Gevaldike nayess
August 4, 2016 1:35 AM   Subscribe

Gitl Schaechter-Viswanath of Teaneck finishes her father’s Yiddish dictionary: Yiddish has a word for it
posted by Joe in Australia (25 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
Probably 15 years ago I started getting sort of obsessed with Yiddish. By birth I'm only a quarter Jew, and even though I grew up with a lot of Jewish family, I'd never felt connected enough to my heritage. Yiddish was the way to get a little bit of that back. I wish I could say is learned the language, but there wasn't much in the way of resources for me, and I don't think I was as motivated as I could have been. I picked up some phrases to share with my Jewish friends, but that's as far as it went.

That's all a long winded way of saying that this article gave me - well is naches really the right word here? It warned my heart, anyway.
posted by teponaztli at 2:21 AM on August 4, 2016 [3 favorites]


Ahem, that is to say it warmed my heart.
posted by teponaztli at 2:27 AM on August 4, 2016


What the heck is an "air potato"?
posted by Jode at 5:29 AM on August 4, 2016


Possibly some confusion there between the 'air potato' and the 'breadroot'.
posted by motty at 5:44 AM on August 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


I kinda wonder if the Viswanath family are literally the only bilingual Yiddish/Tamil speakers on earth.
posted by Itaxpica at 5:55 AM on August 4, 2016 [5 favorites]


I know it has changed due to the terrible extremism in the world today as well as the many other cultural effects but I'd heard it said that one could arrive in any city in the world and be able to find someone that spoke Yiddish.
posted by sammyo at 6:49 AM on August 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


There's a story about the first international Esperanto convention where, between lectures, everybody spoke to each other on the real international language: Yiddish.
posted by maxsparber at 7:01 AM on August 4, 2016 [12 favorites]


teponaztli - naches is indeed the correct word.

I'd love to learn Yiddish. At least more than what is peppered through my vocabulary by growing up with my grandparents speaking it. YiddishFilter, nu?
posted by Sophie1 at 7:13 AM on August 4, 2016 [2 favorites]


There's a story about the first international Esperanto convention where, between lectures, everybody spoke to each other on the real international language: Yiddish.

sammyo, is there a "not" missing in your sentence or am I misunderstanding you?
posted by dzkalman at 8:27 AM on August 4, 2016


For a related read, I highly recommend Outwitting History, by Aaron Lansky, founder of the Yiddish Book Center.
posted by JohnFromGR at 8:34 AM on August 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


I've been studying Yiddish seriously for about seven months now, after having had an ongoing interest in the subject my entire life. (My blog on the subject.)

The book that affected me the most during this time was something called Adventures in Yiddishland by Jeffrey Shandler, where he creates a neologism to describe modern Yiddish: It's a post-vernacular language, meaning that it is, for most of the Jewish population, not a language of everyday speech (or even something they are particularly expert at), but nonetheless has a place.

He points out that Jews have a long history with postvernacular languages, having retained Hebrew as a religious, rather than vernacular, language, and Aramaic as a scholarly, rather than vernacular, language. We have a long history of maintaining languages we no longer use in the day-to-day, because we have some other, specific use for it.

The interesting things about Yiddish is it persists as a postvernacular language despite having no official place in modern Judaism. Quite the contrary, American Jews abandoned Yiddish for English and Hebrew, and while there are a few dedicated organizations that maintain Yiddish, it isn't something most Jews have easy access to, whereas we're taught Hebrew in religious schools and summer camps, etc.

Yiddish -- or rather, the use of some Yiddish words in an otherwise English sentence, called Yinglish -- persists as more of a cultural marker, a way to demonstrate Jewishness, and a particular kind of Jewishness, a East European Askenazi immigrant.

There is sort of a Yiddishist fantasy of reviving Yiddish as a spoken language. It is still in use in the Us, mostly by the ultra-orthodox, but they mostly use it as an in-group language and deliberately exclude Yiddishists who try to talk with them, insisting on responding in English. I mean, it is possible American Jews will start speaking Yiddish again -- Jews revived Hebrew, which seemed equally unlikely.

But for me it has been interesting to explore the language as a post-vernacular creature. I am working on my own in Omaha without any institutional support, so my ability to learn Yiddish to any degree of fluency is going to be hampered. But I can learn my own sort of Yiddish, to be used as I wish in my day-to-day life, which, at the moment, mostly consists of talking to my dog in Yiddish when he won't pee. "Pish vi a loshek," I'll tell him, "piss like a racehorse." He doesn't understand me, but he doesn't understand me when I speak English either.
posted by maxsparber at 8:41 AM on August 4, 2016 [17 favorites]


He doesn't understand me, but he doesn't understand me when I speak English either.

Try Hebrew! :D
posted by zarq at 9:42 AM on August 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


A Duolingo Yiddish course has been in production for a while, though seems to have stalled at an early stage of development a year or so ago. OTOH, if you just want the alphabet, there's a Hebrew course available now.
posted by acb at 9:53 AM on August 4, 2016 [3 favorites]


sammyo, is there a "not" missing in your sentence or am I misunderstanding you?

"on" should be "in", but I'm not seeing where a "not" would fit into it. (The point of the anecdote—which I've always assumed to be a humorous invention—is that Yiddish was already filling the function Esperanto was unsuccessfully trying to take on.)
posted by Shmuel510 at 10:54 AM on August 4, 2016


Ah, I know this family! s'iz take a kleyne (yiddishe) velt.

For those wanting to learn, there's a variety of high quality online courses available -- I recommend the ones offered by the Workmen's Circle (Arbeter-ring) in NYC.
posted by femmegrrr at 12:00 PM on August 4, 2016 [5 favorites]


(The point of the anecdote—which I've always assumed to be a humorous invention—is that Yiddish was already filling the function Esperanto was unsuccessfully trying to take on.)
I think that's actually only part of the point of the joke - it's also playing on the fact that the esperanto community was very heavily jewish.
posted by kickingtheground at 2:05 PM on August 4, 2016 [2 favorites]


My grandfather MADE UP Yiddish words, which my mother only realised a few years ago and I only found out about last week. (He's dead; I'm nearly 40.)
posted by jeather at 3:33 PM on August 4, 2016 [7 favorites]


My grandfather (Z"L) would have loved this article. He grew up in a shtetl somewhere near Warsaw and was yeshiva educated (his parents couldn't afford to send all of their sons to university so whilst his brother went to medical school, he was on his way to becoming a talmud torah before WWII broke out).

Papa was a Holocaust survivor and suffered terrible PTSD from his concentration camp experiences. One of the only things that calmed him (apart from my Nana, but she wasn't always successful) was sitting in his favourite armchair next to the window reading Yiddish books or the (no longer in circulation) Yiddish edition of the local Jewish newspaper, whilst whistling and tapping his fingers against the arm of the chair.

My Nana is from an assimilated Galitziana family who spoke Polish and German, but not Yiddish, so she and Papa spoke a mixture of Polish and Yiddish between them. With Papa's death 25 years ago, that personal "dialect" is now gone.

I wish I had learned Yiddish properly: I do code switch a bit in that a little Yiddish and some Polish makes it into my lexicon amongst family and Jewish friends (mainly swear words, the many many words for penis and words that just can't be replaced like "mensch", "schlep" and "schlemazel"*). I have to almost consciously edit those words out when I'm elsewhere.

My brother and I have "married out" and this is further evolving the Yiddish language "spoken" in our family. I revert to my Yiddish/Polish "code" around my Maltese Catholic husband, so he's slowly learning. He's added "smalch" (for schmalz -- fat) to "our" language. My brother's English/French partner is also learning. His favourite Yiddish is "sitting on shpinkles" (for sitting on shpilkes - needles -- i.e. can't sit still). In his Cambridgeshire accent, it's just hilarious.

A final anecdote: My uncle (who is a fluent Yiddish speaker) was pulled over by the police one day years ago -- the way he was driving looked liked he was completely drunk, I think he must have been weaving all over the road. The cop came to the window of the car and asked my uncle what was going on. My uncle put the volume up on the tape machine -- he was listening to Yiddish comedians Dzigan and Schumacher. This stream of Yiddish comes out of the tape machine (this was a little while ago) and my uncle starts laughing wildly but I don't think that did anything to convince the cop that he wasn't completely pissed. I wish I knew enough Yiddish to understand them -- I know I'm missing out on something amazing because the humour is in the language and syntax so it doesn't translate at all.

It's awesome to see this knowledge being so comprehensively gathered and preserved.

*What's the difference between a schlemiel and a schlemazal? The schlemiel spills the soup and it lands on the schlemazal."
posted by prettypretty at 4:38 PM on August 4, 2016 [10 favorites]


I did a double-take when I saw my hometown mentioned on the blue. It definitely warms my heart to know that such a great thing was created there.
posted by peeet at 6:05 PM on August 4, 2016


I kinda wonder if the Viswanath family are literally the only bilingual Yiddish/Tamil speakers on earth.

Due to their enormous wealth and power, The Tamil Thattar Jews were systematically killed as the state and its rulers deemed it a better option than pay back the money owed. Over time the Thattars assimilated in their brother/ sisters casts and their numbers dwindled. Less than 350 Jewish Thattars are estimated to exist today. Many prominent Tamil Jews have kept their lineage strong but in secret. It is stated that they still class themselves at Tamil Thattar Jews but due to persecution have kept it hidden and tend only to reveal to their fellow brothers.

Their rituals and practices have mixed Hindu and Jewish elements and this can be witnessed in their marriages but as the community slowly thins out the Hindu element has taken prominence over the Jewish.
Jews in Sri Lanka since the 9th century

Some of the older generation of Jews who migrated from India to Israel speak Tamil

She's Jewish, he's a non-religious Tamil – here's how they strike a balance

Technically I have no idea if any of them spoke/speak Yiddish but adding my 2 euros worth nonetheless ;p
posted by infini at 9:20 AM on August 5, 2016 [7 favorites]


infini, thanks very much for the info and those links. Learned a lot from them.
posted by zarq at 3:12 PM on August 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


infini, wow. That stuff really deserves an FPP of its own.
posted by Itaxpica at 7:22 PM on August 5, 2016 [4 favorites]




The comments are (almost!) better than languagehat's post :)
posted by zarq at 12:01 PM on August 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


Infini: Technically I have no idea if any [formerly Indian Jews] spoke/speak Yiddish [...]

Probably not, unless they were recent migrants from Europe or learnt it otherwise. They probably would have been familiar with Judaeo-Malayalam or Judaeo-Marathi or another Jewish dialect, though.

Historically, Jewish communities have tended to develop their own dialects that in some cases (especially Yiddish and Ladino) become full-fledged languages. I'm not a linguist, but I think this process requires both a largish community and a degree of separation or upheaval so that an inherited secular language becomes insular. Ladino, for instance, became its own language consequent to the Jewish expulsion from Spain. Before then, it was just Old Castilian Spanish.

Wikipedia lists a bunch of Jewish languages, and I have no idea if it's complete.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:27 PM on August 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


« Older You think they ever get backed up at the gates of...   |   Come on like a wrecking bull Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments