Wednesday, January 09, 2013

On a guide to decoding Jewish documents and letters (for merchants, you understand) from 1792

Here are a couple of interesting excerpts from a book printed in Leipzig in 1792, the Lehrbuch zur gründlichen Erlernung der jüdischdeutschen Sprache für Beamte, Gerichtsverwandte, Advocaten und insbesondere für Kaufleute* by Gottfried Selig (link).

* Guide for Learning the Jewish-German Language for Civil Servants, Court Officials, Lawyers and Especially Merchants.

It's an absolutely fascinating book (fascinating being relative, I know). As you will understand, the point of this book is to teach one to understand business documents and correspondence written by Jews in Yiddish (oder Judeo-German).

This piece describes the way Hebrew words are given diminutive forms or change gender in Judeo-German; "Rebbe" (Rabbi) becomes Rebbezen, and so on.

This piece, obviously, concerns names. It is interesting because of - the names - and also sometimes how they are written. For example, "Jaunosson," is explained to be Jonathan, David is "Dowid" and so on.

It also includes an extensive abbreviation dictionary, dozens and dozens of examples. We are told, for example, that בל"ט stands for בלשון טומאה, or, Latin, and we see that Groschen were called גדולים, as in ג"ג, or ג' גדולים. German script? גלחות, perhaps meaning "Gothic." It gives עכו"ם as both עובדים כוכבים ומזלות and העובדים כריסטוס ומרים (about this, I blogged here). It also explains ס"ט as סימן טוב.

The dictionary proper includes many interesting entries, naturally, including one for . . . אדוק בזנות (der hurerey nachlausen). For the entry on בענשין there are many examples, in the form of phrases, such as this one: הערט צו רבותי מיר וועלין בענשן.

And so on.


  1. > German script? גלחות, perhaps meaning "Gothic." <
    Perhaps from "galach" (priest)?

    1. Of course from "galach," of course. I was trying to guess why call German writing "galachus," not even Latin is called that. The reason I suggested is because the German writing in Fraktur or Black-Letter resembled the Latin manuscript writing of the Middle Ages, and perhaps was therefore identified as "priestly," and hence the term. By the 18th century, Latin was typically written (or typeset) in the normal European (=Latin) alphabet, while German remained written and printed in Gothic.

  2. Hm? Roman typeface is also called galches, galloches, and galchish. Just like Fraktur.



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