Article

Jewish Languages

Sarah Bunin Benor

in Jewish Studies

ISBN: 9780199840731
Published online August 2012 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0056
Jewish Languages

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Wherever Jews have lived, they have tended to speak and write somewhat differently from their non-Jewish neighbors. In some cases these differences have been limited to the addition of a few Hebrew words (e.g., among some medieval French Jews and some contemporary American Jews), and in other cases the local Jewish and non-Jewish languages have been mutually unintelligible (e.g., Yiddish in eastern Europe and Ladino in the Balkans). The resulting language varieties have been analyzed under the interdisciplinary rubric of Jewish languages, also known as Jewish linguistic studies, Jewish interlinguistics, or Jewish intralinguistics. The phenomenon of Jewish languages came to scholarly attention during the political debates about Yiddish and Hebrew in the early 20th century. Researchers began to analyze individual Jewish languages, including Yiddish, Judeo-Spanish, Judeo-Italian, and Judeo-Arabic. In the mid-20th century the Yiddishists Solomon A. Birnbaum and Max Weinreich spearheaded comparative research on Jewish languages. The late 1970s and the 1980s saw a slew of edited volumes that dealt with several Jewish languages, a short-lived journal, and progress toward a theoretical understanding of Jewish languages based on comparative analysis. It was in these years that the study of Jewish languages transitioned from the realm of isolated publications to a small academic field. This field continues to blossom, as evidenced by conferences, publications, and online collaborations. In all of this scholarship on Jewish languages, as in language research more generally, there have been two major trends: descriptive and theoretical. The descriptive work has provided data on the written and spoken languages of Jews around the world and throughout history. This work is crucially time sensitive, as many of the long-standing Jewish vernaculars (such as Judeo-Greek, Judeo-Arabic, Jewish Aramaic, and Jewish Malayalam) are on the verge of extinction due to mass migrations and upheavals. Theoretical work has focused on classifying Jewish languages, describing their genesis, and analyzing features they have in common, especially Hebrew and Aramaic words. This bibliography offers an introduction to this diverse body of work, demonstrating that the field has come a long way in the 20th century. In addition, the fact that many of the references here are to edited volumes and journal articles, rather than book-length comparative analyses and theoretical treatments, suggests that much work remains to be done. (This bibliography does not include descriptive work on individual languages, including textbooks, dictionaries, grammars, and analysis of language variation, change, and ideology. For work of this type, readers are referred to General Overviews and Bibliographies and to the Oxford Bibliographies articles Yiddish and Ladino.)

Article.  9282 words. 

Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies

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