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Hasidic Yiddish: Maintaining a changing language

Tue, December 19, 8:30 to 10:00am, Marriott Marquis Washington, DC, Chinatown Room

Session Submission Type: Panel Session


Yiddish – once the language of millions of Jews, both secular and traditional, in Eastern Europe and in centers of Jewish immigration throughout the world – is currently spoken almost exclusively within Hasidic communities, mainly in urban neighborhoods including Williamsburg in Brooklyn, Mea She'arim in Jerusalem, and “the Jewish quarter” of Antwerp. Although Hasidim continue to use Yiddish as a living community vernacular, their language has been largely neglected in research in the field of Yiddish Studies. One of the possible reasons for this neglect may stem from the rapid changes underway in Hasidic Yiddish, including its growing departure from documented European varieties as well as from the standard variety taught in university language programs. Furthermore, Hasidim usually do not read older Yiddish texts, including secular Yiddish literature, and thus do not rely on such texts as a guide for normative linguistic practices. Flexibility with regard to norms of language use helps Hasidic Yiddish adapt itself to changing circumstances (including extensive lexical borrowing as well as paradigm leveling); yet the same changes that help the language survive are usually looked down upon by Yiddishists.
This panel examines the reasons for the neglect, while at the same time attempting to rectify this state of affairs by contributing to our knowledge of contemporary Hasidic Yiddish. The first paper, presented by Chaya Nove, discusses the role of negative language ideologies in the marginalization of Hasidic Yiddish among Yiddish linguists, and describes language attitudes within the Hasidic community based on sociolinguistic interviews. Isaac Bleaman's paper analyzes the spread of linguistic change in Hasidic Yiddish, focusing on a “big data” corpus study of Hasidic Yiddish particle verbs. Finally, Steffen Krogh's paper offers a preliminary discussion of Antwerp Hasidic Yiddish, a variety hardly studied so far, demonstrating a process of dialect leveling leading to the emergence of so-called “Hungarian” Hasidic Yiddish as a dominant koine in most Hasidic communities.

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