Yiddish on Duolingo.

Oscar Schwartz writes for the Guardian about the problems that arise when the language-learning app Duolingo tries to add endangered languages:

In October last year, Meena Viswanath, a 31-year-old civil engineer from Berkeley, California, joined a small team of volunteers who were developing a Yiddish course on Duolingo, the free language learning app with over 300 million users. Having grown up in the only Yiddish-speaking family in a majority English-speaking New Jersey neighborhood, the prospect of broadcasting her mother tongue to a global network of students was exciting.

Throughout October, Viswanath and three other contributors regularly met to discuss the curriculum over a shared Slack channel. They had a target to get the course up and running towards the end of 2020, and to begin, progress was solid. But then they hit a roadblock.

Yiddish, which combines elements of German, Hebrew, Aramaic and Slavic, is a language of many dialects corresponding to the different regions of Europe where they emerged. The differences in pronunciation and grammar between these dialects are subtle, but for a native speaker they carry meaningful information about identity, culture and religious affiliation.

If you hear someone speaking Central European Yiddish, Viswanath explained to me, it would be a relatively safe bet that they are from a Hassidic community in Brooklyn. Whereas a speaker of Northern European Yiddish is more likely to have been taught at a secular university or school. So whose dialect was going to be digitally archived as the Yiddish dialect?

Uncertain how to navigate this impasse, the team drafted a poll and posted it online, inviting others to vote. It triggered a community-wide debate: some felt that the Northern dialect, which closely matches the written form, was most appropriate. Others argued that Central Yiddish, which is most widely spoken, made more sense. This was further heightened by a fraught history. There were 13 million Yiddish speakers before the Holocaust; today the number hovers at around half a million. Teaching a dialect, therefore, is seen by many as a defiant homage to what was lost.

“People felt like this was not just a question about a dialect, but a political, socio-cultural question,” Viswanath said. “And we realized that we were going to make a lot of people angry, no matter what we picked.”

The piece goes on to discuss Scottish Gaelic, Hawaiian, and Navajo; as Schwartz writes:

But languages do not become endangered peacefully, and the diminution of native speakers is often embedded in histories of colonialism and suppression. For many communities who speak their tongue within a dominant culture, linguistic education is thus tied up with political resistance. And when Duolingo adds endangered languages to its platform, the company inevitably becomes entangled in this historical context.

Thought-provoking stuff; thanks, Kobi! (If anyone’s interested in Ms. Viswanath, here’s an oral history: “Meena Lifshe Viswanath, engineer, native Yiddish speaker, and granddaughter of Mordkhe Schaechter, was interviewed by Christa Whitney on August 18, 2017 at Yidish-Vokh in Copake, New York.”)

Comments

  1. Stu Clayton says:

    So whose dialect was going to be digitally archived as the Yiddish dialect?

    You can “digitally archive” both or all Yiddish variants. Imagine how silly it would be for someone nowadays to start a fuss about what kind of English is the English.

  2. elements of German, Hebrew, Aramaic and Slavic
    Handel Ehrlekh, a Yiddish Monopoly.

  3. David Marjanović says:

    …So Yiddish has preserved the cognate of dare, which hasn’t otherwise been seen in German in centuries!

    And tzuvishin “among” looks Semitic enough it fooled me, but it’s obviously zwischen “between”. 🙂

  4. And tzuvishin “among” looks Semitic enough it fooled me, but it’s obviously zwischen “between”.

    Ha, very nice!

  5. …So Yiddish has preserved the cognate of dare, which hasn’t otherwise been seen in German in centuries!

    Was that in the article?

  6. Stu Clayton says:

    And tzuvishin “among” looks Semitic enough it fooled me, but it’s obviously zwischen “between”.

    Reminds me of northern Plattdeutsch: twischen, twüschen, tüschen, tüsken. Another word up there for zwischen, I read, is mang/mank. Now I understand the Rheinland expression mittenmang = mitten drin a bit better.

  7. Stu Clayton says:

    DWDS:

    # zwischen Präp. ‘innerhalb zweier (räumlicher oder zeitlicher) Begrenzungen, innerhalb einer Menge’. Aus adverbiell gebrauchten präpositionalen Verbindungen wie ahd. untar zwisken ‘unter, in der Mitte von zweien’, untar in zwisken ‘untereinander’ (9. Jh.), auch zusammengezogen untarzwisken sowie inzwiscon, mhd. under, in zwischen, enzwischen entwickelt sich die einfache Form mhd. zwischen, zwüschen, (md.) zwuschen Adv. und Präp., mnd. twisken, twischen, mnl. tusscen, twussen, twisscen, nl. tussen. Auszugehen ist daher von einem Dativ Plural des sowohl distributiven wie kollektiven Zahladjektivs ahd. zwiski ‘zweifach, zu zweit, zweiteilig, abermalig’, Plur. ‘beide’ (8. Jh.), mhd. zwisc, zwisch ‘zweifach, je zwei’, Plur. ‘beide’, asächs. twisk ‘zweifach’, das germ. *twiska- bzw. *twiskja- voraussetzt; vgl. dazu auch aengl. betweoh, betwux, betwisc , engl. (älter) betwixt ‘dazwischen’. Es handelt sich um eine Bildung mit dem Suffix ie. -ko- zum Multiplikativadverb ie. *du̯is ‘zweimal’; s. dazu ↗Zwilling und ↗Zwirn. In bezug auf zeitliche Grenzen steht zwischen seit dem 14. Jh. #

  8. David Marjanović says:

    Was that in the article?

    The article quotes keyner tor zikh mit dir nisht khavren and translates it as “nobody is allowed to act friendly towards you”.

  9. Stu Clayton says:

    tor zikh = traut sich ? Berlin 19C (präzisiert DWDS): die Traute. I know that slangy word from reading only.

  10. David Eddyshaw says:

    But languages do not become endangered peacefully

    Actually, they do, and quite often at that. Hausa is gobbling up neighbouring languages quite fast without a shot being fired, for example.

    The Irish language is spoken by approximately 1.8 million people worldwide

    In the sense that I “speak” Russian, sure. (I did a bit in school once.)

  11. Stu Clayton says:

    In Texas in the 60s it was fashionable to “learn the language of the enemy”. That’s why I started Russian, and carried on for another 10 years off and on. Was there a wave of incitement to patriotic preparedness in Wales ?

  12. David Eddyshaw says:

    This was in Scotland. Red Clydeside, no doubt; the language of our Friends. And after all, we share a patron saint.

  13. John Cowan says:

    the cognate of dare

    For whatever reason, thüren has an entry in Wikt.en (but not Wikt.de). Does it appear in literature that is still read, perhaps?

    tsuvishin obviously zwischen

    After an echo of the Open Syllable Law has gotten through with it, that is.

    But where did you get these examples from, the oral history?

  14. Stu Clayton says:

    thüren has an entry in Wikt.en

    That’s the plural of obsolete Türe “door”. Ain’t no such German verb as thüren in the last few hundred years, if there ever was one in common literary use. What you’re looking for is (sich) trauen “dare to”, as far as I can make out.

  15. No, trauen is neither here nor there; this is an ancient preterite-present verb, Proto-Germanic *durzaną — you can see cognate forms there, and there appears to be a Low German dören and, yes, a High German t(h)üren: thar, thurste, gethurst.

  16. Stu Clayton says:

    No, trauen is neither here nor there

    Aha. David’s “cognate of dare” was, as he later said, based on

    # The article quotes keyner tor zikh mit dir nisht khavren and translates it as “nobody is allowed to act friendly towards you”.#

    So this tor is darf ? What role does zikh play ? Does it belong to khavren and has been “pulled forward”, as happens with reflexive Spanish se ?

    When is this türen supposed to have been in use ? There are no citations. I find the word neither in Grimm nor DWDS.

    I still can’t imagine a semantic connection, however tenuous, between “dare” and “be allowed”.

  17. What role does zikh play ? Does it belong to khavren and has been “pulled forward”, as happens with reflexive Spanish se ?
    I assume so, it looks like standard German syntax (except for the double negation): “Keiner darf sich mit dir anfreunden”.

  18. Stu Clayton says:

    Ok, that’s standard for sure. I just didn’t hit on sich anfreunden as a construal crutch.

  19. The 1908 edition of Hermann Paul’s Deutsches Wörterbuch has türren and labels it “altneuhochdeutsch (16.17.Jhdt)”; apparently it is found in older editions of Luther’s bible translation.

  20. So this tor is darf ?

    No, darf is also neither here nor there; that’s from a different verb, Proto-Germanic *þurbaną.

  21. Stu Clayton says:

    No, darf is also neither here nor there

    It may not be here, but it’s certainly there at the end of the Wiktionary thüren article you linked to: “see dürfen“. Thus my question. Following on the quoted translation as “be allowed to”.

  22. Yeah, I don’t know why they stuck that “See also” in there; it just serves to confuse people.

  23. PlasticPaddy says:

    There seem to be two verbs in proto-germanic which got muddled in daughter languages due to later sound changes. One means to be bold and the other means to satisfy or need in order to be satisfied. English only kept the bold one and German kept the needy one.

  24. Stu Clayton says:

    Yeah, I don’t know why they stuck that “See also” in there; it just serves to confuse people.

    A caprice of experteece, I imagine.

  25. Stu Clayton says:

    One means to be bold and the other means to satisfy or need in order to be satisfied.

    Insolence !

  26. John Cowan says:

    Oops, my changes expired. Strike the last question, and note that thüren had the irregular 3sg present thar, preterite thurst and participle gethurst. The English preterite durst is archaic and literary, having been displaced by the participle dared.

  27. Stu Clayton says:
  28. note that thüren had the irregular 3sg present thar, preterite thurst and participle gethurst

    As I said in my 3:05 pm comment.

  29. @Stu Clayton: We used to sing that in my high school German class all the time. The teacher was generally sympathetic to disruptions, if the the disruptions were in German.

  30. David Marjanović says:

    Argh, none of what I mentioned is in the Guardian article; I was talking about the blog post about the Yiddish Monopoly derivative!

    Does it appear in literature that is still read, perhaps?

    Probably not; I’ve never noticed it.

  31. John Cowan says:

    English only kept the bold one and German kept the needy one.

    The verb tharf did make it into Middle English, though. In Scots the word lost its /f/ somehow and became thair. Wikt gives the exemplum Ye thurst nae scraugh sa lood ‘You didn’t need to scream so loud.’ To which I reply: “Scotland, a thrie-leidit fowkrick.”

    However, the DSL says that the preterite was thurt in Older Scots, and that thurst is probably by analogy with English durst. The cognate of dare, daur, originally meant ‘be afraid, put in fear’; modern uses of daur as ‘dare’ reflect etymological nativization.

  32. Stu Clayton says:

    @Brett: We used to sing that in my high school German class all the time.

    You must have had a very cool teacher. Here too an adult will start chanting it as a joke, when he’s with friends and the eats get delayed. Banging knife and fork on the table like that, even virtual cutlery, is an essential part.

    I’m talking Rheinland here, don’t know about Austria.

  33. >English only kept the bold one

    Is thirst unrelated?

  34. John Cowan says:

    Yes, that’s PIE *ters- ‘dry’ as in terra ‘dry land’. Note that torrens in Latin originally meant ‘scorching’ and only later ‘rushing’ as in torrential.

  35. Does it appear in literature that is still read, perhaps?

    Probably not; I’ve never noticed it.
    Same here. As it’s not in Grimm, it probably didn’t make it past early Modern High German.

  36. David Marjanović says:

    I’m talking Rheinland here, don’t know about Austria.

    It’s something I know from German TV. But by now probably everyone knows it from German TV, and it’s really useful, so it has probably spread…

  37. Many language courses would improve by having more dialects in them. At least they should have accents from different areas, even if there is no time to introduce vocabulary or grammar from more than one dialect. I assume the problem with Yiddish is less the many dialects, and more the lack of a recognised standard language used by television hosts and singers. TV is great at uniting language, isn’t it.

    I’m not sure which English standard is used in Duolingo courses, maybe somebody here knows? It’s definitely not all Englishes.

  38. >>>>Wir haben Hunger, Hunger, Hunger, haben Durst

    >>>@Brett: We used to sing that in my high school German class all the time.

    >>You must have had a very cool teacher. Here too an adult will start chanting it as a joke, when he’s with friends and the eats get delayed. Banging knife and fork on the table like that, even virtual cutlery, is an essential part.

    >>I’m talking Rheinland here, don’t know about Austria.

    >It’s something I know from German TV. But by now probably everyone knows it from German TV, and it’s really useful

    Is the food chronically late in German-speaking lands?

  39. In my Young Pioneers days the verse was

    Открывайте шире двери, а то повара съедим
    Поварятами закусим, а дежурными запьем
    Ложки-вилки поломаем, а столовую взорвем

    Open the doors and wider, otherwise we will eat the cook
    His little helpers are for appetizers and the duty staff we’ll drink
    We will break spoons and forks and will blow up the canteen.

    So the German version is much nicer and with a melody to boot…

  40. Is the food chronically late in German-speaking lands?
    Not more than elsewhere, in my experience. You normally won’t hear that songs in restaurants or cafés, except if it’s a place with higher levels of inebriation, more likely at big family gatherings or at events where people are at least somewhat familiar, like company parties or the annual bash of your amateur sports club.

  41. John Cowan says:

    I have been known to do the virtual cutlery thing in crowded NYC restaurants, but I chant “FOOOOD! FOOOOD!” in the voice of a zombie saying “BRAAAAINS! BRAAAAINS!” Not too loud, though.

    Zombie political rallies:

    Speaker: What do we want?

    Crowd: BRAAAAINS!

    Speaker: When do we want it?

    Crowd: BRAAAAINS!

    Zombie chants work best with low vowels.

  42. it’s fascinating to me (as a yiddishist) that viswanath – and other commentators – seem to consistently omit the third option given in the dialect poll that Duolingo did, and to consistently characterize the two they do mention in the specific geographical/religious ways they do.

    the three options were:

    “hasidic”: contemporary hasidic yiddish – yes, derived largely from certain ‘central’/’southwestern’ yiddish dialects, but distinct largely because of its evolution in north america and palestine over the 75 years since the nazi attempted genocide. the largest living dialect, and the one spoken by the overwhelming majority of native speakers, who are from the hasidic stream of ritual (ultra-)observance. not formally codified, and without a lot of pedagogical materials, since it is hardly ever taught as a non-native language (and hasidic education systems largely ignore it as a potential subject).

    “klal-shprakh”: the YIVO institute’s academic standard yiddish – yes, derived largely from ‘northeastern’ yiddish dialects, but distinct because of its status as a deliberately created (in the early/mid 20th century) supplementary register for scholarly and literary writing. the most commonly taught dialect, and now spoken natively by a fairly small number of people, who are mainly not particularly ritually observant if at all. interestingly, its advocates mainly refuse to acknowledge it as a living dialect – which it has clearly become – and generally teach it as if it may not be allowed to change from its codified version, refusing the possibility of linguistic evolution, deliberate or otherwise.

    and, unmentioned by most commentators:

    “southeastern”: (less clear, but presumably) the theatrical standard vernacular yiddish – yes, derived largely from the ‘southeastern’ yiddish dialect of volin [volhynia], but distinct largely because of its century-plus history as a worldwide, cross-class lingua franca for performance. closest of the three to the ‘southeastern’ dialects spoken by the historical majority of native yiddish speakers, and likely the most common in archival recordings, especially songs, by native speakers (in my experience, quite noticeably so, even fairly often when the recording is of someone who’s not a southeasterner). rarely formally taught at present (and primarily in theater contexts in the past).

    the omission of the third option allows simplistic framings of “authenticity” vs “standardization”, “religion” vs “secularism”, “living native speakers” vs “academics and new speakers”. with it in the mix, none of those dichotomies holds up particularly well.

    and the geographical characterization makes it – as i see it – damn near impossible to see the very different purposes that each choice would serve, and the near-incomensurability of them. none of these (except maybe the third) are, linguistically speaking, historical regional dialects: hasidic yiddish isn’t CY/SWY; YIVO-yidish isn’t NEY; theater-yiddish isn’t SEY. all three are possible contemporary standard versions of the language, but they represent different criteria for standardization and different histories of use and scope more meaningfully than they do the different regions where their source-dialects were historically rooted.

  43. What an extraordinarily informative and eye-opening comment; thanks very much!

    its advocates mainly refuse to acknowledge it as a living dialect – which it has clearly become – and generally teach it as if it may not be allowed to change from its codified version, refusing the possibility of linguistic evolution, deliberate or otherwise.

    Argh, I hate that kind of purism; why are people so addicted to One Right Way?!

  44. @languagehat:

    many thanks for your kind words!

    and it is certainly an odd thing – i think it’s to some extent an accidental result of the particular history of YIVO-yidish as something that was never intended to be a vernacular.

    the folks who devised it were trying to create a primarily written additional register, whose users would all have a native regional dialect. not entirely a bad idea (however much it rubs descriptivist me the wrong way), in a period when the very idea of scholarly writing in yiddish was widely dismissed. and they did it reasonably, starting with a standardized spelling system (theoretically usable by all dialects, and decently historically defensible, though wildly at odds with the pronunciation of the plurality/majority of speakers) and some grammatical preferences (which they didn’t all always observe in their own writing, where it differed from their native dialects). very much *not* the same One Right Way project as the state-enforced/propagated standardization projects in turkish or french… (it resonates pretty strongly for me with john tait’s writing on scots that you’ve posted about)

    but after the attempted genocide, and with the yiddish cultural revitalization movement that began in the 1970s, the actual, practical status of YIVO-yidish changed. simply because it was the version of the language being most widely taught, and almost the only one being taught by folks with an ideological commitment to the language (as opposed to maintaining it as a sometimes specifically valued, sometimes incidentally appreciated, element of some hasidic communities’ particularity). it became many non-native-speakers’ sole dialect, and began to have native speakers itself. at this point, it’s very much a living dialect – likely the second most widely spoken – but it’s not taught that way.

    which leads to some emphatically silly things that arguably hurt the spread of yiddish learning and speaking. for instance: YIVO-yidish, as taught, still insists on the alternate misogynist forms of occupational nouns (לערער [lerer] \ [lererin] לערערין – “teacher” / “teacheress”, for example), rather than simply allowing the use of the appropriate pronoun for the person with the basic word. (this is made even more of a problem by the use of the same suffixes to mark “woman who does X” and “wife of a man who does X”, though the forms are nominally distinct for any given word). even english has done better, for decades now. a language whose revitalization movement is largely made up of women, and deeply shaped by a huge feminist and queer presence, is particularly ill-served by it.

    folks interested in this history should take a look at writing by dovid katz and s.a. birnbaum (both dissenters from the YIVO mode of standardization as well as massively important yiddish scholars), as well as cecile kuznitz’ history of YIVO…

  45. a language whose revitalization movement is largely made up of women, and deeply shaped by a huge feminist and queer presence

    I did not know that! Where can I read more about it?

  46. John Cowan says:

    alternate misogynist forms

    From an English perspective. Standard German sticks firmly to Lehrer, Lehrerin but has added the written-only plural LehrerInnen ‘teachers (m. and f.)’, where the capital I distinguishes it from the plural of Lehrerin; there is no singular noun meaning ‘teacher (m) or teacher (f)’ that I know of. In French, there are two competing endings -euse (18C) in France and -eure (20C) in Quebec, but no single word either singular or plural.

    In pre-1917 Russian, there were only a tiny number of cases in which there were different agent nouns for men and women (I remember ткач tkach m, ткачи́ха tkachíkha) f as one of them). This was because Imperial Russian society simply didn’t admit the possible existence of a female general (генера́л generál) or a male milkmaid ( доя́рка doyárka). Consequently, after the Revolution most of these words were applied, complete with their genders and gender endings, to both (recognized) genders, and I bet there was a lot of giggling in the first generation. There is now a (back-formed?) доя́р doyár; however, I don’t know how strictly gender separation is observed today.

    What do people who actually speak YIVO Yiddish say nowadays?

  47. It’s a weird situation, since practically everyone who learns YIVO Yiddish is learning it as a heritage language, to appreciate their ancestral culture. However, there is not a large population of remaining native speakers, or at least not a population of native speakers that most secular YIVO learners are particularly interested in talking to. Nor is there a strong feeling that we need to bring back our linguistic patrimony as a vibrant spoken vernacular and a medium for sophisticated written communication, because Jews already did that with our primary heritage language.

    Of course, as with all questions of Jewish culture today, this may all be different in different places. I am giving an American viewpoint, and things may not be the same in the vicinity of the other pole of modern Jewish culture, in Israel.

  48. Standard German sticks firmly to Lehrer, Lehrerin but has added the written-only plural LehrerInnen ‘teachers (m. and f.)’, where the capital I distinguishes it from the plural of Lehrerin; there is no singular noun meaning ‘teacher (m) or teacher (f)’ that I know of.
    You can also write LehrerIn if you want to be gender-neutral in the singular, e.g. in job advertisements.

  49. >Argh, I hate that kind of purism; why are people so addicted to One Right Way?!

    The idea of maintaining the living status of a language is usually motivated by the desire to maintain a shared group identity. Why do people try at all to consciously create and maintain shared identities, a project which inherently involves rejecting other ways of conceiving and sponsoring identity?

    Given that languages do in fact split into dialects based on patterns of geographic or even factional departure from a group norm, and that this can make the project of language (and group identity) resuscitation more difficult, it’s understandable that some would want to try to slow down or stop that process as part and parcel of the effort to hold together the group. A corollary is that people differ on the nature of their shared identity, and that will sometimes involve struggle to control the development of a language.

    I think purists have an organic role in the process of language evolution. They’re as important and reasonable as innovators. I don’t think it’s accurate to say that it never works. Most attempted language change probably aborts spontaneously at the moment of conception, because of the primal peever – the listener who snorts and makes a snide remark about whatever has been said weirdly or mispronounced. The peevers you react to are doing the same at one level removed, when a potential change has a sometimes tiny foothold but hasn’t become established. I see no ethical obligation to foster each new potential change just because some subgroup has started talking that way.

    Another way of thinking about it: Which of these seems the lighter intervention — my telling you you should really learn Yiddish and raise your children in it rather than English or Hebrew; my telling you that if you want to use Yiddish, I and my friends created a standard dialect that will help you communicate with more people, making it more likely Yiddish will survive; or my telling you that since you use Yiddish, there are a handful of usages you should adopt rather than other usages.

    To me the effort to save a language seems like a colossal intervention into the natural evolution of language usage; the effort to talk at all about a standard dialect a pretty major intervention; and the effort to hold to certain forms and usages within a language or dialect a fairly minor and normal aspect of linguistic development. I see the reasons for each. I have a hard time understanding why people get so peeved at peevers.

  50. David Eddyshaw says:

    In this context, I would think that getting peeved at the peevers is a consequence of supposing that what is being proposed as the linguistic symbol of the continuing vitality of the community is an artificially created language, and that this could be taken to imply that there is something artificial about the whole project: that it’s an ingenious replica instead of a preservation. I can understand people being annoyed about that, even if I might dispute their interpretation of the facts.

    It’s interesting that the artificiality (in the beginning) of modern Hebrew seems to have slipped under the radar in this respect. Or did it? There are Hatters who will know …

    I gather (si parva licet componere magnis) that there is a dispute among the hardy souls trying to revive Cornish, between the purists who push a version not unlike Literary Welsh, modelled on the mediaeval literature, and those who advocate something rather more like Modern Welsh, to some extent actually based on the language as it really was when it was last spoken.

  51. I see no ethical obligation to foster each new potential change just because some subgroup has started talking that way.

    Boy, talk about a false dichotomy. Who’s talking about “fostering each new potential change”? That’s like saying if I object to murder, I must want to prevent any death at all, and then what about overpopulation? There is no comparison whatever between the desire to force people to toe a line and the desire to let people speak and act as they wish; one is tyranny and the other liberty. I’ve had this “being against peevery is just another kind of peevery!” sophistry thrown at me before, and I don’t care for it.

  52. David Marjanović says:

    LehrerInnen ‘teachers (m. and f.)’, where the capital I distinguishes it from the plural of Lehrerin;

    Also Lehrer*innen, Lehrer.inn.en, Lehrer_innen and maybe a few more. The precise usage sometimes allows inferences about the writer’s precise ideological position.

    Occasionally pronounced with a pause/glottal stop, i.e. as two words.

    there is no singular noun meaning ‘teacher (m) or teacher (f)’ that I know of.

    Other than LehrerIn, there’s Lehrkraft, a more abstract word that’s more like “member of the teaching body”. As it happens it’s grammatically feminine.

    You can also write LehrerIn if you want to be gender-neutral in the singular, e.g. in job advertisements.

    Job advertisements mostly go for Lehrer (m/w/d), combining the shortest form (always masculine) with an explicit statement that nobody is (illegally) excluded.

    (d is for divers and corresponds to an X in the passport.)

    But referring to a known woman as a masculine Lehrer is only possible for the sake of the rhyme: Gehrer, bleib Lehrer.

    (…and even that, it just occurs to me, is only because making feminine forms for surnames has fallen out of fashion – surprisingly recently, as we’ve talked about in another thread.)

  53. Trond Engen says:

    rozele: (it resonates pretty strongly for me with john tait’s writing on scots that you’ve posted about)

    Also the conception of Nynorsk (Aasen’s Landsmaal).

  54. John Cowan says:

    I have a hard time understanding why people get so peeved at peevers.

    Primarily because of their fake facts, unsound arguments, and general moralism.

    a dispute among the hardy souls trying to revive Cornish

    The dispute is pretty much over, insofar as any dispute between Celts can be said to be over. All the factions have agreed to accept each others’ spoken forms, as there was never a problem with mutual intelligibility. The SWF (Single or Standard Written Form, depending on who you ask) is a diaphonemic orthography that bridges Middle Cornish (which is really early modern) and Late Cornish pretty well, and is closest to Kernewek Kemmyn, the numerically predominant and Late Cornish-based (i.e. English-like) pre-SWF orthography. Cornwall officialdom accepts any kind of orthography “for personal use”, as if they had any right to reject it: if I chooze (or chuse) to spell like this, who’s to stop me?

    The remaining die-hards have accepted the SWF too for official purposes, but dislike some of the choices made for “umbrella graphs”, as the SWF calls them; for example, oo bridges /u:/ and /o:/ but was never used in any historic orthography, and the die-hards think people will laugh at it because of the coincidence with English. A few of their proposals were adopted into the current SWF, and a few “traditional graphs” like wh instead of hw are to be accepted officially but not to be taught in schools.

    See also my previous comments on Cornish.

    Lehrkraft, a more abstract word that’s more like “member of the teaching body”. As it happens it’s grammatically feminine.

    Hmm. Something happened there: OE cræft m. (yet another of those strong a-stems) and ON kraftr m. > Icelandic and Faroese kraftur m. But all the modern Germanic languages of the Continent seem to make it f. if they have feminine gender at all, with the exception of some Bokmål users who both distinguish m. and f. and make this particular word m. (in Nynorsk it is firmly f.) Faroese also has kraft f. in addition to kraftur, presumably borrowed from an earlier state of Danish.

    My guess is that the feminine gender spilled over from Latin and Romance somehow: VL *fortia f. < the CL adjective fortis, which has the same form in m. and f. but not n. French has vigueur f. even though Latin vigor is m.; however, I don’t know if this is a native French word or an adapted borrowing, what Spanish calls a semicultismo. The gender then spread: for example, Old Saxon (and perhaps Old Dutch too) has f. despite not being in direct touch with French.

  55. January First-of-May says:

    In pre-1917 Russian, there were only a tiny number of cases in which there were different agent nouns for men and women

    It didn’t help that many of the obvious feminine-suffix terms (генеральша comes to mind) already meant “wife of male X” instead of “female X”.

    Wiktionary tells me that учительница “female teacher” is pre-1917; presumably the profession was by then well represented in either gender (as it still is).

  56. And of course there’s писательница.

  57. Nurse, as in Florence Nightingale, was mainly a female occupation and in Russian nurses of female persuasion are called медсестра, ostensibly from medical sister (were they originally nuns? I am too lazy to investigate). Naturally, calling a male nurse sister is too queer and the word медбрат was born.

  58. There was this thing called sisters of charity (sestra miloserdiya).

    Not nuns, just lay women dressing a bit like nuns to care for the sick.

    Don’t ask why they had to look like nuns.

  59. making feminine forms for surnames has fallen out of fashion

    German had feminine forms for surnames?

  60. Helena Wißlerin von Rotenburg, Barbara Schillingin, Margretha Rechnerin, Anna Dürrin, Anna Kürzin, Barbara Dischmacherin von Kirchheim, Anna Huberin von Kirchheim, etc.

    The list is from 18th century book. Feminine surnames went out of fashion in standard German in 19th century, but regional dialects still have it.

  61. Lars Mathiesen says:

    As soon as Old Saxon has kraft f., the Hanse will explain all of the Nordic languages. Old Swedish seems to have had krapter which must be masculine,

    I think the individualizing use of Lehrkraft must be pretty new. Danish has arbejdskraft which used to be uncountable (~ ‘workforce’) but a worker can now be en arbejdskraft when they are not a resurse. I’ve encountered lærerkræfter pl. in Danish, but never lærerkraftlærer is enough. The metonomy from ‘skill/ability’ may have started with the military term stridskraft collective for ‘troops’ (attested late 19th).

  62. PlasticPaddy says:

    There are male and female noble titles in German, as elsewhere. For Freiherr there is even Freiin, an unmarried woman of this rank (Freifrau is her married counterpart).

  63. Freifrau

    should be translated into English as froufrou

  64. David Marjanović says:

    My guess is that the feminine gender spilled over from Latin and Romance somehow:

    I was going to say! 🙂 But maybe it’s copied from Macht f. “might, political power, supernatural power” which has, AFAIK, a feminine suffix of good pedigree.

    French has vigueur f. even though Latin vigor is m.

    Strangely, the French abstract -eur words are generally feminine (couleur, erreur…), even though almost all Latin -or words, abstract or not, were masculine… and the Latin exception that comes to mind is arbor f., which has become arbre m.!

    It didn’t help that many of the obvious feminine-suffix terms (генеральша comes to mind) already meant “wife of male X” instead of “female X”.

    In German we simply switched those, e.g. Professorin. But the address, switched along with it, is still Frau Professor.

    медсестра

    Krankenschwester, indeed traditionally nuns. Those of the male persuasion have had the whole new word Krankenpfleger “carer for the sick” coined for them.

    Feminine surnames went out of fashion in standard German in 19th century, but regional dialects still have it.

    Or at least did into the mid-20th century, from when there are Viennese attestations. They were completely unofficial by then.

    en arbejdskraft

    Oh yes, same over here.

    stridskraft

    Funnily enough, that one is a plurale tantum, Streitkräfte, in German. (Still a mass noun, though – not countable like American troops.)

  65. sjuksköterska c

    a nurse
    a senior nurse (ward nurse with university degree)
    Usage notes
    In Sweden, the title is used for female and male nurses alike, despite the female ending -erska. In Finland Swedish, the term sjukskötare is used instead.

    sjuksköterska

  66. Lars Mathiesen says:

    Denmark had/has two different job titles, both traditionally female: sygeplejerske ~ ‘registered nurse’ (now a bachelor-level professional degree) and sygeplejer ~ ‘nursing assistant’. (Patient contact was the female domain; males working in hospitals would be portører and get to move beds and stuff around, or be in charge of technical equipment — or be doctors, of course, but they often let the nurses do the talking anyway).

    The point is, a male sygeplejerske is just that, gendered suffix be damned, since the obvious other term was not available. (Since then sygeplejer has been subsumed into the job title social- og sundhedsassistent, but that happened after the first male nurses got jobs).

    For a brief spell (between when women started being doctors and professors and when their marital status stopped being relevant to address), etiquette specified Fru Doktor Hansen for the wife of a doctor while Doktor Fru Hansen would be a married female doctor. Professors were addressed as plain Professor Hansen, no Hr., but I think Professorinde Hansen as a form of address was gone before the first female professor was appointed.

    So can you say ‘a lot of troops’ using that word in German, I assume you can’t use viele with a mass noun? Großen Streitkräfte? Zahlreichen?

  67. PlasticPaddy says:

    @dm
    I think Streitkräfte is more analogous to “armed forces”, for which the singular is either specific, I. e. Army/Navy/Air Force or general, I. e. “branch of the armed forces”. Wiktionary cites Duden for Streitkraft, meaning presumably “branch of the armed forces”, but as you say, this is not used.

  68. Lars Mathiesen says:

    Also sjuksköterska is a shibboleth — only those to the manner born can handle [ɧiʷːkɧøːtɘʂkɑ].

    Sju söta sjuksköterskor skötte sju sjösjuka sjömän.

  69. were they originally nuns? I am too lazy to investigate

    Indeed. One of the selling points of Christianity from its earliest days was that it was a religious duty to nurse the sick, Christian or pagan. Consequently, nursing orders of nuns arose in both Western and Byzantine Christianity, and for a long time they were the only formal kinds of nurses.

    Before Florence Nightingale, secular nurses were totally unskilled: her real contribution was creating trained nursing from scratch and making it a respectable profession that ladies could enter, as well as turning hospitals from squalid places where people went to die into something much closer to modern standards. Most of that was simple hygiene and nutrition: she famously said to the first contingent of nurses in the Crimea that the strongest of them would be wanted at the wash-tub.

    Sister is still in order to address any nurse in BrE, though not in AmE where there were essentially no nuns, Catholic or Anglican, for a long time.

    Don’t ask why they had to look like nuns.

    Patients had been associating a nun’s habit with help and comfort for centuries. When religious and lay nurses worked side by side, it helped if they all looked the same. Anyone can use a stethoscope, but only doctors wear them, even if they never listen to a heartbeat in actual practice.

    krapter which must be masculine

    Wikt.en agrees that it was.

    a feminine suffix of good pedigree

    PIE *-tis, and yes, feminine. It was grimmandvernered into *-þiz with morphophonemic variants *-siz after dentals and *-tiz after obstruents, says Wikt (though obviously not all of them). It went unproductive after that and came out as -th, -d, -t in the usual way. Meanwhile in the Slavic lands *-tis became *-tь, so that Russian смерть smert’ and English death are cognate in their suffixes. (The Proto-Slavic prefix *sъ- makes the meaning ‘natural death’ when attached to the Slavic cognate of L mors, mortis, but I don’t know its etymology.)

  70. David Eddyshaw says:

    “Sister” is not actually used to address any nurse in the UK: it’s a rank. Basically a nurse in charge of a ward, or outpatient clinic, or the like.

    The male equivalent is the boring “charge nurse.” I once attempted to popularise “brother”; in vain, alas.

  71. Bruvver was the form of address used for fellow members of a trade union in England (cf Peter Sellers in I’m All Right Jack) – I’m not sure about Wales or Scotland – and now I don’t know if they have sister too or whether they’ve given up the whole thing.

    Under the sister in hospital-ward rank when I was young came the staff nurse and then the rest of the nurses.

    Anyone can use a stethoscope, but only doctors wear them
    Not according to the 1990s US soap ER. They’ve all got ’em. I don’t know but I’ve been told that nurses were treated so rudely by the public compared to doctors that hospitals mixed up the outfit tells like stethoscopes and white clogs. Nowadays, unless everyone’s wearing both, even the tea lady, you know the place is run by nazis.

  72. (Does anybody remember Heaven 17?)

  73. JW will.

    banned by the BBC due to concerns by Radio 1’s legal department that it libelled Ronald Reagan as he was the new US President
    “Radio 1’s legal department” – haha. Not exactly the Supreme Court.

  74. I imagine they banned Bonzo Goes To Bitburg too.

  75. David Eddyshaw says:

    nurses were treated so rudely by the public compared to doctors

    True, alas: most patients have enough gumption/self-control/primal fear to at least attempt to be polite when their turn finally arrives to see the doctor; seeing nurses, not so much. Though I must say that the great majority of patients display quite exemplary patience despite increasingly trying circumstances.

  76. great majority of patients display quite exemplary patience

    that’s why they are called patients

  77. Trond Engen says:

    Interesting punctuation in Hat’s latter link:

    In 2014, Beauvoir was one of the executive producers of the “Hit” television show for SBS Discovery Television featuring the comedian “Kristian Valen”

    (Some would probably say the scarequotes belong at ‘comedian’.)

  78. Feminine surnames went out of fashion in standard German in 19th century, but regional dialects still have it.

    There is a gap in my knowledge filled, thanks. So the character of Tolstoy’s great novel could have been translated into German as Anna Kareninin.

  79. Interesting punctuation in Hat’s latter link

    That’s not from my link; maybe from an article you reached from it?

  80. Trond Engen says:

    Oh? Yeah, right, sorry! I was interested in the name Jean Beauvoir.

  81. Stu Clayton says:

    the great majority of patients display quite exemplary patience
    … that’s why they are called patients

    Though outpatients can be impatient, they can’t be inpatients.

  82. The term for the head nurse of a shift is also “charge nurse” in America, regardless of their gender. And it is true, moreover, that most nurses routinely carry stethoscopes now. For nurse practitioners and nurses working off site (as well as paramedics and EMTs), it is an essential tool; and even some fairly routine nursing tasks, such taking blood pressure,* are easier with a stethoscope.

    * It’s easy to get the more important systolic pressure without a stethoscope, but the diastolic pressure is harder to get accurately without one.

  83. John Cowan says:

    I did distinguish between wearing and carrying: the nurses who see me generally have the ‘scope in their pockets, not around their necks. I’m going to see a neurologist this afternoon: I’ll keep my eyes open. (I have chronic nocturnal leg-thrashing, aka periodic limb movement disorder or PLMD, which has gotten bad enough that I’ve had to sleep in the living room for months.)

  84. … that’s why they are called patients

    Though outpatients can be impatient, they can’t be inpatients.
    It’s the season.

  85. Stu Clayton says:

    Is this a spasmodic behavior that goes on throughout the night ? All I know of from reports is that I supposedly snore and gabble to beat the band. As a bachelor I can stay in bed and choose not to believe any of it.

    It’s effectively non-existent if no one hears it or, on awakening, any aftermath. Berkeley should have paid more attention to such things, not only trees in a forest. Esse est percipi by the missus.

  86. Trond Engen says:

    The traditional Norwegian titles are sykepleierske or even older sykesøster for the educated nurse and hjelpepleierske/hjelpesøster for the nursing assistant. These were replaced by the genderlessly masculine sykepleier and hjelpepleier in the eighties. The latter has recently been redefined as the profession of helsefagarbeider “skilled health worker”, but I think hjelpepleier may still be used as a descriptive job title for those working in health institutions rather than e.g. as home assistants.

    A special class of nurse are helsesøster “(public) health nurse”, combining the educating and counceling role of the school nurse with following up on babies (and families) through their early years. I guess the title survived a generation longer because it was considered an integral part of the school system and meddling with it might confuse the most vulnerable kids, but it was eventually changed to helsesykepleier last year. The only nursing title now left with a feminine compound head is jordmor “midwife”.

  87. Stu Clayton says:

    sykepleierske

    What happened to the “f” and “g” ? I thought this was one big happy Sprachbund.

    In Spanish, who moved the “r” in cocodrilo ?

  88. David Eddyshaw says:

    jordmor

    “Earth-mother”? Bit New Age-y … or is this some less cosmic jord?

  89. @Languagehat:

    there’s been some published writing about the deep queerness of the yiddish cultural revitalization movement – alicia svigals talks about it in her (now classic) “Why We Do This Anyway: Klezmer as Jewish Youth Subculture”, and Dana Astmann’s “Freylekhe Felker: Queer Subculture in the Klezmer Revival” is focused more directly on it. both of those are from c.2000, though, and a lot has happened in the last 20 years that i don’t have citations ready to hand about.

    but a short list of key queer folks involved in building and sustaining the central institutions of the revitalization tells the story pretty well (even omitting a few folks whose preferences for public labels i don’t know about). i’ve only listed organizations that the listed folks founded, cofounded, or were in leadership positions in – they all have taught and performed at basically all the longstanding major sites of the revitalization (klezkamp, klezkanada, yiddish summer weimar, ashkenaz festival, yidish-vokh, YIVO, arbeter-ring, &c) and at the newer ones (yiddish new york, linke fligl, &c).

    adrienne cooper zts”l (klezkamp; arbeter-ring; hugely influential music scholar/educator);
    ethel raim (eastern european folklife ctr / center for trad music & dance; produced the concerts considered the formal start of the revitalization; hugely influential music scholar/educator);
    loren sklamberg (klezkamp; YIVO sound archive; klezmatics);
    jenny romaine (hugely influential theater scholar/educator; TASC purimshpil);
    irena klepfisz (poet; organizer; hugely influential scholar/educator);
    melanie kaye/kantrowitz zts”l (writer; organizer; JFREJ; hugely influential scholar/educator);
    eve sicular (music & film scholar/educator; metropolitan klezmer; isle of klezbos);
    alicia svigals (music scholar/educator; klezmatics).

    and that’s an abbreviated list of the most high-profile folks, skewed both towards those active since the 1970s and 80s, and towards nyc (because that’s what i know best, though it’s also probably the most influential node of the revitalization). some places within the movement (i won’t name them here) have been less hospitable to the queer presence, but even there the influence has been pretty deep – and some of the comparative coldness has been thawing as the generation taught and raised by these folks takes on leadership roles…

  90. John Cowan says:

    Stu: Sleep apnea, which I also have, can be fatal; one of the symptoms is heavy snoring. A CPAP machine treats me effectively. You might want to get a sleep study, especially if you have daytime sleepiness at all.

  91. rozele: Thanks very much! And focusing on NYC is fine by me; I still think of it as my town, though I’ve been away for fifteen years now…

  92. David Eddyshaw says:

    @rozele:

    Is there a historical reason for this? (I ask in pure curiosity: perfectly content if your response is “Does there have to be a reason?”)

  93. David Marjanović says:

    I assume you can’t use viele with a mass noun?

    No, and your other options don’t work either. Indeed I think the word is never indefinite; it comes with the definite article or a possessive pronoun.

  94. Trond Engen says:

    David E.: Earth-mother”? Bit New Age-y … or is this some less cosmic jord?

    A very eartlhy jord. The original form of the compound is probably *jǫrðumoðer with a dative singular. Danish still has jordemoder with -e-. The reason is that she was the one picking the baby up af jǫrðu “from the ground” at a time when babies were born on the floor — making it essentially the same image as in German Hebamme:

  95. David Eddyshaw says:

    A Kusaasi midwife is just a pu’adu’as “helper-of-a-woman-to-give-birth.” Not at all poetic, unlike the Norse branch of Scandi-Congo.

  96. David Marjanović says:

    Hebamme

    I had long wondered what heben “to lift” was doing in there!

  97. PlasticPaddy says:

    My association for Hebamme was English “heave” which would have a different and more visceral application to the act of childbirth. But the English sense of pushing or pulling at something is new and the verb seems to have meant “lift” formerly. It reminds me of the Irish obstetrics nurse who explained her specialisation to her family as “being on the rope”.

  98. David Marjanović says:

    Oh, I hadn’t even noticed it doesn’t mean “lift” anymore.

  99. Lifting is still a common meaning of heave; it dates back to Old English. However, references to other kinds of movement are attested back to ca. 1300, so the development of more general senses is not new.

    The childbirth-related sense of the word apparently existed in English a few hundred years ago, but the OED says it is obsolete, which agrees with my experience.

  100. @David Eddyshaw:

    that’s the Big Question that svigals and astmann try to take a stab at in their pieces from the turn of the century; there’s a fair amount of founder-effect, but it goes beyond that – and explaining the founders is basically the same question…

    my few cents on it:

    embracing yiddish (language & culture), outside the hasidic communities where it’s the main cradle-tongue, does two main things in the contemporary jewish context, all of which make it particularly appealing to queer and feminist folks.

    first, it insists on a jewishness that isn’t defined through ritual practice – a /veltlekher yidishkayt/, whether or not it uses that phrase – or through blood quantum / rabbinical criteria of bloodline. that’s particularly meaningful for queer folks and feminists, having been largely excluded from communities of ritual practice (almost completely, until recently) and often having complicated relationships with our blood families and communities of origin.

    second, it insists on a jewishness that is diasporically oriented, and committed to maintaining continuity with the (wildly varied) histories and traditions of the various jewish communities and cultures that have emerged throughout the world since the earliest appearances of jewishness as we know it. this stands in specific contrast to the core zionist principle of /shlilat hagalut/ (jabotinsky’s gloss, “the liquidation of the diaspora”, is still the most accurate), and the project of wiping out all existing jewish cultures and replacing them with a single nationalist culture that it has driven.
    while many different kinds of jews (from ultra-observant communities to secular radical ones) have rejected the zionist project, either explicitly or in practice, for the past 40ish years the most consistent opposition (both in palestine and elsewhere) has come from feminists and queer folks, whose politics are most directly at odds with racial/religious nationalism and militarism. diasporism (as melanie kaye/kantrowitz described it in her wonderful The Colors of Jews), is what that opposition looks like as a positive practice – and for jews whose lineages go back to the yiddish-speaking communities of eastern europe, that means yiddishism.

    together, that makes yiddishism (and other diasporist jewishnesses, like sefardi & mizrakhi positions grounded in levantinity, neo-ottomaniyya, or pan-arabism) a space of particular possibility for feminist and queer folks who want jewishness in our lives. and for folks coming into the yiddish world today, even more than when i did 25 years ago, the institutions of the revitalization movement make it actively welcoming in a way that most jewish spaces are not.

  101. Fascinating! I’m all for wildly varied histories and traditions, and I’m glad you mentioned “sefardi & mizrakhi positions grounded in levantinity, neo-ottomaniyya, or pan-arabism” — it gives me a chance to plug some of my favorite old LH posts, LEVANTINE CULTURE I and LEVANTINE CULTURE II (more Ammiel Alcalay here).

  102. David Eddyshaw says:

    @rozele:

    Thanks indeed: most interesting in itself; I’m also always happy to hear yet more about how the world and its inhabitants are more complicated and various than I ever thought.

    Like the Jesuit said: Glory be to God for dappled things.

  103. @langaugehat @David Eddyshaw

    i adore alcalay – such a lodestar for all this dappled thinking! i don’t think i’d understand culture, languge, or history (especially the jewish spaces of each) in the ways i do without his work…

    (and folks here who haven’t been aware of Lost & Found: The CUNY Poetics Document Initiative, that alcalay’s coordinated for the last decade or so, should check it out! CUNY students publishing amazing pamphlet editions of all kinds of archival treasures, from langston hughes’ central asian notebooks to muriel rukeyser’s spanish civil war writings…)

  104. Thanks!

  105. John Cowan says:

    I think the semantic development of heave is ‘lift something’ > ‘move something (in any direction) with difficulty’.

    In other news, raising my dosage of pramipexole from 0.5 mg to 0.75mg has controlled my leg-thrashing enough for me to return to our bed in the last few days.

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