Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Fourth Century Crimean Origin of the Ashkenazim

As is argued in other essays, on this blog, the Germanic component of Yiddish goes back to an East Germanic, probably Gothic, root. This raises the question of how Gothic material came to be found in a language, Yiddish, which is first attested in medieval Germany.


One school of historians (e. g. Simon Schwarzfuchs "L'opposition Tsarfat-Provence" in "Hommage a Georges Vajda" edited by Gerard Nahon and Charles Touati, Louvain, Peeter, 1980 and Israel M. Ta-Shma "Creativity and Diversity" Cambridge, Mass, Harvard University Press, 2006 ) maintains that Ashkenazic Jews migrated to Germany largely from northern Italy between the ninth and eleventh centuries. Historical records of Jews in northern Italy are sparse for the eighth and ninth centuries when northern Italy was under the domination of the Lombard but Jewish communities are mentioned in Lucca and Pavia. Jews were well-treated under Lombard rule.



This Lombard Jewish community can perhaps be derived from a significant Jewish community that lived in Ravenna in the sixth century (see Thomas Hodgkin "Theodoric the Goth" New York, G. P. Putnam, 1891 and Bernard S. Bachrach "Early medieval Jewish policy in western Europe", Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1977) This community lived under the Ostrogothic conquerors of Italy and enjoyed very close relations with them.


It is not known from whence the Jewish community of sixth century Ravenna came from but their closeness to the Ostrogothic elite suggests that they migrated with the Ostrogoths from their previous settlement around the mouth of the Danube on the Black Sea. It is not known if the Danubian homeland of the Ostrogoths had a significant Jewish population but another Gothic settlement further east on the Black Sea, the Crimean Bosporus, had an old Jewish community which came under Gothic rule in about 362. (see Gibson, E. Leigh "The Jewish Manumission Inscriptions of the Bosporus Kingdom" Tubingen, Germany, Mohr Siebeck, 1999 for Jews on the Crimean Bosporus and Alexander Alexanderovich Vasiliev "The Goths in Crimea" Cambridge, Mass., Medieval Academy of America, 1936) for Goths in Crimea).


The Crimean Gothic community was separated from the Ostrogothic community from the late fourth century until the mid-fifth century by the Huns who dominated the intermediate area along the Black Sea. But the Huns lost control of this region after the death of Attila in 454 and Goths and Jews from Crimea were free to join the increasingly powerful and prosperous Danubian Ostrogoths on their march to the west.

To flesh out this hypothetical reconstruction; the Ashkenazim began as Jews of the Crimean Bosporus who allied themselves with the Goths who got control of the Bosporus in about 262 CE. These Gothicized Jews joined the Ostrogoths of the lower Danube on their migration to Italy under the leadership of Theodoric the Great in 493. They settled in northern Italy, particularly in Ravenna and remained in northern Italy after the Lombards, a West Germanic people, conquered Italy in 568.


Jewish life in northern Italy is sparsely documented but by about 800 Jews are reported at least as traders to the north of the Alps in Regensburg under the rule of Charlemagne. After the death of Charlemagne in 841, the German lands did not thrive. An economic revival began under the Saxon Empire between 919 and 1024 associated with the rise of eastern German cities like Erfurt, Merseburg, Halle and Magdeburg, all of which are thought to have had significant Jewish populations. This period was followed by that of the Salian Empire from 1024-1125 when Jews, some of whom moved from northern France, settled in Speyer, Worms and Mainz (SHUM).


The first written products of Ashkenaz come from the central Rhineland communities of SHUM in the eleventh century. From these earliest surviving writings, scholars like Abraham Grossman and Israel M. Ta-Shma have been able to build up a picture of medieval Ashkenazic culture. From this one gets the sense of a proud culture with a sense of great antiquity. It is a culture that adheres strongly to local customs which are seen as variants of a tradition directly passed from ancient Israel. Naturally, this culture puts a very high value on Hebrew literacy.














































Sunday, July 5, 2009

The development of Germanic short 'o'

Proto-Germanic is commonly reconstructed as lacking a short 'o' phoneme. The subsequent development of short 'o' can be looked at by tracing developments in Gothic, German and Yiddish.
Biblical Gothic, attested from the 5th century, is close to the Proto-Germanic state. There is no 'o' phoneme in the native Germanic word stock although 'o' is found in loanwords.
Within the Germanic component, 'o' occurs as an allophone of short 'u' before the consonants 'r', 'kh' and 'khw'. This is part of a more general short vowel lowering rule that also lowers short 'i' to short 'e'.
German by comparison has a short 'o' phoneme which mostly developed from PG short 'u' and which is found in many contexts. Notable are occurences of 'o' derived from 'u' before nasal vowels, e. g. fromm, Sommer, Sonne, kommen, besonderer, gesponnen, geschwommen, genommen. (examples from Bin-Nun). This shift began in Old High German and continued through Middle High German and Early New High German.
The short vowel lowering rule survives in the German dialects but it is quite restricted geographically.
Yiddish occupies an intermediate position between Gothic and German. The short vowel lowering rule survives except in the Northeastern dialect (Litvish) which has lost the distinction between short and long vowels.
Words like vortsl, dorsht, shtorem, vorem, gorgl, vokher, etc. are universal in Yiddish and show that this rule operated at the earliest period in the history of the language.
On the other hand, there is well-established short 'o' phoneme in found in many word from the Germanic component such as groshn, holts, honik, shlos. gebot. etc. But 'u' before nasals was rarely lowered so that the listed German words above are represented in by Yiddish words that, historically, have short 'u' e. g. zumer, zun, kumen, etc.
I say 'historically' because in almost all the Yiddish dialects, the short 'u' has been transformed into another vowel. The excpeion is Alsation Yiddish. Alsation Yiddish is also exceptional in that while it has zumer, zun, kumen, etc. these are in free variation with forms that have 'o'
The picture that one gets is of an early Yiddish that had the short vowel lowering rule and lacked an 'o' phoneme but subsequently acquired it through contact with German, Hebrew and other languages that have it.
A particularly interesting set of words are fun, duner, and ful. The German cognates of these words have had 'o' since Old High Germanic times. It is possible that Yiddish preserves Old High German forms that are not attested in the literature. Alternately these forms may go back to an earlier Gemanic language such as Gothic or an earlier stage of the West Germanic language that developed into Old High German. Either way we are looking at a date for the origin of Yiddish that is earlier than 800 C E.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Yiddish gayes Gothic gauja

The Yiddish word 'gayes' was used in western Germany and Poland to mean 'people of the countryside, particularly non-Jewish'. It is commonly spelled as if it were of Semitic origin 'gimel-yod-vov-sof' but it is not a Semitic world. Meyer Wolf and Alexis Manaster Ramer have suggested that it is of ancient Germanic origin.
The word frequently appears in the form 's'gayes' where the 's' is a contraction of the neutral definite article 'dos' the word can also be masculine or feminine.
Related forms in Gothic and Old High German refer to a district or region but the closest form is Gothic 'gauja' (masculine) defined in Lehmann's Gothic dictionary as 'people of a land'.

Yiddish oyganes Old High German ougun Gothic augona

In Yiddish 'oy'ganes' means large protruding eyes as if in surprise. A form 'oy'genes' with stress on the first syllable exists and also a form 'oyga'nim'.
The Old High German word for 'eye' is 'ou'ga' in the nominative singular and 'ou'gun' or 'ougun' in the nominative plural. The Biblical Gothic (4th century) word is 'au'go' in the nominative singular and 'au'go:na' in the nominative plural. In Crimean Gothic from the 1500's the plural is 'oeghene.'
The Yiddish form resembles the Gothic form in having three syllables. However, the 'a' in the second syllable resembles the Old High German form. Both the Gothic and Old High German forms may have influenced Yiddish.

Yiddish klezmer Gothic klismo Hebrew kley-zemer

Yiddish 'klezmer' 'musician' is commonly derived from Hebrew 'kley-zemer'. Biblical Gothic has a word 'klismo' of unknown etymology meaning 'cymbal' used in the phrase 'klismo klismjandei' 'cymbal tinkling',
The two words are actually phonetically quite close in that Gothic lacked a short 'e'. Gothic 'i' would have been the closest approximation to this sound. Semantically, however the two words are pretty far apart. However, the literal meaning of 'kley-zemer' is 'musical instrument.' This word could have existed in Wulfila's time and been the basis both of Gothic 'klismo' and Yiddish 'klezmer.'

Yiddish 'skotsl' Gothic 'skohsl'

The Yiddish expression 'skotsl kumt' is uttered on the occassion of someone's unexpected arrival. Its etymology is unknown. The Biblical Gothic word for 'demon' is 'skohsl'. It is phonetically easy to go from 'skohsl' to 'skotsl'. The Gothic 'h' here designates a preconsonantal 'kh' sound. Such a sound was often lost in the history of Yiddish, compare 'shukh' with derived 'shuster.' The 'sl' cluster can, sometimes become a 'tsl' cluster as in 'pitsl' derived from 'bisl.'
Semantically, the Yiddish and Gothic words are also a good match in that the Yiddish expression can be compared to English 'speak of the Devil and he appears' also said of an unexpected arrival. It can be concluded that Yiddish 'skotsl' is likely descended from Gothic 'skohsl'.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Yiddish /r/

Yiddish /r/
In their Etymologische Studien zum Jiddischen (Helmut Buske, Hamburg, 2006) Erika Timm and Gustav Adolf Beckmann discuss the theory of Paul Wexler that Yiddish is a relexified Slavic language. By this, Wexler means that Yiddish started out life as a member of the Slavic family and borrowed so many words from German that it has taken on a Germanic appearance. Timm and Beckmann reject this theory and they begin their concluding remarks by asking how it is that Yiddish has a very un-Slavic (and they add, un-Turkic) uvular [R]?

That the predominant form of the Yiddish /r/ is uvular can be seen from Map 8 in the first volume of the Language and Culture Atlas of Ashkenazic Jewry (LCAAJ) (Tũbingen, Max Niemeyer, New York, the Yivo Institute for Jewish Research, 1992). Yiddish has two kinds of /r/ which are distinguished by the position of tongue contact. In the apical [r] the tongue contact is further forward in the mouth while in uvular [R] it is further back. The bulk of Yiddish speaking territory has [R] with [r] found only at the edges on the northwest, the northeast, the southwest and, a bit, in the southeast.The pattern with [R] firmly established in the middle while on the edges of the territory Yiddish agrees with co-territorial languages in having [r] stongly implies that [R] is the oldest form in Yiddish and that [r] is a new form borrowed from its neighbors.

But if [R] is the original Yiddish /r/, we have to ask where it comes from? Slavic languages can be ruled out as overwhelmingly preferring [r]. The possibility that it comes from Hebrew must be considered but there is no evidence that ancient Hebrew had an [R] and Yiddish pronunciations of Hebrew sounds often differ from the ancient Middle Eastern ones.

The obvious candidate is the Germanic languages and, at first this looks, quite obvious. Modern Germanic languages have both kinds of /r/. In Standard German the [R] is currently preferred as it is in Standard Danish and Dutch. In other Germanic languages, [r] is the standard but [R] occurs as a dialect pronunciation. In fact, Robert D. King and Stephanie Beach derive the Yiddish [R] from German in their article, "On the origins of Germanic uvular [R]: the Yiddishe evidence" in the American Journal of Germanic Linguistics and Literatures September 1998 pp. 279-290.

However, if one goes back to the handbooks from the late 19th and early 20th century one gets a different impression. The original Proto-Germanic /r/ is reconstructed as [r]. The original Old High German and Middle High German quality is also given as [r]. An apical [r] is also reconstructed for Gothic.

The evidence that [r] was once univeral in Germanic is, however, not strong. A more recent discussion in the book Proto-Germanic /r/ (Alfred Kummich, Gőppingen, 1974) by Richard M. Runge cites a considerable body of evidence and later studies that indicate that Proto-Germanic /r/ was [R] and that this value was found in at least some Old High German as well as in Gothic.

If Yiddish [R] is Germanic, than this feature takes its place along with the Yiddish tendency to stress initial syllables and to put the verb in second position as a testimony to the deep rootedness of Yiddish within the Germanic family of languages.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Erika Timm on the historical semantics of Yiddish

    Erika Timm's monumental Historische Jiddische Semantik: The language of bible translation as a factor in the progressive divergence between Yiddish and German vocabulary  (Max Niemeyer, Tűbingen, 2005) deals with the vocabulary of Yiddish Tanakh translations written between about 1400 and 1750. The bulk of the book contains detailed histories of many Yiddish words that appear in these translations. There are also special studies of words used to translate the names of gems, musical instruments, plants and animals mentioned in Tanakh. There are also valuable discussions of morphology and word formation.

   The author began the work many years ago by compiling a vocabulary from an edition of  Mirkeves haMishne. Eventually working with a team of scholars and employing computers the list was extended to include words from many other texts. The massive compilation of detailed  word histories makes this book an indispensable reference work for anyone interested in the history of Yiddish or simply interested in reading pre-19th century Yiddish literature. It is also endless fascinating for the browser.

     The book begins with some essays that provide a fresh prospective on the field. Dr. Timm considers Yiddish to be one language, old and new, east and west, written and spoken. This perspective is refreshing because it is actually quite unusual. A surprising number of scholars think of the eastern and western dialects of Yiddish as having independent origins. Many do not use written sources in their reconstruction of the history of the language because, for a variety of reasons, they overestimate the difference between written and spoken forms the language. The neglect of written forms is expecially serious when it comes to medieval writings which some scholars dismiss as being not Yiddish at all but German in Hebrew characters. Erika Timm will have none of this. In particular, she rebuts the common opinion that the language of Bible translation special dialect far from ordinary spoken Yiddish.

    The year 1349, plays an especially important part in the author's thinking. In that year, Jewish communities from northern Spain to northern Germany were the victims of numerous state-sponsored massacres. Erika Timm believes that these pogroms had extensive effects on the history of Yiddish.

    For one thing, by about 1400, Jewish education in Germany was reformed so that Tanakh was taught through Yiddish translations. Previously, the language of translation in Yiddish speaking communities had been Loez (Judeo-French). One consequence of the persecutions of 1349, the author believes was to throw the community back on its own resources and this included developing teaching aides in the communities' own mother language. The old Loez translations did not, however, disappear without trace. Dr. Timm demonstrates that they influenced the newer Yiddish translations.

    The new isolation of the community also affected the nature of the German component of written Yiddish. Up to the 1300's, Dr. Timm, along with Manfred Gernot Heide, find that the few scraps of Yiddish texts that survive tend to have German components that mirror the specific regional varieties of German used in the places they were composed. By 1400, the German component in Yiddish sources from all different places tends to rather uniform. Yiddish writers, regardless of where they live, use a standard mixture of forms borrowed from a number of regional varieties of German.

    A related development is that until the 1300's changes in German are reflected in changes in the German component of Yiddish. After 1400, this is no longer case. Yiddish follows its own course of internal development changing some features that remain the same in German while preserving other features that are lost in German. German and the German component of Yiddish exhibit increasing divergence over time.

    A word about the origins of the German words used in Yiddish Tanakh translations is apropos. Max Weinreich wished to refute the very common idea that Yiddish is descended from Middle High German. In doing this, he was correct but he overstated his case in one way. He noted that the Middle High German as we know it from the texts that have come down to us is a literary language used in learned circles. This, Max Weinreich maintained made it different from the kind of German that was borrowed into Yiddish. Yiddish speakers he thought had little contact with learned non-Jewish circles. They obtained their Yiddish words from peasants, workers and merchants of little education.

    A glance at the Tanakh translations shows that this cannot be true. The original Tanakh is the product of a highly sophisticated urban civilization. To translate it requires specialized vocabulary having to do with such things as nature, government administration, architecture, religious rites, and other civilized arts and sciences. In order to translate Tanakh, Yiddish speakers had to draw on the highly developed vocabulary of medieval literary German.

    The fact that before the 1300's Yiddish borrowed from regional varieties of German may be partly responsible for the appearance of different German dialect forms in the modern Yiddish dialects. A special study of this is the Ph. D. dissertation of Ulrike Kiefer at Columbia University which is slated to be published in book form.

    If we accept as a fact, the related observation that most of the divergence between German and the German component of Yiddish dates from after 1349, this has special consequences for the way the history of Yiddish is reconstructed. If the view is taken, that the German component of Yiddish is the essential core of the language then it would have to be conceded that Yiddish did not have an existence independent of German before 1349.

    Nevertheless, the identification of Yiddish, with its German component has to be rejected because of many phonological, morphological, lexical, and phraseological features that are found in all Yiddish dialects or widely distributed among dialects spoken from the west to the east. Some of these forms and features are from Semitic, Romance or Slavic languages. Others are Germanic but may come from a Germanic language other than German. Such Germanic features include the position of the verb in second syntactica position in the Yiddish  sentence and the tendency to stress words, regardless of origin, on the first syllable. The fact that this common Yiddish heritage is spread among all the dialects indicates that it is of great age, certainly dating back before 1349.

    These two sets of facts; the tendency of Yiddish to avoid diverging from German before about 1349 with the much older existence of common Yiddish forms and features, often Germanic, can be reconciled if we reconstruct early Yiddish as being having been a Germanic language that was not originally derived from German but which subsequently borrowed heavily from it. This is consistent with the derivation of the earliest Yiddish from an East Germanic system akin to or identical with Gothic.

    As has been the case with  her earlier work on the spelling system and pronunciation of older Yiddish, Graphische un phonemische Struktur des Westjiddischen unter besonderer Berűcksichtung des Zeit um 1600 (Max Niemeyer, Tűbingen, 1987), Historische jiddische Semantik will shape the field of Yiddish studies for many years to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The four great vowel systems of Yiddish

    Readers who have encountered other treatments of the Yiddish vowels and their historical pattern of spatial variation will notice some unusual features in this essay. In particular, i have chosen a rather unconventional way of referring to the Yiddish vowels. The more familiar approaches to this are based on the observation that there are regular correspondences between Yiddish vowels and German vowels and also between Yiddish vowels in different dialects. The correspondences, in question, hold between vowels that occur in the stressed syllables of words. These make it possible, in many cases to predict, from what vowel is found in a German word, the vowel that will be found in a Yiddish word or to predict from the vowel in a word in a particular Yiddish dialect what vowel the same word would have in another dialect. Thus the from the fact that the German word 'Nadel' has a long a as its stressed vowel is possible to predict that the vowel in Standard Yiddish would be o as in 'nodl' or from the fact the vowel in the northeastern dialect of Yiddish pronunciation of 'gut' is an u that the same vowel will be i as in 'git' in the Polish and Galician dialect.

    The first scholars to note these regular correspondences thought they could be explained by assuming that vowels whose pronunciation varied regularly shared a common ancestor from which they diverged. The earlier scholars were especially struck by the regular correspondences between German, especially Middle High German, vowels and Yiddish vowels. They regarded the Middle High German vowels as ancestral to the Yiddish vowels so they used the values of vowels in Middle High German to designate their, supposed, descendants. Thus the vowel in 'nodel' was thought of as a descendant of Middle High German long a.

    A later set of scholars, most notably, Max Weinreich and Solomon Birnbaum were more struck by the regular correspondences among the vowels of the Yiddish dialects. They also assumed that such a correspondence was the result of a descent from a common vowel but they identified this set of ancestral vowels not with the vowels of Middle High German but with later set of vowels that emerged from a mixture of medieval German dialects at a time in history when Yiddish had already branched off from German but before Yiddish had diverged into different dialects.

    This difference can be illustrated by way the earlier and later scholars would have treated the vowel in Yiddish 'gut'. The first group would have assumed that Yiddish 'gut' was descended from Middle High German 'gut'. Since Middle High German 'gut' had a long u: the vowel in Yiddish 'gut' would be classed with descendants of Middle High German u:. The later scholar would observe that based on the variations of the vowel 'gut' in various Yiddish dialects it was possible to trace it back to a particular vowel in early Yiddish. This vowel most like had an u quality but unlike the Middle High German vowel it most likely was not long since no modern Yiddish dialect has a long vowel in this word. To designate these ancestral vowels Max Weinreich invented a numbered system of proto-vowels. Within it the vowel of 'gut' would be designated 51 with the 5 indicating that the vowel originally had an u quality and the 1 indicating that it was originally short.

    I have broken with this approach because my observations of vowel variation in the data of the Language and Cultural Atlas of Ashkenazic Jewry and other sources has led me to have a different idea about the mechanism by which the variation among vowels in the Yiddish dialects and, ultimately, the variation between Yidddish and German vowels emerged. The two groups of  scholars mentioned above started from the idea that a set of vowels that are in regular correspondence diverged from a common ancestral vowel. The mechanism by which this occurred was believed to be a gradual process of change in pronunciation called 'sound shift'.

    But sound shift is not the only way that vowels can change. Sometimes they change by a process called sound substitution where one sound in a word is replaced by another. People typically do this when they wish to communicate with speakers of another language or dialect which is historically related to their own and whose sounds, while they may differ from the sounds in their own language, tend to differ in predictable ways. Thus Swedish and Danish are historically related; an ei sound in Swedish tends to correspond to an ai sound in Danish. A Swede who wished to communicate with a Dane but who has not really mastered Danish will approximate Danish by substituting ai for ei in Swedish words.

    Sets of closely related languages or dialects with regular sound correspondences in which people communicate to speakers of other languages or dialects in the set by sound substitution are called diasystems. Uriel Weinreich observed that the Yiddish dialects constitute a diasystem. Speakers of one Yiddish dialect can be observed trying to communicate with speakers of another dialect by substituting sounds from the other dialect in words of their own dialect. This is particularly noticeable in cases where the sound correspondances between two dialects are not perfectly regular and the sound substitutions result in mistakes. For example, a speaker of the dialect of Yiddish spoken historically in Poland  will observe tha when he says 'git' a speaker of the northeastern dialect says 'gut'. This and many other examples may cause our speaker to generalize that any time his own dialect has i sound the northeastern dialect will have an u sound. But this generalization will occassionally break down. For example, our speaker from Poland speaker  the word 'litvak' for a speaker of the northeastern dialect. In trying to speak the northeastern dialect he may substitute an u yielding 'lutvak'. But, in fact, the form used by the northeastern dialect is actually 'litvak'. The use of the incorrect form shows that the speaker from Poland is practicing sound subsitution.

    I think that at an early stage in the history of Yiddish, sound substitution played a role in the formation of the Yiddish dialects. This process began at a time when Yiddish had a sound system that was based on a Germanic language which was NOT German. The language, call it X, from which Yiddish derived its sound system was, however, closely related to German and it was possible for speakers with the X sound system to communicate with German speakers by sound substitution. In other words, German and languages with the X souind system formed a diasystem.

    At this stage Yiddish speakers normally used the X sound system when communicating among themselves while using substitute sounds when communicating with German speakers. There were actually several, perhaps three or four different systems of substitution that were used by speakers with the X system to approximate German pronunciations. Each of these sound substitution systems was popular in a different area of Yiddish-speaking territory.

    At a later time, the language X ceased to be spoken. At the same time, interactions between Yiddish and German speakers were quite important. Yiddsh speakers stopped using the original sounds of the X system and began using the substitued sounds all the time. Because different areas had different substitution sytems, the speakers in these areas ended up with different pronunciation systems of Yiddish which evolved into the modern Yiddish dialects.

    If it is assumed, as it is here, that all Yiddish dialects are descended from a common ancestor, it would be expected that the similarities and differences between the dialects looked at in conjunction with the relative positions of the dialects in space should provide evidence as to how the dialects developed and came to occupy their geographical territories. The best way to do this is to look at the maps of the Language and culture atlas of Ashkenazic Jewry which represent the pattern of spatial variation in Yiddish as it was in 1939.

    Of particular interest are the set of maps presented in Volume I of the Atlas which show variation in the Yiddish sound system. The Yiddish dialects show roughly four vowel systems. These systems are called within the Atlas project Alsatian, West Transcarpathian, Central and Southern and Northeastern. The names are not alwats descriptive and can in fact be somewhat misleading. Alternatives will be suggested below.

    Geographically the vowel systems can be characterized as ranging from the southwest to the northeast of 1939 Yiddish-speaking territory. The most southwestern dialect is that spoken by informants from Alsace-Lorraine. Based on historical data it is typical of the Yiddish once spoken also in southern Germany west of the Elbe and as far north as Hesse as well as in adjacent corner of Switzerland. Since it is spoken near the Rhine we will call it Raynish. 

    To the northeast of this Alsatian dialect is one spoken in western Slovakia, western Hungary and Burgenland. Within the Atlas it is characterized as West Trancarpathian. The traditional Yiddish term for this territory is the Oyberland and we will call this vowel system Oyberlandish.

    Further to the northeast are two variants of Yiddish , one spoken in most of Poland as well as in Galicia and the other in adjacent parts of the weatern Ukraine. The former dialect is called Central Yiddish within the Atlas and the latter Southeastern Yiddish. Popularly, speakers of both dialects are called Galitsyaners and we will group these two similar dialects and speak of  the Galitsyanish system.

    Still further to the northeast is the dialect spoken in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Belarussia as well as adjacent sections of Poland and Ukraine. The speakers are popularly called Litvakes and the system can be called Litvish.

    These systems are distinguished by different patterns of splits and mergers among their stressed vowels. Many other features; lexical, morphological, grammatical and cultural are distributed in patterns that closely match the distribution of the vowel systems.

    It is interesting to review some of the features of each of these four vowel system. For Raynish, data can be found in Richard Zuckerman's article "Alsace: an outpost of Western Yiddish" printed in The field of Yiddish III edited by Marvin I. Herzog, Wita Ravid and Uriel Weinreich (Mouton, the Hague, 1969). The most striking features of this system have to do with classes of words that have a stressed vowel which is spelled with a kamets alef in Standard Yiddish and with an o the YIVO transcription system.

    One such class of words includes words such as 'grobn', 'gor', 'tog', etc. In Raynish, these words have a long vowel a:. This results in a merger with two other classes of words that also have a:. These are a class of the words spelled with tsvey-yudn in Standard Yiddish and 'ey' in YIVO transcription including 'zeyf', 'heym' and 'veykh'. as well as a class of the words spelled with vov-yud and transcribed as 'oy' including 'roykh', 'oyg' and 'loyfn'.
    Another class of words spelled with kamets alef in Standard Yiddish and 'o' in YIVO transcription includes 'nodl', 'shlofn', 'blozn', etc. These words have ou in the Raynish system, As result they are merged with another class of words written with vov-yud and transcribed as 'oy' including 'voynen', 'groys', 'royt', etc

    Moving northeastward, Oyberlandish is like Raynish in that the vowels in the class of words spelled with tsvey-yudn in Standard Yiddish and with ey in YIVO transcription exemplified by 'zeyf', 'heym', and 'veykh' have a: as does the class words that includes 'roykh', 'oyg' and 'loyfn.'

    Oyberlandish, however, differs in that the class that includes 'grobn', 'gor' and 'tog' has the vowel o: as do many of the vowels in the class that includes 'nodl', 'shlofn' and 'blozn'. Further to the northeast we will find this pattern of merger strengthened with virtually all of the words in both classes having the same vowel.
     Moving still further east we find Galitsyanish which merges the stressed vowel in the class of words that include 'roykh', 'oyg' and 'loyfn' with the vowel in the class of words including 'voynen', 'groys' and 'royt'. In Galitsyanish all these words have oi. Another merger brings the vowel in the class of words that includes 'zeyf', 'heym', and 'veykh' with a class of words that are also spelled with pasekh tsvey yudn and with ey; 'shney', 'tseyn', 'breyt', etc. In the variant of Galitsyanish spoken in Poland and Galicia all these words have ai. In the Ukrainian variant they all have ei.

    Galitsyanish also has a important pair of mergers affecting the vowels spelled with vov and yud in Standard Yiddish and 'u' and 'i' respectively in YIVO transcription. The vov vowels can actually be divided into two classes which are pronounced differently in the dialects spoken southwest of Galitsyanish. One class includes words like 'un', 'nus' and 'zumer' while the other has words like 'du', 'shul' and 'shtub'. The vowels in words of the first class are short and  those in the second class are long in Raynish and Oyberlandish. The yud words are also divided into two classes: 'ikh, iz, kind' etc. with a short vowel in Raynish and Oyberlandish and 'dinen', 'brider', 'tif', etc. with a long vowel. In Galitsyanish the short classes of the yud and vov vowels are merged into one vowel and the long classes into another. The nature of the difference between these vowels differs in the two divisions of Galitsyanish. In Poland and Galicia, the long vowels merged into a long i; while the short vowels merged into a short version of the same vowel. In Ukraine the long vowels merge in an i of indeterminate length while the short one merge into a more central vowel I.

    In addition to processes that affect the whole Galitsyanish territory there are two features that characterize subparts of the Ukrainian sector. One process, in southern Ukraine, effects the vowels spelled with pasakh alef in Standard Yiddish and 'a' in the YIVO transcription: 'mame', 'hant'. 'zalts',etc. and a class of the vowels spelled with kamets alef in Standard Yiddish and 'o' in YIVO transcription: 'ofn', 'lokh', 'tokhter', etc. These merge in an o vowel. The other, in northeastern Ukraine, effects a class of the words spelled with 'ayin' in Standard Yiddish and 'e' in YIVO transcription: 'mel', 'lebn', 'shver', etc these merge with the  class of short vowels spelled with yud (see above) and are pronounced with the centralized I vowel.
    In one way, the Polish and Galician variant of Galitsyanish groups with Raynish and Oyberlandish. All these dialects group vowels into long and short classes. The Ukrainian variant does not have this distinction.

    Furthest to the northeast is the Litvish system which is very distinct. It merges all three classes of vowels spelled with kamets alef in one mid-tense O vowel, both classes of  vowels spelled with ayin in one mid-tense e vowel, both classes vowels spelled with yud in one mid-tense i vowel and both classes of vowels spelled with a mid-tense u vowel.

    Litvish shares with Galitsyanish the merger of the two class of words spelled with tsvey-yudn as well as the merger of two classes of the words with vov-yud: the class that includes 'voynen', 'groys', 'royt', etc. and the one that includes 'roykh', 'oyg' and 'loyfn'. In addition, the vowel in the two latter classes is realized as ei. This results in a merger of all four classes. The merger is not found in the northwestern corner of Litvish territory where the vowel in the latter two classes is a front rounded diphthong umlaut-o umlaut-u.

    A striking series of mergers in Litvish effects all vowels that are distinguished by length in Raynish, Oyberlandish and western Galitsyanish. All the word classes with vowels spelled with kamets alef and transcribed as 'o' are merged together. Similar mergers affect all the word classes  with ayin, transcribed as 'e'. all those with yud, transcribed as 'i' and all those with vov, transcribed a 'u;.

    Higher level groupings are often used. Galitsyanish and Litvish are commonly grouped as East Yiddish. Raynish and Oyberlandish are traditionally grouped as West Yiddish but this grouping has been justifiably challenged because in comparison to Raynish, which is very distinct, all three of the other systems can be grouped together. (see the essay on Manastar-Ramer).

Monday, January 12, 2009

Manaster Ramer on the polygenesis of Western Yiddish and the mono

                                         Manaster Ramer on the polygenesis of Western Yiddish and the monogenesis of Yiddish

    An article, "The Polygenesis of Western Yiddish--and the Monogenesis of Yiddish" is to be found in Indo-European, Nostratic and beyond: festschrift for Vitalij V. Shevoroshkin edited by Iren Hegedus, Peter A. Michalove and Alexis Manaster Ramer (Washington DC, The Institute for the Study of Man, 1997). The article written by Manaster Ramer with the help of Meyer Wolf discusses two important and rather neglected aspects of the history of Yiddish. One is the fact that the customary primary division of Yiddish into an East and a West Yiddish dialects has no real justification. The other is that all the dialects of Yiddish are descended from a common ancestor.

    The first topic, the fact that the dialects that have been traditionally lumped together as West Yiddish have less in common with each other than some of them have with the East Yiddish dialects is not new. In his essay, "Western traits in Transcarpathian YIddish" published in For Max Weinreich (The Hague, Mouton, 1964) Uriel Weinreich already pointed out that chronologically deepest gulf in the Yiddish landscape ran through West Yiddish territory separating the Yiddish of Alsace-Lorraine and Switzerland on the one hand, from the West Transcarpathian dialects of western Slovakia, Burgenland and western Hungary. Uriel Weinreich's observation inspired me to reconstruct the history of vowel splits and mergers in the West Yiddish dialects. The results reinforced the evidence for a very old divergence between the Alsactian and Swiss dialects on the one hand and the rest of Yiddish on the other. Manaster Ramer musters a number of fresh arguments based on lexical features and on the historical development of the Yiddish vowels.

    The second topic is, rather surprisingly quite neglected. The use of a single term, Yiddish, for all Yiddish dialects is now virtually universal. This was not always the case as the West Yiddish dialects were often referrred to as "Judeo-German". The current use of one term for all Yiddish dialects, however, does not imply that that all these dialects are seen as springing from a common ancestor. A good many authors, explicitly postulate separate origins for East and West Yiddish. Others do so implicitly by maintaining that the two branches of Yiddish are descended from different German dialects or different mixtures of German dialects.

    Manaster Ramer addresses this problem by mustering a large set of lexical items, phonological and morphological developments and phrases that are unique to Yiddish and are Pan-Yiddish in that they are either found in all the Yiddish dialects from West to East or in a representative sample of western and eastern locations. These he presents as evidence for a common early stage of Yiddish. His examples are drawn from the linguistic literature but many more could be adduced from the records of the Language and Culture Atlas of Ashkenazic Yiddish as well as from the examination of samples of written Yiddish.

    Manaster Ramer's conclusion written at the end of the 20th century is that "In spite of all the work that has been done, we still have more gaps than filled-in areas in our knowledge of Proto-Yiddish and early history of the dialects descended from it. The results reported here, coming roughly a century after the birth of comparative Yiddish linguistics, are only scratching the surface of what promises to be a major research topic in the next century. As in every area of comparative linguistics, whether on the large scale asi in the case of such hypotheses as Nostratic, Altaic, Na-Dene, tec., or on the smaller scale as in the case before us, more work is called for."

Daniel Leibel on Ashkenazic Stress

As a member of the Germanic family of languages, Yiddish would be expected to exhibit a fundamentally Germanic sound structure. The most salient characteristic of German phonology may be the strong tendency to place the accent of a word on the root syllable which is often the first syllable of the word. A related Germanic characteristic is the tendency for vowel length distinctions to be expressed on the stressed syllable.

The sound structure of a language is the way in which the speakers of the language analyze speech sounds. An indirect way to observe this is through the way the speakers interpret words from other languages. This can be seen in the way loanwords are modified when they are assimilated into the language.

These principles underlie Daniel Leibel's study "On Ashkenazic Stress" whic appeared in 1965 in the Second Collection of "Field of Yiddish" edited by Uriel Weinreich (Mouton, the Hague). Leibel begins by noting that, in Yiddish, it is rare to stress Hebrew words on the final syllable although final syllable stress in the usual pattern in Classical Hebrew. He goes on by saying that a majority of authors have claimed that the general pattern in Yiddish is to stress Hebrew words on the next to last syllable, the penultimate.

Given the generalization that Hebrew words in Yiddish are stressed on the penultimate, various theories have been put forward to explain why this should be so; that it represents an influence of Polish on Yiddish, that it is an inheritance from a pre-Yiddish form of Hebrew that was already stressed on the penultimate or that it represents a conequence of the supposed loss of distinctive length in Yiddish.

All of these theories, Leibel shows, are defective. Their most serious problem is that Hebrew words in Yiddish are not essentially stressed on the penultimate. They are stressed on the first syllable. This is not immediately clear for the largest number of words which have two syllables since the first syllable in these words is also the penultimate syllable. But the situation can be clarified by looking at words of three syllables. In these words stress also occurs on on the first syllable except in cases where the first syllable has a short vowel and a following syllable has a long vowel. In the latter case the stress is does fall on the penultimate.

Leibel explains these facts by noting that German places the stress on the root syllable of a word which is generally the first syllable. When German borrows words it treats the first syllable of the loanword as a root and stresses it. The exception is when a borrowed word has a long vowel in a later syllable. German does not have long vowels in unstressed syllables. In some cases German deals with this by shortening the long vowel but in other cases it preserves the long vowel and moves the stress to that syllable.

Leibel assumes that Yiddish is a close relative of German and behaves in the same way. In the case of Hebrew loanwords it generally treats the first syllable as if it were a root and stresses. Where a Hebrew word has a long vowel in a later syllable that sylable, which may be the penult, gets the stress.

Leibel's analysis stands out from that of other linguists in several ways. One is that he saw the Hebrew words that were borrowed into Yiddish as coming into Yiddish with distinctive long and short vowels. Most of the linguists who had looked at the Hebrew material in Yiddish, notably, Solomon Birnbaun, Jechiel Bin-Nun, and Max Weinreich had accepted the opinion of specialists in Hebrew linguistics that the Hebrew which was the source of Yiddish borrowings did not have distinctive vowel length. Later, however, Dovid Katz was to support Leibel in this. Another difference, is that other linguists have generally seen the pattern of vowel length in the Hebrew words and the stress pattern as having related causes. Birnbaum, Bin-Nun, and Weinreich attributed all these features to the influence of the Germanic system while Dovid Katz saw them all as being inherited from an earlier form of Hebrew. Leibel, as we have seen, attributed distinctive vowel length to the Hebrew source and the change in stress to Germanic influence.

In Leibel's time, the descent of Yiddish from German was virtually unquestioned. This is no longer true as Paul Wexler has presented the theory that Yiddish is a relexified Slavic language. Leibel's argument is strong support for the originally Germanic character of Yiddish. However. the tendencies toward initial stress and toward expressing length distinctions on a stressed syllable are not just features of German but are shared by all the Germanic languages. Leibel's argument can also be used to support the descent of Yiddish from another Germanic language.