A Jewish Language in the Diaspora

Authored by: Netta Avineri

Handbook of Heritage, Community, and Native American Languages in the United States

Print publication date:  January  2014
Online publication date:  January  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415520669
eBook ISBN: 9780203122419
Adobe ISBN: 9781136332494


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Throughout their history, Jews around the world have spoken distinctly from their non–Jewish neighbors (Peltz, 2010). In some cases, this distinction has come in the form of an entirely different language, such as Yiddish and Ladino (Benor, 2009), and in other cases these differences have manifested themselves in less marked ways. Jews have therefore spoken Jewish languages as part of a larger multilingual repertoire (Fishman, 1981a), and these languages have served diverse functions in intragroup communication (Peltz, 2010). Though Fishman (1985) traditionally focused on the phonological, morphosyntactic, lexical, and orthographic features that distinguish Jewish languages from those used in non–Jewish sociocultural networks, more recently Benor (2008) has considered a Jewish language as “a distinctively Jewish repertoire rather than a separate system” (p. 1062). Some traditional examples of Jewish languages include Yiddish, Hebrew, Ladino (Kushner Bishop, 2004), Judeo-Arabic, and Judeo-Provencal. More recently, scholars have broadened this list to include Yeshivish (Weiser, 1985), Hasidic English (Fader, 2009), Hasidic Yiddish (Fader, 2009), Jewish English (Benor, 2009), and English (Fishman, 1985; Levitt, n.d.). As Peltz (2010) maintains,

Although modernity generally ushered in a period of decline for the use of Jewish languages in the world, there was no way that one hundred years ago anyone could have predicted the fate of Jewish languages and their speakers […] the story of Jewish languages is far from over.

(p. 15)

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