It has been quite a while since the Jewish Diaspora established itself in the United States. However, decades from the moment when it did, the language issues persist. Although Yeshivish has evolved from a pidgin into a full-fledged language, it is still related to several prejudices concerning Jewish people and, therefore, downgrades the status of a person speaking in it a few notches in the eyes of a typical resident of the U.S.
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Speaking of the key specifics of the Yeshivish language, one must mention that the name, which seems a mix between Hebrew and Hispanic, must be quite misleading for those who hear of it for the first time. The Yeshivish language incorporates solely the elements of English and Hebrew; the suffix of the word “Hedonic,” in its turn, comes from the combination of the words “Hebrew” and “phonics,” or “phonetics.” Therefore, the name, reveals the specifics of its structure. According to the existing explanations, the Yeshivish language, which is often mentioned under the umbrella term “Hellish” (Aronson 118), is unique in its pronunciation and sentence structure, as well as the connotation differences between the traditional English phrases as they are rendered in the American and the Hebrew discourse.
When it comes to specifying the elements that set the Yeshivish language aside from the rest of languages that emerged as a result of two or more languages fusion, one must mention its unique phenomenon of code-switching between the two languages. While other languages that were granted with a status of a pidgin traditionally tend to combine the grammatical structure of one language and the lexemes of the other one, Yeshivish borrows only the unique contextual usage of specific phrases and collocations, which would seem weirdly out of context when used by an American English speaker.
Herein the key problem with the Yeshivish language lies. With no other markers of its uniqueness other than the specific inflections and the unique contextual use of traditional English phrases and expressions, it seems to have no distinctions whatsoever. In other words, the Yeshivish language cannot exist as a separate set of rules and grammatical, phonetic or lexical principles – instead, its originality shines through only in particular contexts. As a result, it took quite a while for it to gain the status of a legitimate language.
The major problem with the Yeshivish language, however, is that it does not seem to help eradicate the prejudice that some American people have against the American Hebrews. While it is used by Hebrew Americas as the means to create their own exotic culture and retain their national identity, its reinforcement also contributes to specifying the linguistic tropes, which are an integral part of a stereotype of a Jewish person in the American society. Therefore, the promotion of the Yeshivish creates the premises for applauding the same thing that it criticized before.
Seeing how the aforementioned conversation scheme is very different from the one that the rules of the British or American English dictate, it is obvious that the person using it will be labeled as a foreigner; more importantly, seeing how the given trope I an integral part of an overall negative stereotype of a Jewish person in the American society, the rest of the negative stereotypical qualities are transferred onto the person using this pattern metonymically.
Another element of the Yeshivish language, the tendency to reiterate certain words with the addition of the prefix “sch-,” also contributes to the stereotypical negative image of a Jewish person. It is remarkable that the words themselves do not attain any negative connotation once the above-mentioned affix is added; without the original word preceding such an alteration, the latter would be considered gibberish. With the addition of the original word and the usage of the phrase in a particular context, the phrase in question is also technically considered rather neutral, though colloquial. Once the given stylistic choice is combined with other elements that are traditionally recognized as the ones that are characteristic of the Hebrew language and the Jewish culture, the negative stereotype of a Jewish person immediately takes its toll.
Speaking of which, the Yeshivish language also has certain phonetic specifics. According to what Lakoff says, it is characteristic of a representative of the American Jewish culture to pronounce “W” as “V” and insert “Ts” at the end of most words (Lakoff 247). However, phonetics is clearly far from being the key element that sets English and Yeshivish aside; unlike the rest of pidgins, the existence of which hinges on borrowing the grammatical structure of one language and the lexemes of the other one, Yeshivish seems to be a harmonic mix between the two, straight to the point where both languages are used in the word-formation process. The priority, however, seems to be given to English, with the addition of Yiddish suffixes to English morphemes.
How the people communicating in Yeshivish are typically perceived in the modern American society is far from being stellar; instead of valuing the Yeshivish as a unique language spoken by the people with a rich and unique culture, some residents of the USA consider the Yeshivish speakers as lacking education and intelligence. Aronson states openly that Yeshivish is often viewed as the “kitchen English” (Aronson 215), and, therefore, makes it clear that not only stereotypes that are traditionally related to Hebrew people, but also the image of a “simpleton” and an incompetent person are often associated with the language in question. Aronson defines Hebronics as a language with the traditional English word stock and a “tortured grammar” (Aronson 215), thus, making it clear that the mix of the Hebrew and English languages is seen as a mock-English speech in the American society.
The context in which the so-called Yeshivish language is traditionally used should also be brought upon to understand the oddly hostile attitudes towards the people speaking in it in contemporary American society. According to Aronson’s assumptions, Yeshivish is traditionally used by the Jewish people who are willing to integrate into American society yet are highly uncertain about their success and, therefore, suffer from anxiety impressively. Such a behavioral pattern is, understandably enough, considered not quite acceptable and, therefore, the person speaking in Yeshivish receives a cold shoulder from most American residents.
Even though in 2014, the situation has seemingly improved, and the Yeshivish language has gained the status of an official language, with an English– Yeshivish–English dictionary having come out recently, the stereotypes that surround it persist. More to the point, seeing how in the previous paragraph, it has been stated that Yeshivish is viewed as a stage between retaining the Jewish national identity and acquiring the American one, the question whether Yeshivish has the reason to exist rises. After all, Yeshivish does not seem to create stronger ties between the immigrant Jews and the American Jews any stronger: “As members of Jewish subcultures, speakers of Yeshivish and those engaged in Queer Yiddishkeit seem poles apart” (Shandler 190). However, seeing how the language still allows for linking two different cultures, it needs to be supported as a legitimate language.
The evaluation of linguistic variety plays a major role in the given case since it helps define how far and in what aspects the Hebonic language has deviated from the traditional American English. It is crucial to use the concept of linguistic variety to assess the status of the language in question, as well as figure out whether the given linguistic phenomenon is treated positively, negatively or neutrally by the American English speaking citizens. It was only with the help of the concept of linguistic variety that the core changes to the American English I the process of its transformation to the Yeshivish have been defined.
Without the linguistic variety analysis, learning that most of the changes to the traditional American English have occurred on the semiotic level would have been impossible. Therefore, the evaluation of the language variety between the American English and the Yeshivish languages has allowed for defining not only the key differences between the two languages, but also the purpose for these differences to exist and, therefore, the status of the Yeshivish language in the contemporary American society. The act that the linguistic variety of the Yeshivish language concerned predominantly its semantics and semiotics has facilitated the possibility for improving the Yeshivish status in the American society and, thus, eliminating the existing prejudice against Jewish and Jewish American people.
Aronson, Stanley M. Perilous Encounters: Commentaries on the Evolution, Art and Science of Medicine from Ancient to Modern Times. Bloomington, IN Author House. 2009. Print.
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Lakoff, Robin Thomas. The Language War. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. 2001. Print.
Shandler, Jeffrey. Adventures in Yiddishland: Postvernacular Language and Culture. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. 2008. Print.