Friday, June 22, 2007


This week's Philologos on the question: Is there a Judeo-English?

Short answer: he doesn't know. (My tongue-in-cheek exploration.)

I find it hard to believe that he doesn't know about the thing that Yeshivishe folks speak. So why doesn't he mention it? Could he really not know? (I say thing because, what is it? A dialect? A technical jargon?) No one seems to know for sure, and it is mostly ignored. But it exists. Of that, me and tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, are sure. No, it is not Yinglish. It is not Uncle Murray teasing you about how ticklish you're pupick is.

There are those who argue that it is intelligible if the foreign words are explained, thus it is no different from unintelligible speech of doctors or pilots. An outsider need only be told what the words mean and they'll understand it. I am not so sure about that.

In any case, I wonder if this speech within a speech existed in Yiddish itself. In other words, there was the Yiddish language per se and the way in which yeshive bochurim and sattelite associates spoke similar? Leopold Zunz explored Yiddish in his Die gottesdienstlichen Vorträge der Juden (click the link--the exact page).

There he notes Hebraic elements of Yiddish and classifies them by category, for example the Yiddish words from Hebrew associated with religion (like yom tov, tallis, chupah, zemiros) or with daily life (luach, chayav, baal ha-bayis, assur) and also with yeshiva culture and Torah learning (kelomar, vaddai, davka, be-shlama, baki, afilu, aderraba, teyruts, tomar, qashya, pshita, stam, sofek, mi-mah nafshakh).

As far as I know, these were words that were very much used by Yiddish-speaking grandmothers and woodchoppers. Was there a different vocabulary--or usage among the yeshivishe velt in the Yiddish world? I don't know.

An interesting question is: what was it like in the US or England 100 years ago. I am reasonably certain that American yeshiva boys "asked kashyas" 100 years ago. But I am equally certain that they didn't ask their friends for "eppis ah bissel Coca Cola," unless they were speaking Yiddish.

Anyway, Judeo-English? Maybe. I don't know. Perhaps the problem is that our classification of languages has grown to sophisticated. If the present were 500 years ago and this was a way in which Jews spoke English you can bet good money that it'd have been classified as Judeo-

(By the way, Frumspeak is a silly name. Bad choice, Aronson.)

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