A vivid commentary on Jewish survival and Jewish speech communities that will be enjoyed by the general reader, and is essential reading for students and researchers interested in the study of Middle Eastern languages, Jewish studies, and sociolinguistics.
Date: Fri, 16 Dec 2005 12:57:15 -0700 From: Ariann Stern-Gottschalk <Ariann.Stern-Gottschalk@asu.edu> Subject: Yiddish: A Linguistic Introduction
Author: Jacobs, Neil G. Title: Yiddish Subtitle: A Linguistic Introduction Publisher: Cambridge University Press Year: 2005
Ariann Stern, Critical Languages Institute, Russian and East European Studies Center, Arizona State University
This is a comprehensive volume on the Yiddish language, with substantive chapters devoted, in the following order, to the history of Yiddish, dialectology, phonology, morphology, syntax, and sociolinguistics. It is a major contribution to the field and will, as Jacobs says in the introduction, appeal to a wide audience, including Germanic linguists, Yiddishists, theoretical linguists, scholars of Jewish studies. Though Jacobs does not acknowledge this, the book will be a useful tool for students of the language, who can use the morphology section as a reference grammar.
Chapter 1, ''Introduction'', describes Jacobs' goals for the monograph followed by a very broad introduction to what Yiddish is – when it emerged as a language, and a general historical and demographic description of Yiddish speakers/Ashkenazim. Next Jacobs explains that he will frame the investigation by primarily describing and analyzing Yiddish ''in terms of the patterns within Yiddish itself'' (4), only secondarily comparing it with German. Jacobs' approach to Yiddish as a complete system that can be described without resorting to comparisons with other contact languages (indeed, there is a great deal of dialectal comparison, but very little comparison between Jewish and German, Hebrew, or the Slavic languages) is fundamental to this work. After stating this, Jacobs provides some overview to the development of Yiddish studies and background information on Jewish languages, including an explanation of Jewish bilingualism and some commentary on languages used for communication between Jews.
Chapter 2, ''History'', begins by contrasting two major views of the history of the language -- divergence from German and convergence -- that Yiddish and German never were identical, and therefore Yiddish did not diverge from it (the view most suitable for his approach to the work described in the introduction). Jacobs leads the reader through various scenarios posited for the origins and ''homelands'' of Yiddish, including discussion of German sources in Yiddish. This is followed by in-depth discussion of the Yiddish sound system, with special attention paid to the vowels, and an examination of vocalic divisions in the major dialects (Jacobs recognizes five: West Yiddish, Central Yiddish, Southeast Yiddish, Northeast Yiddish, and Standard Yiddish). The next major part of the chapter discusses Hebrew elements in Yiddish, and their history, especially in the earliest stages of the language. Useful here are insights into Jewish languages in general. Next, Jacobs introduces on-going questions about older ''Yiddish'' texts and whether or not they are in fact Yiddish, because they have features not evident in more modern manifestations of the language. He bases his periodization of Yiddish on M. Weinreich's work. Both the periodization discussion, as well as the textual questions about the earliest evidence of written Yiddish lead directly into discussion about Yiddish writing, the role of written Yiddish in earlier periods of diglossia with Hebrew, and the history of Yiddish orthography. The chapter concludes with a short, albeit detailed overview on names for Yiddish.
Chapter 3, ''Dialectology'', begins with an overview of studies in Yiddish dialectology before moving onto the actual classification of Yiddish dialects, which Jacobs already identified in Chapter 2 as the five major dialects recognized in the Language and Culture Atlas of Askenazic Jewry. Helpfully, in the third chapter, he provides a dialect map, followed by a very good overview of the major phonological, morphological, lexical, syntactic, and cultural differences between the five dialects. Jacobs does not claim his survey of these differences is exhaustive, but the examples he provides are characteristic of the five varieties of Yiddish. The section on cultural features is of particular interest, introducing background information underlying the more easily linguistically delineated phonological, morphological, etc. distinctions. As the Yiddishists responsible for the Language and Culture Atlas of Ashkenazic Jewry understood, this attention to the cultural aspects of the differences is crucial to any thorough description of this language. An exegesis on the geolinguistic topography of Yiddish with an emphasis on language contact follows this section. Jacobs very usefully describes the areas in geographic detail, so the reader can visualize (or even locate on a map) the areas discussed. The chapter ends with information on supraregional varieties, which is of particular interest to speakers learning Standard Yiddish.
The next three chapters are more purely grammatical and they comprise the bulk of the book. Chapter 4 covers phonology, Chapter 5 morphology, and Chapter 6 discusses syntax. The information is presented in conventional, logical order. Chapter 4 begins with the vowels, followed by consonants, syllable structure, cyclic and lexical phonology, stress and prominence, and concludes with discussion of intonation. One of the highlights of this chapter are the comparisons, in both tables and other examples, of dialect-based differences in many of the sounds and features described. Jacobs uses material and background information from his previous three chapters in discussions of various influences on the sound system, including historical changes, and influences from both languages in contact with Yiddish and those that lent lexical and other elements to Yiddish. Chapter 4 contains very rich data. Jacobs, for example, not only discusses consonant clusters in the abstract in Chapter 4, but he lists each potential cluster and an example for each. Jacobs has organized this abundant and useful information in easily-read charts and tables.
Similar to Chapter 4, Chapter 5, which includes a great deal of data and description from Zaretski, Yudl Mark, and Birnbaum, presents information in a logical progression through the parts of speech: nouns (including sections on derived nouns, prefixation, suffixation, diminutives, compound nouns, nouns ''formed through clipping, abbreviation, and similar processes'' (171), and grammatical categories – gender, number, case) and the noun phrase, adjectives, pronouns, numerals, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, fillers, and verbs (formation and types, non-finite and finite forms, tense, mood, passive voice, reflexives, and aspect). This chapter presents historical and synchronic information on word formation and derivations in addition to excellent information on the modern language, including both notes on usage as well as examples of word forms.
Chapter 6, ''Syntax'', provides substantive information on clauses (declarative, imperative, interrogative, subordinate, relative), constituent structures (NPs and VPs and their relationships with other structures, and negations), sub-categorization, grammatical functions (subjects, objects, adverbials), movements, transformations, and deletions.
The final chapter covers sociolinguistics, beginning with an introduction to language attitudes and ideology central to Yiddish studies. In this introductory matter, Jacobs poses one of the fundamental questions about Yiddish, namely the relationship of Yiddish speech to other types of speech''. This relationship of Yiddish to other languages and their speech functions is, he states, ''for Yiddish speakers... an intriguing and complex playing field, owing to several factors, including: (1) the surface and similarity of Yiddish to German and Yiddish speakers' over awareness of this; (2) internal Jewish bilingualism...; (3) the role of external Jewish bi- /multilingualism; (4) Yiddish speakers' component consciousness.'' Because of its singular relevance to Yiddish speakers, this question and its attendant factors resonate throughout Chapter 7, particularly factors 2 and 3. The first major section in this chapter addresses attitudes and ideology and covers language contact, bi-/multi- lingualism, and diglossia; code-switching, style, and register; and spoken Yiddish (including spoken Yiddish in the pre-modern and modern periods, styles of spoken Yiddish, male and female speech, ''refined speech'', euphemism, taboo avoidance, secret languages and professional jargons with fascinating information from the speech of criminals and musicians, the aptly named 'klezmer- loshn').
Next is a section on models of spoken Yiddish, including descriptions of the formation and problems inherent in Standard Yiddish and Soviet efforts to standardizeYiddish. This section describes how the standardized model created a hierarchical sociolinguistic superstructure resulting in the stigmatization of dialect with very clear examples of how this is manifest. This is followed by information about New York Hasidic Yiddish based on Jacobs' observations of printed material including his commentary on the heavy code- swtiching evident in his data. Next is a short account of tempo's influence on forms and includes examples of drawl and dropped pronouns. The chapter concludes with a very satisfying account of written Yiddish, including more information (already presented in Chapter 2) about the diglossic situation between Hebrew and Yiddish, descriptions of Jewish scribal language, the development of literary and modern written Yiddish (with emphasis on the YIVO model), more information on orthographic developments (again, drawing on discussion started in earlier chapters), and a brief overview of the debates over Romanization in certain Yiddishist circles.
Appropriately, the chapter (and the monograph) concludes with a section on ''Post-Yiddish Ashkenazic speech'', which describes ''the post-Yiddish [European language] ethnolects [which] are successor lects to Yiddish, arising via language shift.'' (303) Beginning with a synopsis of the decline of Yiddish in the twentieth century, this section briefly covers the modern successors to Yiddish in Europe and the US.
As Jacobs himself notes, his work is unique in the field, covering the range of grammar, history, and sociolinguistics. Most sections begin with references to the contributions of major scholars relevant to the topic under discussion. Notably, Jacobs cites Max and Uriel Weinreich primarily for the history and dialectology (though of course, there are references to the Weinreichs throughout the book), Ayzik Zaretski and Yudl Mark in the grammatical chapters (with most data directly attributed to Zaretski), and a panoply of scholars in the section on sociolinguistics, including Joshua Fishman, S. Birnbaum, and, for the interesting klezmer loshn, Robert Rothstein. These references and Jacobs' comments on their application to modern Yiddish studies are one of the best features of this altogether excellent work. At times, Jacobs' ability to incorporate the work of others so seamlessly into his own scholarship acknowledging and explaining, sometimes in great detail, the contributions of his predecessors can make it difficult to differentiate where this background research ends and his original contributions begin.
Jacobs' claim that this book will have broad appeal is borne out in its variegated contents and rich examples. At some junctures in these chapters, I was struck and often distracted by Jacobs' broad definitions of the linguistic phenomena under discussion, e.g., what is diglossia, what are the categories like aspect or structures like interrogative clauses where he otherwise assumes his readers possess a rather high degree of linguistic sophistication. He likely includes these rather elementary explanations because of his intention to address a relatively wide audience. Readers, particularly linguists, should be prepared for this.
As I mentioned in my overview of the chapters on phonology and morphology, but as is true in all chapters, there is a very rich amount of data in this book and excellent, relevant examples, both of which add tremendously to its overall value. This is especially so, because unlike other dense monographs of this nature, in which, all too often and to the detriment of a book's overall usefulness as a reference, examples and data are repeated to describe a variety of phenomena, Jacobs has a very good and satisfyingly diverse variety of examples. I only noticed some repetition with dialect forms, of which there are presumably a limited number of attested forms for some regions.
One of the cleverest aspects of the book is the comparison of dialects and the way in which Jacobs expands his discussion of dialects to more broadly demonstrate the development of Yiddish. Jacobs is committed to comparing Yiddish forms, rather than comparing Yiddish to languages in contact. However, through descriptions of individual dialects and comparisons of their forms, and through discussion of contact between dialects, Jacobs also manages to reveal influences from other languages in contact with each major dialect of Yiddish and to demonstrate where these other languages failed to impact Yiddish forms. These comparisons of dialects also prepare the reader for discussion on the formation of Standard Yiddish.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Ariann Stern directs the Arizona State University Critical Languages
Institute. Her primary research is currently on second language
acquisition, especially language teacher training and issues of cross-
cultural instructional norms and classroom behaviors. Ideally she
would also like to be researching verbal morphosyntax in eastern
varieties of Yiddish.