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JEWISH ENGLISH

JEWISH ENGLISH Short form JE. A collective term for several varieties of English spoken and written by Jews, marked by a range of lexical, grammatical, and other linguistic and paralinguistic elements. At present, the most common variety is an English influenced by YIDDISH and HEBREW, used chiefly by Ashkenazim (Jews of Central and Eastern European origin or descent). This variety has introduced into colloquial AmE and BrE many neologisms, such as maven, nebbish, nosh, shlep. Other varieties include a Judezmo-influenced English used by Sephardim (Jews of SPANISH origin or descent), a 19c variety of AusE, and a formal variety that uses general English words, such as academy for Yiddish-origin yeshiva, skullcap for Yiddish-origin yarmulka or Hebrew-origin kipa, ritual bath or ritualarium for Yiddish- or Hebrew-origin mikva. The following characteristics describe mainly the American Ashkenazic variety of JE.

Pronunciation

(1) The following features are traceable to Yiddish influence: the substitution of /ŋg for /ŋ/ in present participles and other words, such as singing and singer; a raising of /ɔ/ in words like off, cough, soft; over-aspiration of /t/; confusion of /s/ and /z/ in pronouncing the PLURAL ending -s in some environments. Certain features of Eastern Ashkenazic NEW YORK City English of the immigrant generations (c.1880–1940) are still sometimes heard: pronunciation of such words as circle, nervous, first as if ‘soikel’, ‘noivis’, ‘foist’, and an intrusive /n/ in words like carpenter (‘carpentner’), painter (‘paintner’). (2) A widespread feature of Ashkenazic JE is replacement of Yiddish-origin word-final -e /e/, as in pastrame, khale, shmate, tate, Sore with -i /i/, as in pastrami, khali Sabbath loaf, shmati rag, tati daddy, Sori Sarah. (3) American Ashkenazic JE has numerous stylistic features, including those of pitch, amplitude, intonation, voice quality, and rate of speech, that reflect the influence of the Yiddish conversational style of the immigrant generations.

Grammar

(1) Yiddish and Hebrew LOANWORDS are integrated into English in four ways: by dropping infinitive endings (davn pray, from Yiddish davnen) then giving the verb English inflections (davns, davned, davning); by replacing Yiddish and Hebrew plural forms (shtetlekh small towns, Shabatonim Sabbath social gatherings) with English plurals (shtetls, Shabatons); by forming new derivatives with English affixes (shleppy, shleppily, shleppiness, shleppish, shleppishly); by extending the function of loans, for example, the Yiddish interjection nebish a pity, used (with the spelling nebbish) as an adjective meaning ‘pitiful, unfortunate’ (a nebbish character), and as a noun meaning ‘unfortunate person, poor devil’ (What a nebbish he is!). (2) Some verbs are used in a nonstandard absolute way: Enjoy, enjoy; Go figure; I'm entitled. (3) The use of inversions for emphasis is common: Shakespeare he is not; A roof over our heads we have. (4) The use of Yiddish-origin constructions is frequent, and has spread into some forms of colloquial AmE: I want you should do this; He is a boy is all (that's all); Don't be a crazy; Again with the complaints! (complaining again); Enough with the talk; Begin already! (So begin!); They don't know from nothing (Don't know anything). (5) Similarly, Yiddish-origin idioms are often used, have spread into AmE at large, and are becoming increasingly widely used: Get lost!; Eat your heart out; I need it like a hole in the head; I should live so long (I would need to live a long time to see that); You should be so lucky (you are never going to be so lucky). (6) The use of rhetorical questions (usually CALQUES from Yiddish) is frequent and similarly spreading: Who needs it?; What's with all the noise?; So what else is new?; What's to forgive? (7) Several Yiddish morphological forms have become common formatives: the dismissive shm- in hundreds of REDUPLICATIONS: Oedipus-shmoedipus, richshmich, value-shmalue; the agent suffix -nik: beatnik, kibbutznik, peacenik, realestatenik, spynik, noshnik, Freudnik; the endearing diminutives -ele and -l, often appended to English given names (Stevele, Rachele), sometimes with a doubling of DIMINUTIVES (Debbiinkele, Samchikele), sometimes with common nouns (roomele, roomkele, boyele, boychickl, storele, storkele).

Vocabulary

(1) There are thousands of Yiddish and many Hebrew terms used in English that relate to Jewish life: shadkhn a matchmaker, hesped a eulogy, kanehore preserve us from the evil eye, halevay would that it be so. (2) There are many compounds of Yiddish and Hebrew loanwords with English words: matse balls round dumplings, shana tova card a Jewish New Year card, sforim store a Jewish bookstore. (3) Lexical items formed from general English words: Jewish Star, Hebrew School. (4) Semantic shifts in English words, often due to homophony with terms of Yiddish: learn to study torah (the law), from Yiddish lernen; give to take, from gebn, as in Give a look; by with, from bay, as in The money is by him. (5) Informal ABBREVIATIONS for: vulgarisms of Yiddish origin (TL a sycophant, from Yiddish tokhes leker ass-licker); pejorative terms with English components (JAP Jewish American Princess); and Yiddish and Hebrew expressions (B'H meaning with God's help, zal an ACRONYM meaning of blessed memory).

Social issues

Speakers and writers of JE generally avoid terms with un-Jewish, especially Christian connotations, such as: Christian name, the preferred terms being first name or given name; AD and BC, preferring CE for Common Era and BCE for Before the Common Era (both JE coinages); idiomatic expressions alluding to Christian themes (cross one's fingers, knock on wood/touch wood, the gospel truth, Christ! Jeez!); terms with anti-Semitic denotations or connotations, such as Hymietown (New York City), jew down (to bargain sharply with), Shylock, and Yid.

See ARABIC, BIBLE, DIALECT (UNITED STATES) GERMANIC LANGUAGES, ISRAEL, PUN, SCHWA, SHIBBOLETH, SLAVONIC LANGUAGES, YIDDISHISM, YINGLISH.

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