Thursday, July 05, 2007


The mighty Philologos continues his discussion of Judeo-English here and here (original column is here; previously discussed on my blog here.)

In his second column, he allowed that Yeshivish is Judeo-English. I'd like to think that my comment in the first column contributed to his investigation of the matter. Although he does not act as if his question “Judeo-English.” Is there such a thing? was not intended as rhetorical, there was no indication in the original colum that it was, or that he'd ever heard of Weiser and Frumspeak. And Philologos himself went to Ramaz, many moons ago, so one cannot say that he is familiar with Yeshivish from his own experiences of his youth.

In any case, a comment at the Forward in the third colum provided fodder for thought. Someone said How about "by", which in Heimishe-Reid is used to mean "at....'s [place]". "I'm by Chaim", instead of "I'm at Chaim's". "I'm staying by my brother", instead of "I'm staying at my brother's", to which I replied that "by" is a Yiddishism, ביי, from German "bei," which means "with."

But then I thought about it. Although Yiddish ביי and German bei are not English by, do all Yeshivish speakers realize this? Clearly not, as I never used to realize this when I spoke in this manner. Like most of my generation (yes, I'm admitting I'm not 60) we did not understand Yiddish, at least not as young teenagers. Many words, sure, but not Yiddish per se. When I'd say something like "I'm eating by Chaim" I thought I was saying "I'm eating by Chaim" and not "I'm eating ביי Chaim."

Another example: when Yiddisher Yidden studied Torah we might say they'd lern. We Americans learn. Yes, English learn is derived from Old German lernen, and so is Yiddish לערנען, but in Yiddish it doesn't only meant to acquire knowledge, as it does in English, but to study Torah (even if only reviewing). Now, we bochurim surely knew that we meant study, but did we think we were saying lernen or learning? Surely the former. In fact, we wouldn't (and I don't) ever say "I will learning Torah," rather I'd say "I will learn Torah." And לערן is not a word in Yiddish (I think?), only לערנען. So there's already a new word right there: learn, in the sense of study---which is not לערנען or the non-existent לערן. And it is English, but it merely sounds like Yiddish.

My question is this: if Anglo Yeshivish speakers think they're speaking English even though they're using English words which sound Yiddish, what are they speaking?

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