Attitudes toward Change in a Maintained Language: Yiddish in New York
12 January 2021, 6:00 pm–7:30 pm
Although most descendants of Yiddish-speaking immigrants to the United States are now monolingual in English, vibrant Yiddish-speaking communities continue to exist.
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UCL Hasidic Yiddish
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Ada Rapoport-Albert Seminar Series on Hasidic Yiddish
Although most descendants of Yiddish-speaking immigrants to the United States are now monolingual in English, vibrant Yiddish-speaking communities continue to exist. This paper compares two such communities in the New York area, Hasidic Jews and Yiddishists, both of whom are ideologically committed to the intergenerational transmission—or "maintenance"—of Yiddish. Despite this point of similarity, there are profound differences between the communities in terms of their size, network density, cultural institutions, and religious practices. This paper argues that another critical point of contrast relates to speakers' attitudes toward grammatical and lexical change in Yiddish. Data are presented from sociolinguistic interviews with forty native Yiddish speakers—ten women and ten men from each community—showing that speakers from both communities recognize the inevitability of language change; at the same time, the same aspects of language change that are valued as "authentic" in one community are often disparaged as "inauthentic" in the other. When elaborating on these language attitudes and ideologies, speakers tend to focus on the use of particular words and phrases, such as new Yiddish coinages or borrowings from English, since they lie at the surface of the linguistic system. However, these divergent views on the nature of language change may also have a tangible impact on the grammatical properties of the language. This is reflected in the systematically different responses Hasidim and Yiddishists provided to a post-interview task in which they were asked to edit a short text for stylistic and grammatical "errors."
About the Speaker
Isaac L. Bleaman
at UC Berkeley
My research interests include sociolinguistic variation, language contact, language maintenance, and language change. I address these broad areas by studying the factors that constrain phonetic and grammatical variation in contemporary Yiddish. I am also interested in computational methods (e.g., the use of online corpora) and in syntactic theory and analysis, especially the mechanisms that account for optionality and variation.
I am also affiliated with the Center for Jewish Studies.More about Isaac L. Bleaman