UCL Hebrew & Jewish Studies


Gefilte fish and sushi: Hasidic orientation and vowel change in New York Hasidic Yiddish

02 March 2021, 6:00 pm–7:30 pm

'Hasidic Yiddish' graphic

Public lecture with Chaya Nove from The City University of New York (CUNY)

This event is free.

Event Information

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All | UCL staff | UCL students | UCL alumni






UCL Hasidic Yiddish



Ada Rapoport-Albert Seminar Series in Hasidic Yiddish

This talk explores the effect of Hasidic orientation on vowel change among Hasidic Yiddish speakers in New York. A previous sociophonetic study of New York Hasidic Yiddish vowels (Nove forthcoming) identifies change over time in the quality of /ɪ/ and /ʊ/ (e.g., in the words shif ’boat’ and shlof ’sleep’), suggesting contact-induced phonetic drift, with the Hasidic Yiddish vowel system of young Hasidic Yiddish-English bilinguals becoming more similar to the American English system. Starting with Labov’s (1963) study, sociolinguists have recognized the extent to which attitudes, ideologies and identities can influence language variation and change. Despite its outward appearance of homogeneity, the Hasidic community encompasses an array of stances vis-à-vis secular culture, leading to a multiplicity of ways in which institutions, families and individuals integrate mainstream cultural practices within the parameters of their religiously observant lifestyle. Accordingly, this study approaches Hasidic orientation as a fluid, multifaceted and contextually variable phenomenon. Speakers’ orientation toward the Hasidic community and toward the reference group (mainstream American culture) is evaluated via a survey that elicits information about lifestyle, behaviors, and practices. To this, details about the speakers’ appearance, as well as their responses to relevant interview questions, are added. The results are entered into a statistical model, along with vowel formant measures, to discover whether and to what extent they are correlated with patterns of variation and sound change in this community. Building on recent sociological and anthropological accounts of modern Hasidism(Biale et al. 2018; Fader 2009; Deutsch 2009) this report underscores the emergent complexity of the Hasidic worldview, as it simultaneously competes and aligns with the modern world; and illustrates how an ethnographically-informed approach can help identify sociolinguistic variables that are relevant to a language community.

About the Speaker

Chaya Nove


Chaya Nove is a PhD candidate in the linguistics program at the Graduate Center, City University of New York (CUNY).

Her research interests include sociolinguistics, phonetics, language variation and change, contact linguistics and bilingualism. She is  currently working on a project to investigate variation and change in the vowel system of contemporary Hasidic Yiddish spoken in New York and conducting acoustic analyses of European Yiddish using archival recordings.


More about Chaya Nove