Tuesday, October 21, 2008

On the Yiddish Language

Like some other European languages, Yiddish evidently began around the year 1000, and sprang up in the Carolingian Rhineland. It was not at first called "Yiddish." When Jews migrated from Lombardy and France to the Rhine region of such towns as Cologne and Metz they spoke what in Hebrew was called La'az, a "foreign people's language," called "Loez" by Weinreich. This was a form of neo-Latin that was fused with the Germanic language of their Rhenish bad neighbors, and protectively was always written in Hebrew letters. In Hebrew, Germany was named Ashkenaz, in contrast to Spain, called Sepharad. Further east, Loez fused with Slavic languages, intricately yet randomly. Weinreich's phrase for the nature of Yiddish is a "fusion language," and he carefully informs us that Loez itself had earlier fused Hebrew and Aramaic elements with Old Italian and Old French. Similarly Yiddish and Middle Rhenish German are utterly distinct languages, with very different sorts of metaphor, since the culture informing Yiddish rhetoric is primarily Talmudic.

From a book review of Max Weinrach's History of the Yiddish Language.


Read it all.

But in doing so, I found this oddity:

Hebrew itself probably began as a fusion language: the name ivrit (Hebrew) is not biblical, but is a much later word from the Mishna, the principal rabbinic commentary on the Torah. The original Israelites spoke a kind of Semitic, which merged with Canaanite. Isaiah 19:18 refers to the language of Canaan, sefat knaan, always transcribed as Hebrew. Nehemiah 13:24 calls Hebrew yehudit.

Not Biblical? "Israelites"?

Genesis 39:14 - she called unto the men of her house, and spoke unto them, saying: 'See, he hath brought in a Hebrew unto us to mock us

Exodus 2:11 - And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown up, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens; and he saw an Egyptian smiting a Hebrew, one of his brethren.

I Samuel 4:6 - And when the Philistines heard the noise of the shout, they said: 'What meaneth the noise of this great shout in the camp of the Hebrews?'

I Samuel 13:19 - Now there was no smith found throughout all the land of Israel; for the Philistines said: 'Lest the Hebrews make them swords or spears'

Jonah 1:9 - And he said unto them: 'I am an Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who hath made the sea and the dry land.'

Hebrews there were. They didn't speak Hebrew?

They spoke Cannanite, Egyptian and Philistine? But not Hebrew?

A letter to the editor:

Harold Bloom claims that "Hebrew itself probably began as a fusion language: the name ivrit (Hebrew) is not biblical, but is a much later word from the Mishna, the principal rabbinic commentary on the Torah" ("The Glories of Yiddish", Volume 55, Number 17, Nov. 6, 2008). While indeed the word ivrit meaning a language is not found, a people called the Hebrews most certainly is found in the Bible in Canaan, Egypt and the land of the Philistines. The verses of Genesis 39:14, Exodus 2:11, I Samuel 4:6, I Samuel 13:19 and Jonah 1:9, for example, all indicate a Hebrew people. For sure, they spoke Hebrew. As for Bloom's assertion that in Nehemiah 13:24, the langauge is called yehudit, since the Jews at that time were considered as originating in Judea, Yehuda, the geographical term was mistakenly transferred. Moreover, the earliest written evidence of distinctive Hebrew appears on the Gezer calendar of the 10th century BCE at the beginning of the period of the Monarchy of David and Solomon.


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