne,
    the publicity that Klingon, Elvish and Na’avi have given to the field will attract more students
    Which is one of the reasons they will get a pass.
    As for the Baltic languages, the Lithuanian-Latvian split is actually much older – the concensus puts it somewhere in the 7th century (see for example Daniel Petit). The way I understand it, there never was a single Eastern Baltic speech community, for the usual geographical and political reasons. The dialects were simply too diverse even before Reformation came along and all it did was redraw the borders.

  57. marie-lucie says:

    Treesong: about Marina Yaguello: I disliked her book less because it was tendentious than because it was boring, a great disappointment after Arika Okrent’s wonderful In the Land of Invented Languages.
    Yaguello’s book was written much earlier (1984), even though you read it after Okrent’s (2009). I have not read the latter, but heard very good things about it.
    That said, I am not a great fan of Yaguello: among other comments she has made, I particularly remember one about Ogden and Richards’ “Basic English”, which includes “kettle” among the basic words. Her comment: O and R include “kettle” because it seems obvious to them that everyone takes tea at 5 o’clock!

  58. @ Etienne, Latgale (a historical province comprising most of Eastern Latvia) is historically Catholic and has a large Polish minority (and indeed it stayed under Lithuanian-Polish rule since mid-XVIc), but the language there is a dialect of Latvian.

  59. marie-lucie says:

    Treesong: I read your excerpts from Yaguello’s book. They do sound better in French.

  60. But at the same time, the downtown street, of the demolished synagogue and massacre memories, has been renamed Židu, against the outcry of the Jewish activists.
    That’s Žydų gatvė, and why would Jewish activists have opposed it? Žydas is the ordinary Lithuanian word for ‘Jew’; it’s not at all comparable to Russian жид. And that’s its historical name (mutatis mutandis for the various official languages at various times); it was the heart of the Jewish quarter of town. You can read about it here.

  61. Žydas is the ordinary Lithuanian word for ‘Jew’; it’s not at all comparable to Russian жид.
    The degree to which the two “aren’t comparable” was obviously a matter of disagreement (and I think that the two of us also disagree on it, and BTW I suspect that my heritage and my personal experience gives my voice a stronger weight on this matter). Of course Žydų is a historic name and I know the street, having walked it countless times. It goes w/o saying that historical names have a potential to be offensive, and especially when such a name is restored after a long period of disuse.
    Going away from the words which used to have no negative connotation, but over time, became offensive or foul … isn’t it pretty common in all languages? One can bemoan it as “too PC” but that’s what languages always did even before the word “PC” has been coined.

  62. I suspect that my heritage and my personal experience gives my voice a stronger weight on this matter
    Well, of course they do, but could you explain a little more? What is the Lithuanian word for Jew now, and is žydas only used by anti-Semites? Because that’s the word my dictionaries give for ‘Jew,’ and the Lithuanian Wikipedia article on Jews is Žydai, so I’m having a hard time believing it’s not the standard word for Jew. I’m not arguing with you, just asking for clarification.

  63. Bathrobe says:

    Well, not even the English word ‘Jew’ sounds exactly neutral to me.

  64. SFReader says:

    When Russia acquired large Jewish population in partitions of Poland in 18th century, Jews appealed to the Russian government and asked to stop using word Zhid which they found offensive.
    Empress Catherine the Great obliged and issued an edict prohibiting the use of word Zhid in official (that is Russian) language and ordering to use more politically correct Evrei (Hebrew) instead.
    But she apparently couldn’t stop local languages, Lithuanian, Belarussian, Ukrainian or Polish from keeping on using the word.
    So they carried on, disregarding Jewish sensitivity.

  65. I don’t know, Language, it may be hard to articulate with perfect logical rationality. At a sound of helicopter blades and gunshots, would a wolf remain coolly rational? Perhaps one could explain the difference between the ordinary language word and a plaque with the street sign like this: the spoken word was heading into eventual disuse while the street name jumped into one’s face from nowhere. Or perhaps what made the difference was the fact that at a site of a massacre, one was supposed to be particularly deferential to the victims. Or even that the offensively-sounding plaques were coming up when commemorative plaques were still nowhere in sight.
    Generally it is an interesting language question. In a multilingual environment, when one language’s common word is understood as offensive in the other local language, then what gives? Does one try to minimize its usage, or to find euphemisms, or to hush one’s voice? Say I got accustomed to the world of English, and the common Russian word негр completely disappeared from my vocabulary, while an equally common word факт remained but now I tend to utter it in a hushed voice.

  66. J.W. Brewer says:

    There’s a street in London called Old Jewry and elsewhere in England one can find (per some googling) a Jew Street in Brighton and a Market Jew Street in Penzance. But all of those sound a bit weird to my American ear. If the controversial name of the Vilnius street had gone away but then been revived, what had it been in the interim? Something bland and inoffensive, or a tribute to some Communist personality? If one is stripping off Communist-themed street names imposed by foreigners/collaborators during the period of Soviet occupation, it does seem that in general just restoring the prior names should be the least problematic/politicized way to go about it, as opposed to making up new names reflecting the transient priorities of the present. http://balticreports.com/?p=15043 has another recent Vilnius street-name story with a ethnolinguistic-conflict context.

  67. J.W. Brewer says:

    Although admittedly there’s the difficulty that prior to the interlude of Soviet occupation Vilnius had been Wilno, so presumably the current government would not have been just doing a straight-up revival of the pre-Soviet names without adjustment.

  68. I agree that Jew is not entirely neutral in English, at least not in AmE. (By contrast, the Jews and Jewish are neutral, although of course they can be used negatively or for that matter positively.) To call someone a Jew rather than Jewish is not entirely the mark of an Antisemite, but it is suggestive.

  69. Zid is also still the everyday Polish word for Jew, which strikes me as odd. Maybe there’s nobody left in Poland to protest?

  70. London has so many fine restaurants
    I don’t disagree, bathrobe, but it is not a culinary capital. If you are not careful in London it is very easy to get mediocre overpriced food. The restaurant scene, to me anyway, seems geared more to snobs than to people who care about fine food. I’ll take any Italian city over London if I want a good meal.
    I prefer Hong Kong to Singapore personally, but a lot of foodies swear by Singapore so it is a “capital” even if you and I might not be so impressed. The Indian and Malay food in Singapore are also excellent, it’s not just Chinese.

  71. Had to check the old maps for the names for Wilno’s Yiddische Gasse … even though I still think that reenacting the pre-WWII Gentile labels in this onetime Jewish culture capital, after the Holocaust, should be a complicated task. One just can’t lightheartedly reenact those times and attitudes.
    A beautiful Polish Plan Miasta Wilna of 1840 has nearby German and Tatar streets, but Jewish Lane isn’t named. But on a 1935 Polish map it is called Zydowska, and on a contemporary Lithuanian map, Žydų. By 1957 it becomes a dead-end Stikliu Lane (blocked off at the former German street, now Muziejaus gatve, junction)
    polish 1935

  72. SFReader says:

    —Zid is also still the everyday Polish word for Jew, which strikes me as odd.
    Polish Communist authorities attempted after the WWII to replace żyd with more politically correct Jewrej, but had no success.
    Perhaps because
    –Maybe there’s nobody left in Poland to protest?

  73. michael farris says:

    “Zid is also still the everyday Polish word for Jew”
    Actually it’s Żyd and is used by Jewish people too.
    http://www.midrasz.pl/en.php
    “Maybe there’s nobody left in Poland to protest?”
    Or maybe it’s just not offensive in Polish?
    “Polish Communist authorities attempted after the WWII to replace żyd with more politically correct Jewrej, but had no success”
    Or it was perceived as Russian meddling in the language?

  74. michael farris says:

    “Esperantists, however, will be the first up against the wall when I become the Supreme Ruler of Known Space”
    I’ve gotta say…. as an active user of Esperanto (who tries to be unannoying about it) that stings a little, especially from someone who I had thought of as sort of an internet friend….

  75. SFReader says:

    —used by Jewish people too.
    Actually, one hears similar arguments on use of a certain N* word…

  76. michael farris says:

    And not to put too fine a point on it,
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indigenous_Dialogues
    or
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LMArwK3-eJg&list=PL7F2FB4FDD88F12CF&index=4&feature=plpp_video
    On the whole Esperanto speakers are very intrested in questions of language rights and language preservation, at least as much (maybe more so) as those who want to line us up against a wall are….

  77. michael farris says:

    “Actually, one hears similar arguments on use of a certain N* word…”
    Let me know when black people start using the word Nigger in the names of organizations or in scholarship. Until then it’s not relevant.

  78. michael,
    On the whole Esperanto speakers are very intrested in questions of language rights and language preservation
    On the whole, perhaps. But the one’s I’ve met don’t give a damn about anything than their precious fantasy and their big plans for it.

  79. Vanya,
    If you are not careful in London it is very easy to get mediocre overpriced food.
    But a) that is not London’s fault, b) same is true of any Italian city.
    but a lot of foodies swear by Singapore so it is a “capital”
    I’m afraid I don’t follow your logic.
    The Indian and Malay food in Singapore are also excellent, it’s not just Chinese.
    And how about authentic Turkish, Lebanese, Ethiopian or Italian, not to mention fusion and nouvelle cuisine?

  80. John: Descartes (a professional soldier) was present in the Catholic forces at the Battle of White Mountain. Never liked that guy much anyway.
    Neither have I, and not that sitting in Colorado pressing drone buttons is any better morally than holding a rifle on the front line, but there’s no evidence that Descartes actually fought.

  81. michael,
    I’ve gotta say…. as an active user of Esperanto (who tries to be unannoying about it) that stings a little
    You? An Esperantist? I … Well …
    Dammit, now I have to go and reevaluate my beliefs and convictions, not to mention update the “First up against the wall when I become the Supreme Ruler” list. No fair, I say, no fair.

  82. Bathrobe says:

    And so, Languagehat brings more peace and conciliation into a troubled world.

  83. Bulbul, de gustibus I guess. I am not a huge fan of London these days. Feels to me like London wants to be a bigger shinier New York, but we already have a perfectly fine New York, thank you very much.

  84. marie-lucie says:

    My dissertation supervisor was an Esperantist (I am not). He said that he had been dismissive of Esperanto until he found out that one could write very creative poetry in Esperanto. Another friend was also an Esperantist. He had travelled in the Eastern bloc, staying with Esperantists, at a time where people in those countries were severely limited as to where they could go. With Esperanto they had many more international contacts than they would have had using their own languages. And since no one was a native speaker of Esperanto, there was no imbalance of linguistic knowledge as when English speakers dominated discussions with speakers of other languages.

  85. we wanted to go out and experience as much as we could of the greatest city this side of the Atlantic.
    Wait, I thought you were in London?
    the culinary capital of the world
    So you definitely were not in London. Were you in Singapore or New York?
    it is not a culinary capital.
    The restaurant scene, to me anyway, seems geared more to snobs than to people who care about fine food. I
    There were some bizarre attitudes to food in Britain (although not solely in Britain) in the past. Nowadays, expensive restaurants like the Fat Duck (I admit I’ve only read about it), or Tom Aikins or the River Café are as good as you’ll find anywhere. London is well known to have better Indian cuisine than you’ll find anywhere, including India and Pakistan. In my opinion Pret A Manger is as good a fast-food chain as you’ll find anywhere (though Italian fast food is admittedly better). Hereford Road is an excellent London restaurant for British food. So whether your comments are based on irrational hatred or plain ignorance, and I’m guessing from your ugly first comment it’s both – incidentally, how would you like it if people here started making snide remarks about wherever the fuck you’re from? – you obviously don’t know what you’re talking about.

  86. Bathrobe says:

    Heaven forbid that LH should turn into one of those boring lists of ‘Fifty Most Livable Cities in the World’ or ‘Twenty Most Livable Cities of the United States’, which always seem to be incredibly biased and partisan.

  87. Feels to me like London wants to be a bigger shinier New York, but we already have a perfectly fine New York, thank you very much.
    Have you actually been to either place? They’re nothing like one another. I’ve lived more than 20 years in each city, being in London and NY are totally different experiences.

  88. J.W. Brewer says:

    OK, anyone growing up under the Bolshevik Yoke who became an Esperantist as a tactical way of finding some overlooked-by-the-authorities autonomous social space will be deemed to have a valid defense. Whether foreign Esperantists who interacted with them were a conduit for liberating outside influence, or a bunch of useful idiots being potemkin-villag’d, or perhaps both, is not clear to me.
    Hapsburg-nostalgic hat may be interested to know that there’s an Esperanto museum in Vienna, part of its shabby grandeur as a onetime capital that is now disproportionate to the actual country to which it is presently attached. When I passed by in the late 90′s it was tucked into a corner of some old palace (maybe near the crown jewels that had come down from Norman-ruled Sicily?), and open on alterate Thursday afternoons or something like that, but its website (in German AND Esperanto) indicates it has more recently relocated and has more substantial “horoj de dejoro.”
    I have eaten well in London, but I’ve eaten well in lots of places. At the low end of the price spectrum, I got lunch yesterday from Pret a Manger in lower Manhattan, a few blocks from my office.

  89. OK, this is what I’m getting from the street-name discussion so far (and of course I’m eager to be corrected if I’m wrong): Lithuanian žydas is in fact the ordinary word for ‘Jew’ and no speaker of Lithuanian would find anything off-putting about the name Žydų gatvė, which is simply the Lithuanian equivalent of the earlier forms Yiddische Gasse and Zydowska. But because it happens that жид has become an extremely offensive word in Russian, that name sounds terrible to Russian-speakers. Which is completely understandable, and I certainly don’t expect “perfect logical rationality” of anyone, including myself, but surely one can try to distinguish between one’s own emotional reaction and the facts of language. It’s one thing to say “I hate the name Žydų gatvė because as a Russian-speaker it creeps me out,” and quite another to say “The name Žydų gatvė is offensive and anti-Semitic,” which I think is clearly untrue in the Lithuanian context.
    Zid is also still the everyday Polish word for Jew, which strikes me as odd.
    Why? All these words, Russian, Polish, and Lithuanian, are simply borrowings of the self-designation in Yiddish. The other languages’ words for ‘Jew’ do not magically become anti-Semitic simply because the Russian word has become offensive.

  90. Yes, those lists are silly. This is something else.

  91. OK, anyone growing up under the Bolshevik Yoke who became an Esperantist as a tactical way of finding some overlooked-by-the-authorities autonomous social space will be deemed to have a valid defense. Whether foreign Esperantists who interacted with them were a conduit for liberating outside influence, or a bunch of useful idiots being potemkin-villag’d, or perhaps both, is not clear to me.
    I know all this anti-Esperanto rhetoric is almost entirely jokey, but I’m not really comfortable with it. There are Esperantists among LH readers, my favorite aunt was an Esperantist, and the idea behind Esperanto is a noble one, even if in practice the language is simply an enjoyable and useful way for people from different countries to communicate. It’s one thing to have no interest in studying it—I have none myself, despite my aunt’s efforts—but let’s try not to insult those who do.
    And the same goes for London, which is apparently a fine place to eat these days (though when I was there forty years ago it was pretty dire). Let’s have no ethnocentrism or nationalism at the LH café!

  92. Why does Zyd strike me as odd? Very simply because I spent many years in Russia before I learned Polish, and it’s a very offensive word in Russian (and pronounced nearly identically). And for that matter “yid” is offensive in English. I’m not claiming it is wrong for Poles to use the word “zyd”, I just find it curious, and still unexplained, why the same word became so offensive in some parts of the Russian Empire but remained the normal word in neighboring, and linguistically similar, parts of that same Empire.

  93. I’m sorry AJP that I don’t consider London the single undisputed greatest city with the best food in the whole world. I guess the rest of us are just provincial meatheads. London has many charms, but the incredible arrogance of its inhabitants is not one of them.
    Really, disagreeing (and with Bulbul I meant it as a friendly disagreement, but with you probably not) with the claim that London is “the greatest city this side of the Atlantic” is now a mark of irrational hatred? I apologize on behalf of Parisians, Berliners and Istanbulians everywhere. (I won’t argue for Moscow, because that would probably mark me as even more irrational).
    Really though, London and New York are becoming increasingly similar, whatever you say. 20 years ago they were far more different than they are now, and it’s not just because today there is a “pret-a-porter” on ever corner in Manhattan. It might have more to do with the incredible numbers of Americans one tends to meet in London.

  94. SFReader says:

    —The other languages’ words for ‘Jew’ do not magically become anti-Semitic simply because the Russian word has become offensive.
    What we know is that Jews of eastern Belorussian town of Shklov found the word offensive in 1787 and petitioned empress Catherine to stop its use.
    This suggests to me that the word was and is perceived offensive by Jews, but not by native speakers of languages concerned.
    Russians, Ukrainians and Belorussians had to be taught by tsarist and Soviet governments that it’s incorrect word to use.
    But Poles and Lithuanians never learned. And now there is no reason to adjust since no one is left to complain.

  95. anyone growing up under the Bolshevik Yoke who became an Esperantist
    My father was born under the Czarist Yoke in a small town that after the revolution found itself within newly-independent Poland, but right on the Russian (today Belarus) border.
    His studies at the local Tarbut school in the 1920s included a mandatory course in Esperanto. I suppose there’s an outside chance the school’s decision to incoporate Esperanto in its curriculum stemmed from Ludwig Zamenhof‘s creation of his Lingwe uniwersala in Bialystok, the nearest city, about 45 kilometers distant.

  96. I just find it curious, and still unexplained, why the same word became so offensive in some parts of the Russian Empire but remained the normal word in neighboring, and linguistically similar, parts of that same Empire.
    Oh, I see what you mean, and I too am curious about it.
    What we know is that Jews of eastern Belorussian town of Shklov found the word offensive in 1787 and petitioned empress Catherine to stop its use. This suggests to me that the word was and is perceived offensive by Jews, but not by native speakers of languages concerned.
    All that means is that the word had become offensive by then in that part of the Empire. I hate to sound like a broken record, but the fact that a particular East Slavic word had become offensive in one region does not magically make a similar-sounding word in different languages spoken in other places offensive (though of course it will sound offensive to people from the region where it has undergone that development). I repeat, Lithuanian žydas is the ordinary word for ‘Jew’; it has no offensive connotations (although, like any word, it can be used offensively; hollering “You Jew!” at someone in any language is offensive). I see no reason to think that Jews in prewar Vilna/Wilno would have found either the Lithuanian or Polish word offensive (though they would have been unlikely to be familiar with the Lithuanian word, since Lithuanian was hardly spoken in the city); you’re free to disagree, but you’ll have to present a more convincing argument than that Jews in Shklov found the word offensive in 1787. Mind you, that does suggest that the Belorussian word had become offensive by then, and was offensive when used by the Belorussian-speaking inhabitants of the countryside outside Vilna/Wilno (or Vil’nya, as they would have called it), but again, its offensiveness in Belorussian is irrelevant to Lithuanian or Polish.
    I hope it’s not necessary for me to state that I abhor anti-Semitism and revile the use of ethnic slurs, including жид; I just don’t like tarring other words with the same brush. It reminds me of people objecting to “niggardly” in English.

  97. I might add that English Jew is etymologically identical to žydas and жид; the equivalent to еврей, Hebrew, is not normally used to describe people. So etymology is not destiny.

  98. I guess the rest of us are just provincial meatheads.
    No, it’s you against the rest Vanya, going on and on about London for an entire thread, not me. You’ve got some chip on your shoulder about Britain, and that’s too bad for you. London doesn’t contain more arrogant people than anywhere else in the world, and if you were rational you’d see that. But it’s your ugly problem. There’s no reason why you should inflict it on us.

  99. Bathrobe says:

    AJP, I don’t find the inhabitants of London arrogant, but I must say I thought Vanya’s snarky bemusement at bulbul’s over-the-top description was more amusing than offensive. Since you’ve lived in both London and New York, you know what you are talking about and obviously also have a soft spot for both of them, but opinions about cities should not be taken any more seriously than opinions about authors. At least London is distinctive enough to excite varied and opposing reactions. I would find it more irritating if he said that he didn’t have anything to say about London because there is nothing to say.

  100. No, sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.

  101. Bathrobe says:

    My first impression of London (from a train) was, ‘Wow, this is where all the terrace houses and older architecture of Sydney and New South Wales comes from!’ It looked very familiar. Then when I went to Fortnum and Mason’s teashop (I think it was), I thought, ‘Wow, this is where the Japanese have copied some of their weird English fantasies from!’ There was much, much more, but those are some of the impressions that remain.

  102. J.W. Brewer says:

    Against a particular historical background, it seems possible that “Jew Street” (or “Jewish Street,” or even some showbiz circumlocution like “Street of Some Wonderful People Who Just Happen to be of the Hebrew Persuasion”) could make people uneasy even if the word translated “Jew” was the normal/polite/non-slurrish entry from the local lexicon. That it was the historical name of the street does not necessarily eliminate that problem, although it makes it more complicated because seeming to cover up the historical name comes with its own downside. And while the pre-1939 history of Vilna for Jews was a lot better than what happened thereafter, it was not by modern standards an idyll of perfect tolerance and pluralism, and it may be asking a lot to expect all modern Jews to look at the upside (less anti-Semitic than the Nazis!) of the old days the name might recall than the downside (more anti-Semitic than would be tolerable today, combined with whatever speculative narrative one wishes to offer about how that might have paved the way for things to get even worse).

  103. That’s funny. My first impression of Sydney was (walking) ‘Wow, this is what all that Victorian cast-iron decoration on the houses in London would look like if the weather wasn’t so grey’.

  104. Language, I think you’ve repeated your regular-word-not-a-slur reasoning great many times, and we understand your argument. Could you please address other, perhaps more relevant points now:
    - Is it OK for the regular vocabulary of a language to change because some word, which used to be historically acceptable, has become offensive?
    - To what degree may such a process accelerate in a multilingual locality, where a regular word in one of the languages may be a blood-curdling slur in another?
    - Is there a role to be played by tragic, cathartic events of history in redefining questionable vocabularies linked with the tragedies?
    and lastly
    - Does it make sense for a linguist to use a prescriptivist approach dictating regular folks what to be offended by and what to take in stride? (This has been frequently addressed in this forum actually, so I think we all agree on the answer. It may be a real pity when regular speakers become offended by a word with good linguistic bona-fides, but that’s how languages live and develop and there is little we can do about it. One just doesn’t tell one’s friend to get over it and accept an offensive label because etymologically speaking there was nothing bad about it)

  105. J.W. Brewer says:

    Somewhat hilariously, I also associated my first trip to Fortnum & Mason (I must have been around 30?) with Japan, but that’s because I knew about it from reading the Paddington books as a boy in Tokyo.

  106. Against a particular historical background, it seems possible that “Jew Street” (or “Jewish Street,” or even some showbiz circumlocution like “Street of Some Wonderful People Who Just Happen to be of the Hebrew Persuasion”) could make people uneasy even if the word translated “Jew” was the normal/polite/non-slurrish entry from the local lexicon. That it was the historical name of the street does not necessarily eliminate that problem, although it makes it more complicated because seeming to cover up the historical name comes with its own downside.
    This is all true, of course, and I’m certainly sympathetic to complaints on those grounds. I am simply objecting to the argument that it sounds like an offensive Russian word, therefore it is offensive.
    I remember being startled by French streets called “rue des Juifs” (I took a picture of such a street sign in Chartres, if I remember correctly), but I reminded myself that I came from a country with no history of explicitly Jewish neighborhoods (though plenty of history of anti-Semitism). Such names sound weird to me, but I have no idea how they sound to those who are used to them. If the local Jews object to them, then they should be changed. And if Lithuanian Jews (there are still some) object to the Vilnius street name, than it should be changed.

  107. could make people uneasy
    There are many in Oxford who want to go back to using Magpie Lane‘s original name. I think it’s partly because the new one obscures the history of the town and partly for the hell of it.

  108. MOCKBA: I hadn’t seen your latest comment when I wrote mine; does it address your issues?

  109. Obviously, I agree that “One just doesn’t tell one’s friend to get over it and accept an offensive label because etymologically speaking there was nothing bad about it.”

  110. J.W. Brewer says:

    Going back to MOCKBA’s original raising of the street name issue, I’m thinking that part of the problem may be that the modest modern Jewish population of Vilnius (now or in the early ’90′s when the occupying power withdrew) are not primarily descendents of the pre-WW2 population (mostly dead w/o surviving issue) but people who had come from the USSR (or had parents who had done so) more recently (and without a visa from either the Lithuanian or Polish governments in exile), who were accordingly much more comfortable in Russian than Lithuanian, even if they could function in Lithuanian at all. So if that’s true it might be especially difficult for them to take on board emotionally the abstract intellectual point that the Lithuanian word which transparently resembles the Russian slur is not, in Lithuanian, considered a slur. As to what weight to give their emotions as opposed to the emotions of the local majority who might find it especially irksome after resuming sovereignty to be told to be sensitive to the linguistic hangups of the descendents of the invaders and their hangers-on . . . well, I’m glad I don’t have to make contentious public-policy decisions in that historically-overburdened part of the world.

  111. I’m thinking that part of the problem may be that the modest modern Jewish population of Vilnius (now or in the early ’90′s when the occupying power withdrew) are not primarily descendents of the pre-WW2 population (mostly dead w/o surviving issue) but people who had come from the USSR (or had parents who had done so) more recently (and without a visa from either the Lithuanian or Polish governments in exile), who were accordingly much more comfortable in Russian than Lithuanian, even if they could function in Lithuanian at all. So if that’s true it might be especially difficult for them to take on board emotionally the abstract intellectual point that the Lithuanian word which transparently resembles the Russian slur is not, in Lithuanian, considered a slur.
    That’s an excellent point, and one I hadn’t considered. I think the name should definitely be changed. Sorry if I seemed obstinate, MOCKBA!

  112. I’m particularly disinclined to cut the Lithuanians much slack in this, having just read about their behavior after WWII, when they were determined to turn Vilnius into a Lithuanian city: they refused to allow ethnic Poles from the countryside to resettle to Poland (which had empty fields that needed farming), but expelled Poles from the new capital: “In Vilnius every Pole was forced to register for repatriation, and 80 percent of those who registered as Poles were actually resettled. The result was the de-Polonization of Wilno, and a turning point in the history of Lithuanian nationality” (Snyder, p. 92).

  113. Judging by online dictionaries/Wikipedias, it looks like variants of “Žid” are the standard words for “Jew” in the West Slavic languages (Polish, Czech and Slovak). There’s also Hungarian zsidó. Curiously enough, Croatian Wikipedia has its article on Jewish people under Židovi and Serbian under Јевреји (Serbo-Croat Wikipedia says “Jevreji ili Židovi”). Bulgarian has Евреи. Is this some kind of Catholic/Orthodox split being reflected in Balto-Slavic languages?

  114. Hat:
    While you are right in principle, I suspect (it can’t be proved one way or another) that you are wrong in this particular case. In a multi-ethnic, multilingual empire, the connotations of a word are quite likely to spread across languages just as they spread across dialects.
    This can happen even without political unity. It can’t be coincidence that Latin captivum ‘captive’ became French chétif ‘puny’, Occitan/Catalan caitiu ‘puny, sickly’, Old Norman French caitif ‘weakling’ > English caitiff ‘coward’, and Italian cattivo ‘wicked’. Note that this semantic shift did not affect Spanish cautivo or Portuguese cativo, which as far as I can tell mean only ‘captive’.
    hollering “You Jew!” at someone in any language is offensive
    Oh, I don’t know. A Jewish friend of mine told me that during his “ostentatiously Jewish period” (his expression), when despite being brought up a Reform Jew he was keeping kosher and walking around with yarmulke and payess (head curls), he walked past a Lubavitcher outreach guy who addressed him thus: “Psst! Pssst! Bist du a yid?”

  115. marie-lucie says:

    Whether foreign Esperantists … were … a bunch of useful idiots being potemkin-villag’d, …
    I find this extremely offensive. These people were not on group tours planned and supervised by government officials. How about ordinary human beings eager to connect with those on the other side of the Iron Curtain on a personal level?
    rue des Juifs
    In the town where I grew up there is a street called rue de la Juiverie, referring to an area where some Jews lived centuries ago. It is a short, narrow street in a very old area of similar streets where nowadays there is no commercial activity and very little traffic. I don’t think it was a ghetto-type area where Jews were confined.
    The word “juiverie” in Modern French (at least in France) is very derogatory, and for that reason rarely seen in print, or heard in public. I feel uncomfortable when I read “Jewry” in an English language newspaper or magazine, where the word is apparently neutral. But I was shocked to read la juiverie in a Québec magazine, apparently as a translation of the English word, and also apparently neutral.

  116. the modest modern Jewish population of Vilnius (now or in the early ’90′s when the occupying power withdrew) are not primarily descendents of the pre-WW2 population (mostly dead w/o surviving issue) but people who had come from the USSR (or had parents who had done so) more recently
    This is actually the point I was trying to address in my original post about a Russian/Lithuanian/Romani trilingual speaker turning to learn Hebrew. The post-independence minorities, including the Jewish minority, have become mired in the linguistic tug of war between Lithuanian and Russian. The authorities were eager to roll the clock back a half century, but of course without returning to the linguistic mosaic of Polish, Belorussian, Jewish, Karaim, and Russian – but it was the urban Russian which took the first hit. It made the local powers stubbornly unwilling to “yield any linguistic ground to Russian usage” e.g. by refusing to acknowledge the connotations of the slur “zhid” … while at the same encouraging the Jewish population to shed Russian in favor of Hebrew. This peculiar disconnect between the two linguistic developments is what I marveled about in my post.
    Nowadays the language policy controversies in the Wilno Strip mostly involve rural Polish speakers and their schools. Once-officially promoted Hebrew schooling survived, although the enrollment is quite small.
    without a visa from either the Lithuanian or Polish governments in exile
    Yes, my cousin has been born in Vilnius to the migrants from Belarus, and she was the only one in the family with a passable command of Lithuanian. My great-grandfather lived in Wilno before, but he left for Switzerland during the upheavals of the 1st Russian Revolution, which obviously didn’t get the family any “native rights”. But unlike neighboring Latvia and Estonia, Lithuania retained a huge ethnic Lithuanian majority, so it has never got so uptight about restricting rights of would-be “illegal immigrants and their descendants”. The worst ethnic policy clash of the day, as I already mention, is with the rural Polish speakers who are as native as it gets.

  117. michael farris says:

    Doing some internetting it appears that in Polish ‘jewrej’ is more insuting than żyd.
    on a genealogy site:
    “Paradoksalnie w przedwojennej Polsce, wg słów mojego ojca pochodzącego z Galicji, nazwa Jewrej była bardzo poniżająca w przeciwieństwie do nazwy Żyd, a lansowano wtedy jako najbardziej przyzwoity termin “Starozakonny” lub “Izraelita”.
    “Paradoxically in pre-war Poland according to my father from (Polish) Galicia the label Jewrej was more insulting/humiliating than Żyd and the very repectable terms ‘starozakonny (old order?) or “Israelite” were promoted.
    Otherwise in modern usage it seems pretty strongly negative I’ll spare you the links, they’re not … uplifting. Some of the negativity may also stem from its connotations of Russianness?
    Should Russian speakers in Poland avoid the word?
    For that matter, how can Russians use the insulting Polish words Ruski/Ruska in describing themselves? The more pc words areRosjanin/Rosjanka.

  118. While you are right in principle, I suspect (it can’t be proved one way or another) that you are wrong in this particular case. In a multi-ethnic, multilingual empire, the connotations of a word are quite likely to spread across languages just as they spread across dialects.
    If you can find any evidence that the Lithuanian or Polish word is offensive, I’m happy to hear it. I repeat that they are the everyday dictionary words for ‘Jew’ in those languages, so I’m pretty sure you’re wrong. If you look up ‘Jew’ in an English-Russian dictionary, you will not find жид given.

  119. “Żyd” and variants just seem standard West Slavic/Lithuanian to me.
    This situation might be like Americans insisting Spanish-speakers remove the word “negro” from their language. Or Americans insisting that the word “Polak” should be struck out of the Polish language.

  120. Etienne says:

    1-I agree that one can eat well in London (I sampled some excellent and reasonably-priced Italian, Indian, Chinese and Japanese food there). However, I do not see how a city where the native/locally unmarked culinary tradition (as exemplified by the usual fare in cafeterias, for example…) is considered undesirable *by the natives themselves* can be called a culinary capital.
    2-Bulbul: thank you for the answer + reference.
    3-I think JCass has got it: the reason why there is such a divide between the Russian (pejorative) ZHID on the one hand and the Polish/Lithuanian (neutral) words on the other is because, within Tsarist Russia, religion was a major dividing line, especially since “the jew” is a central figure in Christianity: obviously the pejorative meaning the word had/acquired among Orthodox Christians never spread to the Tsar’s Catholic subjects.
    4-Marie-Lucie: as a Canadian-born and raised French speaker JUIVERIE definitely sounds very pejorative to me: I think the example you quoted is simply an incompetent translator’s error.

  121. BTW Language, I don’t think we were ever in real disagreement here on the specific issue of a street name, it’s just we were rehashing the arguments of different sides, which all had a point.
    @ Michail Farris – “Starozakonny” probably refers to “Old Testament”. A related anecdote from my granny, from the early Soviet days when citizens could put almost anything to the much-maligned “Nationality” (Ethnicity) line of their ID’s. Supposedly a real story:
    So a guy comes to a local passport office to get his papers. The clerk asks of his nationality, and the answer is Иудей “Judaic”. She promptly writes it down as Индей (perhaps a male turkey bird?). “I beg you pardon”, – interjects the applicant, – “you made a typo!”, and explains that it’s just another word for “Jewish”. “How on Earth can I fix it now?” – recoils the clerk – “Oh, I got an idea, here you go: Еврейский Индей” (a turkey of Jewish origin?)

  122. All: I think that it’s impossible to compare two cities deeply and fairly, because to really know a city you must live there for a long time, and one period of either history or one’s life is not like another — so you’d have to live in both cities for a long time at the same time. Which is impossible, unless you are a bird. That said, both London and New York have a lot of excellent restaurants (what would the “native culinary tradition” of New York be, anyhow? Opossum?), as well as a lot of craptastic ones. And most people in my experience don’t know good food from bad, and care far more for consistency and familiarity than quality.
    Marie-Lucie:
    Яагелло (ru.wikipedia) is certainly the Russian form of Jagiełło, and there are plenty of people who bear it as a surname today, though I don’t know if they are actually Russian as opposed to Ukrainian or Belarusian. For that matter, I don’t know Yaguello’s actual ethnicity: online information on her is scarce.
    Lojban has a basic word for ‘pot’, patxu, which can also mean ‘kettle’, ‘urn’, ‘tub’, or even ‘sink’: a deep container for holding liquids. Finer distinctions can be made using compounds. Semantically close basic words are tansi ‘pan, basin, tub, sink’ (shallow container for liquid), baktu ‘bucket, pail, can’ (contents need not be liquid) botpi ‘bottle, jar, urn, flask’ (inherently comes with a lid), lante ‘sealed container, can/tin’, tanxe ‘box, carton, trunk, crate’, lanka ‘(woven) basket’, and vasru ‘(generic) vessel’ (in verbal constructions, ‘contain’). Containers are really pretty fundamental to human society; they were probably among the earliest technologies developed after pre-humans adopted bipedalism.
    Jewry in modern use primarily means ‘the Jewish people’ rather than ‘a Jewish community or ghetto’. Historically it was also the English name of Judaea, as in the 15th-century Christmas carol “God rest you merry, gentlemen”, whose second verse begins “In Bethlehem in Jewry / this blessed babe was born”.

  123. J.W. Brewer says:

    m-l, I am sorry for giving offense. I know very little about the Soviet Esperantist subculture and the sorts of foreign visitors that might have interacted with it, which is why I had phrased my point admitting ignorance as to where upon a spectrum from helpful to not-so-helpful those visitors might have fallen. I do think in general that in the bad old days the Bolshevik regime only gave visas to Westerners when it was in their perceived national interest to do so (including of course getting hard currency, but there are some moral issues involved with contributing to an oppressive regime’s hard currency budget) and that it would have been naive and dangerous for a visitor not part of an official and obviously Potemkin-villagey tour group to assume that he was “off on his own” and not in fact being reasonably closely monitored. Certainly such a visitor ought to have considered that his local interlocutors were likely going to be acting on the assumption that the authorities were paying attention, even if they were not personally going to report back to the authorities on the interaction.
    Etienne: without whitewashing the quite unhappy history of Muscovy and its successor states on the Judenfrage, I think it’s naive and ahistorical to suppose that (believing and/or nominal/cultural) Roman Catholic Slavs were systematically more philo-Semitic than (ditto) Orthodox Slavs, although I’m not sure if you were trying to suggest that. At a minimum, differences in lexical taboos between language groups with different primary ecclesiastical affiliations aren’t much evidence of that and could arise from much more contingent local factors. It is true that the late lamented Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was unusually tolerant for its day and the partitions of the late 18th century were not a positive development in terms of the status of the Jews who ended up under Russian rule, but the same polity was also, e.g., unusually tolerant of Protestants at a time when e.g. the Czech lands were very much not so.

  124. you’d have to live in both cities for a long time at the same time. Which is impossible,
    The Cowan uncertainty principle of tourism.
    most people in my experience don’t know good food from bad, and care far more for consistency and familiarity than quality
    Dogs branch out. Mine started eating slugs yesterday.

  125. Яагелло (ru.wikipedia) is certainly the Russian form of Jagiełło
    Well, the Russian version of Jagiełło occurs in a poem by Pasternak (peculiarly enough in the genitive plural form, together with the genitive plural of his wife Jadwiga):
    ты спрошишь, кто велит?
    - всесильный бог деталей,
    всесильный бог любви,
    Ягайлов и Ядвиг.

  126. J.W. Brewer says:

    m-l, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Student_Struggle_for_Soviet_Jewry has good examples of non-pejorative modern AmEng usage. Perhaps French-language discourse about the refuseniks from a sympathetic POV would have used a slightly different lexical formulation? Of course, when non-Jews talk excessively/obsessively about Jewish topics, things can slide downhill and become unsavory, such that perfectly neutral words can take on pejorative baggage.

  127. Whether foreign Esperantists who interacted with them were a conduit for liberating outside influence, or a bunch of useful idiots being potemkin-villag’d
    In Czechoslovakia, the former is more likely, as Esperantists – especially those with any contact with the capitalist West – were considered subversives who should be kept a watchful eye on.
    I vaguely recall a story someone once told me of how in the early 70s or so, an agent of ŠtB (the secret police) was sent to spy on a group of Westerners who were visiting a professor of physics (or chemistry or some sensitive subject like that) staying somewhere in the High Tatras. The agent in question apparently could speak several languages, but as it turned out, the Westerners and the professor were Esperantists and spoke to each other only in Esperanto, a language wholly unfamiliar to our poor fellow. The capitalists came and went and his report could only include some general details of their comings and goings and a lot of excuses. His supervisor appended a note requesting that the agent in question be trained in Esperanto, preferrably, quote, “In the country where it is natively spoken”.
    I suspect that some poetic license was exercised in the telling of that story (for example the supervisor might have just intended to send the agent to the Soviet Union) or it might be entirely fictional. But considering the surreal shenanigans ŠtB agents were constantly involved in, I wouldn’t be surprised if it were true.

  128. Hat:
    I meant to mention that in 19th-century America Jew was definitely derogatory, which is why we had the Young Men’s Hebrew Association (founded 1874), today the 92nd Street Y. Those young and sassy Jewish folks at Variety magazine (founded 1905; disclaimer: my employer Reed Elsevile owns it) shortened Hebrew to Hebe, which thanks to the relentless euphemism treadmill has now become one notch above the bottom in Antisemitic insults.
    “Still, [the Ostjuden] did not live in the same kind of dispersion as their brethren in Western and Central Europe, and whereas there, prior to Hitler, it had been a sign of anti-Semitism to call a Jew a Jew, Eastern European Jews were recognized by friend and foe alike as a distinct people.” —Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem
    J. W. Brewer: Note that Jewry in Soviet Jewry is the modern sense of ‘(a section of) the Jewish people’ rather than the older sense of ‘place where Jews live’.

  129. BTW Language, I don’t think we were ever in real disagreement here on the specific issue of a street name, it’s just we were rehashing the arguments of different sides, which all had a point.
    I agree, and I’m pleased and relieved we were able to discuss it in a civilized way and come to that conclusion! These topics can be very difficult.
    As for Esperanto and communism: I presume everyone here knows that (to quote Wikipedia) “Stalin … denounced Esperanto as ‘the language of spies’ and had Esperantists exiled or executed.”
    I meant to mention that in 19th-century America Jew was definitely derogatory
    I did not know that! The things you learn…

  130. @I’m particularly disinclined to cut the Lithuanians much slack in this, having just read about their behavior after WWII, when they were determined to turn Vilnius into a Lithuanian city
    One Lithuanian saying from that time: Vilnius mūsų, o mes – Rusų (Vilnius belongs to us, and we belong to Russians).
    But actually I wanted to remind, that Lithuania treated Vilnius as its occupied capital before WWII.

  131. Etienne says:

    J.W. Brewer: I certainly was not trying to suggest that Catholics were less anti-semitic than their Orthodox neighbors. My point was that because both groups’ anti-semitism was diffused via the Church, both groups’ terminology referring to Jews would evolve differently (despite, as in this case, all being the subjects of the same monarch).
    That ONE given term (Russian ZHID) was/is pejorative in Russian when similar Lithuanian and Polish forms were/are neutral says nothing, of course, about overall attitudes on Jews on the part of both groups.
    Speaking of the Church being the source for images/stereotypes on Jews: it is worth pointing out in this context that there is a Native language in Canada where the very word for “Jew”, because of its form, seems to be one of only two words to have entered the language via learned/church influence.

  132. rue des Juifs
    Judengasse 20, in Friedberg, Germany, is the site of an old Jewish ritual bath said to date from 1260. The place is small, tucked away, and not especially well-marked, or at least wasn’t when I visited about eight years ago. Ironically or providentially — take your pick — most of the names on the doorways were Ahmed, Mohammed and the like.
    Which affords a segue into the culinary realms also noted in this thread: A German visiting New York remarks to his host on how the local bagels are so wonderful and that you just can’t get one at all in Germany. His host responds, “So whose fault is that?”
    See here for more on the bath (in German).

  133. marie-lucie says:

    There is a detailed article juiverie in Wikipedia.fr, which first describes the Jewish quarters referred to by that term in towns and cities, in France and (with similar names, eg Italian Giudecca) in various European countries. At the end is a paragraph warning of the very derogatory modern use of the French word (merci Etienne for your note).
    The article has a map of France showing where such streets and areas are attested, and a link to a map of Europe, where “Jewish streets” are or were once common (as in Lithuania, etc as discussed above).

  134. marie-lucie says:

    m-l, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Student_Struggle_for_Soviet_Jewry has good examples of non-pejorative modern AmEng usage. Perhaps French-language discourse about the refuseniks from a sympathetic POV would have used a slightly different lexical formulation?
    I know that the word Jewry appears to be neutral in AmEng usage, as I said earlier. The Wiki article does not have counterparts in other languages, but if translated into French I would expect to see les Juifs de Russie or les Juifs de l’URSS as equivalents for “Soviet Jewry”. Such terms would be neutral.

  135. Bathrobe says:

    I once heard an admittedly loud-mouthed Englishman warning against doing business with “Jewboys”.

  136. SFReader says:

    Regarding pejorative meaning of Zhid in Russian, I think it may have been connected in popular usage with similar sounding word ‘zhadny’ ‘greedy’.
    Hence, sometimes word Zhid would be used to refer to people who are perceived as greedy (without implying anything about ethnicity)

  137. The best thing is that, according to Littré, in French (of Littré’s time) “Jew” and “Arab” can both mean ‘a greedy person’.

  138. But actually I wanted to remind, that Lithuania treated Vilnius as its occupied capital before WWII.
    Yes, and their propaganda was so successful that (as Snyder says): “When Lithuanian troops marched into Vilnius on 28 October 1939, they were shocked to find ‘instead of the princess of their fairy tales, the streets of alien Wilno, unknown, speaking a foreign language.’” (He is quoting S. Kairys, “Iš Vilniaus sugrizus?” Mintis 10 [1939]: 330.)

  139. (He is quoting S. Kairys, “Iš Vilniaus sugrizus?” Mintis 10 [1939]: 330.)
    When I read this book, I always thought that Snyder doesn’t read Lithuanian. I was about to change my opinion after I saw hat’s citation, when I decided then to google it up a little bit. Turned out that a machine-readable pdf version of Snyder’s book gives
    >> S. Kairys, “Iš Vilniaus sugrizus?” Mintis, 10, 1939, 330, cited after Kasperavicius, “Relitu-anizacja,”…
    Snyder’s candour is to be commended, though I do feel that it would be better if he took some time to learn to read Lithuanian. I feel similarly about one expert on Tibetan matters, Warren Smith, who reads Chinese well, but knows only a smattering of Tibetan. His subject is Tibetan nationalism, and an awful lot of the original documents of Tibetan nationalism are in Tibetan.

  140. “an awful lot of the original documents of Tibetan nationalism are in Tibetan.”
    i wonder why people can’t write about their own matters without being called nationalist, maybe they just write what they know the best, their own affairs, should they be studying chinese instead, to avoid such libeling
    i think that is relevant to all so called “nationalists”, pribalts including, if it’s not obvious nazi literature and propaganda of course, and i doubt tibetans would produce such kind, they just explore their own culture and tradition, or should
    everything be studied by only the western or chinese scholars to quailify as unbiased pure non- nationalist scholarship?
    people have a right to study their own culture, language, history and have their own vision and narrative of them, especially if those were undermined for centuries as being
    peasant or whatever in their own countries, the former oppressors becoming instantly victims just because the former oppressed at last got to have some freedom of self- determination and that drawing more defence and objection seems to me to be a bit double- standarded, one has to consider what was before too, as our proverb says ovoo bosgoogui bol shaazgai suuxgui “if there was no a hut, a magpie won’t sit on it”, everything is cause and consequence, and maybe that’s like historically fair too
    surely one wishes there could be more harmony between people and if the former oppressed could be more forgiving, but life is life and people’s former grievances and historical memory formed through centuries of oppression don’t get
    forgotten as quickly as one wishes

  141. bruessel says:

    “Historically it was also the English name of Judaea, as in the 15th-century Christmas carol “God rest you merry, gentlemen”, whose second verse begins “In Bethlehem in Jewry / this blessed babe was born”.
    Interestingly, this second verse does not appear in the widely used “Carols for Choirs”, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God_rest_you_merry,_gentlemen

  142. Bathrobe says:

    readさんの主観は強すぎますよ!
    minus273が言いたいのは、外国の学者がチベットの民族主義を研究している以上、チベット語ができないとうまく研究できないじゃないかということです。何も「チベット人が民族主義的な内容を書いては行けない」と言っている訳ではないです。

  143. @read: Sorry that that offended you. In fact I was saying nationalism as a neutral term, as a powerful current of thought which can do good things as bad. And for the record Warren is a staunch supporter of Tibetan independence, and has quite a sympathy to Tibetan nationalism.

  144. SFReader says:

    There is another Russian word “zhidkiy” ‘liquid’.
    Seems completely unrelated to Zhid, but I notice that there is a seemingly baffling expression “zhidok na raspravu/rasplatu” meaning ‘being indecisive, cowardly’
    I wonder if there are any Anti-Semitic connotations.

  145. well,okay, though i don’t know, if it was said there is an awful lot of tibetan literature on tibetan matters (affairs, studies) the sentence wouldn’t have caught my attention perhaps, i am not sure the term nationalism could be neutral cz
    thanks, Mr. B for kanjis, i thought I am starting to forget them not using everyday, a nice surprise
    “”zhidok na raspravu/rasplatu” meaning ‘being indecisive, cowardly’ I wonder if there are any Anti-Semitic connotations.”
    i don’t think there is any such meaning, jidkii means jidkii, the less concentrated liquid
    and the stress would fall on the second syllable to mean jewish if one wanted to say that, otherwise it wouldn’t be perceived like that, bc sounds then a completely different word, i guess, though what do i know, mean people are mean and could mean anything, people surely don’t think all the russians are mean and anti-semite, but that only the mean russians, which i believe are not the majority, are mean and anti-semite, xenophobic etc, the same goes of course about all other people of course regardless of nationalities
    how i see it

  146. “zhidkiy” ‘liquid’
    or diluted, watered down. No etymological relation, but there a few pun jokes, and (speaking of what feels offensive vs. what must be offensive in a linguist’s opinion) there is also an old PC-style ban on the superlative form жидчайший (Ozhegov insists that only самый жидкий “most diluted” ought to be in use)

  147. readさん、日本語読めますか。すごいね!

  148. kakenai kedo, sorry, i don’t have fonts too to type, though that must be an easily solved problem
    but i welcome your comments to me in Japanese, Mr. B and Mr. M, a very nice excuse for my reading, thanks!

  149. >The fact that Snyder actually knows the difference between Chancery Slavonic and Church Slavonic only increases my respect for the man.

  150. And he does a superb job of that. This is one of those books that makes my head spin around and completely reorients my ideas about history I thought I knew fairly well. (And man, Stalin almost gave Vilnius/Vilna/Wilno/Vil’nya to Belorussia instead of Lithuania! He seems to have changed his mind at the last moment and had all the Belorussian activists sent to the Gulag instead of put in high official posts.)

  151. Stalin almost gave Vilnius/Vilna/Wilno/Vil’nya to Belorussia
    I didn’t know about it! And to think that Belarus has then been expanded to include a large swath of today’s Poland anyway, it just doesn’t make good sense. I wonder what Hitler did to the regional boundaries, and how Memel has become Lithuania. Of course sometimes it’s nothing beyond of morbid curiosity, to try to decipher motives of deranged dictators…

  152. Re: Jewish street names, just noticed at the fav Riowang that the Jewish street in Lviv/Lwow/Lemberg is called Староєврейська (Staro-Evrejs’ka) which must be a change from the antebellum times of Polish rule.

  153. I’ve just finished reading Snyder myself: I had a couple of days with a lot of travel, so I brought it along and went through it. The thing that struck me most was the intense contrast between the early modern civic nation (here comes King Charles’s Head again!) of the Commonwealth with the modern ethnic nations of the four successor states (really six if you count Estonia and Latvia, which are no more than mentioned). And sure enough, the PLC Constitution of 1792 came right on the heels of the foreign constitutions of 1791 and 1789, and was chiefly founded on them. Unlike either of those, it triggered the Third Partition and the end of the state.
    But while one gentry republic was shredded by the neighbors, and another went fishing and wound up as lobster Thermidor, the oldest one survived and modernized using a different non-European path. There were spasms of Know-Nothing ethnic nationalism, some very long-lasting, and a civil war was fought between ethnic and civic nationalists. But the long-term trend was to steadily widen the gentry to eventually include not only all those born in the national territory, but all those who came there, provided they wanted it. I won’t call it unique, but it’s certainly exceptional.
    Could it have gone that way as well in Eastern Europe? Maybe. I made up the Republic of the Two Crowns on a whim when I knew much less about the Commonwealth than I do now. Other people who knew more took off with the idea:

    Preparations were already being made for a third partition: Russia planned the subsequent annexation of all Lithuania, including Volhynia; Prussia intended to take the territories East and South of East Prussia, including the Republic’s capital Warsina; and Austro-Dalmatia hoped to get expand its territory further north. At this point, with a third partition hanging in the air that threatened the Republic in its very existence, the nobility of the Republic of Both Nations finally woke up and decided to gather its forces. In 1795, king Głurzan II Poniatyk was dethroned and replaced with August IV, who successfully built an alliance with Scandinavia and Bohemia. Thus, he managed to prevent a third partition. However, pressure from both Prussia and Russia remained strong.

    After August’s death in 1803, a strongly democratized Sejm made a master move: it chose Napoleon as the new king. Napoleon accepted happily, because this would give him an important stronghold in Eastern Europe that would enable him to attack Prussia from both sides if he wanted. However, Napoleon was much more realistic and much less belligerent than he was *here*, and instead of attacking Prussia or Russia, he went for a diplomatic solution: he organised the Congress of Vienna (in 1815) in order to restore peace in Europe and to consolidate his power. One of the conditions he dictated was that Prussia had to give back all it had taken in the second partition, while Austro-Dalmatia was forced to return Galicia. Furthermore, Royal Hungary, which had been annexed by Austro-Dalmatia in 1766, became a semi-independent French protectorate, and Prussia was forced to return Silesia to Bohemia. Russia refused to participate in the congress, and although Napoleon repeatedly threatened to attack Russia, he never did so.

    [...]

    Napoleon’s reign over the Republic lasted till his death in 1825, and led to numerous innovations, including a strong decrease of the power of the nobility in favour of the king, and a new constitution that was adopted in 1821, in which the Liberum Veto was abolished. Needless to say that it wasn’t easy for Napoleon to convince the nobility to give up so much of its power. However, as a result of both his military strength and the credit he had gained for saving the Republic and reconquering the territories lost to Prussia and Austro-Dalmatia, he finally succeeded where previously king Anton of Bohemia had failed.

  154. marie-lucie says:

    I was looking at the comments very casually, trying to catch up but not really taking in what I was reading until I saw the name “Napoleon” and started to pay more attention to … what???? after the non-invasion of Russia I had to go back to the introduction before the quotation and understood it was “alternate history”. It would have been nice if only … Merci, JC!

  155. Wenedyk is one of my favourite languages! French speakers can surely sympathize with the retention of the old genetive plurals : I thought in one era the rex francorum was called li roi francour or something like that.

  156. marie-lucie says:

    minus: French speakers can surely sympathize with the retention of the old genetive plurals :
    What a thing to sympathize with! especially if there is only one instance in French, thoroughly disguised through reinterpretation. I did not know about it myself.
    I thought in one era the rex francorum was called li roi francour or something like that.
    The only thing I can find is le roi Francœur, a legendary character since rex franc(-)orum ‘the king of the Franks’ was misinterpreted as ‘king Francor’. Francour (if from francor(um)) would be an Occitan word, with the suffix -or (pronounced [ur] not [or]) transcribed into French as -our in the borrowed word. But the corresponding French suffix is -eur, and the French descendant of Francor (after losing the ending -um) would have to be spelled Franqueur or Francœur in order to indicate the sound [k] (not [s] before -eur).
    Francœur is much more likely as an interpretation of the sound sequence, which sounds exactly like franc cœur ‘free/true heart’. This would be a good mixed Germanic-Latin name or nickname for a king of Frankish origin, with a Germanic adjective in the Germanic prenominal position, followed by a noun of Latin origin for ‘heart’. There is no record of such a king (since the name results from a misinterpretation of a Latin form), but Francœur occurs as a family name.

  157. numerous innovations, including a strong decrease of the power of the nobility in favour of the king
    Wow, this isn’t very likely. Absolutism wasn’t the spirit of the 19C at all (and enlightened absolutism was an 18C phenomenon).
    Did Napoleon ever call himself king, rather than emperor? I think not, but I could be wrong.

  158. J.W. Brewer says:

    Napoleon took the title King of Italy for himself and made his brothers Kings of inter alia Spain and Holland. His Polish client state was the mere Duchy of Warsaw, however, with a non-family member holding down the role of Duke.

  159. Dwar Kronar: Remember, this is the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, where any member of the Sejm (the parliament) could not just veto a specific action, but shut down the entire session including any legislation it had already passed simply by shouting “I forbid it!” in Polish, the so-called liberum veto. Naturally, when you only have to bribe one member, manipulating Polish politics became a habit among all the neighboring countries.
    In addition, nobility is very misleading as a translation of Polish szlachta: they were at least 10% of the population. Snyder uses gentry instead and so do I. By no means all of them were either rich or politically powerful, but in effect they were the citizens (non-gentry did not count) and the liberum veto along with the elective monarchy were important parts of their civic rights.
    So what happened *there* is that Napoleon shifted the balance not toward absolute monarchy, but away from absolutist oligarchy ranging toward anarchy.

  160. Damn. I ought to have read the whole thing before opening my mouth. Sorry. I’ll run along.

  161. Back to the subtopic of Jewish Street in Poland:
    On the wonderful Rio Wang blog, I spotted this old photograph of the corner of Old Jewish street of Lemberg / Lwow / Lviv. The Polish street name plaque reads Ulica Starozakonna, Old Testament Street.

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