Archive for the ‘Yiddish’ Category

Yiddish Spelling

Posted on December 9th, 2012by jake
In Yiddish | Leave a Comment »

The Guardian has a article outlining the pitfalls of spelling and pronouncing Yiddish words. Attempting to discover whether one should say Hanukkah or Chanukah is complex within itself.

Guardian Style prefers the former (although the latter occasionally sneaks past), the Oxford Style Manual opts for Hanukkah, with Chanukkah as “a scholarly and US variant”, while Collins agrees on Hanukkah, but lists Chanukah as its variant.

The article continues by exploring how the adoption of Yiddish words into the English language has created a hybrid language. This means that the definition of some Yiddish words have transformed beyond recognition, often meaning two entirely different things to Yiddish speakers and Yiddish novices.

In English we usually use schlep as an intransitive verb (dragging ourselves) rather than the transitive original (dragging an object). And that whereas we use chutzpah admiringly, for Yiddish speakers it’s more negative – the usual example is “a man who kills his parents then throws himself on the mercy of the courts as an orphan”. But all living languages evolve and, as the theory of hybridity argues, no meeting of cultures is one-way.

via: The Guardian

Yiddish in Japan

Posted on April 22nd, 2012by Michelle
In Japanese, Translation, Yiddish | 1 Comment »

Yiddish is most associated with Jewish people, particularly the Ashkenazi Jews. It has been translated into many languages, but until now not a non-European one.

One man has changed this through his life’s work. Kazuo Ueda is a Japanese linguist who originally specialised in German before teaching himself Yiddish. He is now Japan’s leading scholar in the language, and several years ago published a Japanese-Yiddish dictionary.

But why did Ueda become so devoted?

He stumbled upon the Jewish language while reading Franz Kafka, himself a fan of Yiddish theater.

Ueda was immediately smitten with the language that is written in Hebrew letters, but is a hybrid of German, Hebrew, Russian and other languages.

“Yiddish was full of puzzles for me,” Ueda says. “That’s what I love about it. Reading sentences in those strange letters — it’s like deciphering a code.” (Source: NPR)

Perhaps language learners can take something from this story – to learn a language well requires a little bit of love.

Indigenous language: Yiddish

Posted on November 12th, 2011by Michelle
In Indigenous languages, Yiddish | Leave a Comment »

The excellent blog Indigenous Tweets has a fascinating interview with Jordan Kutzik, a fellow at the National Yiddish Book Center in the USA.

Kutzik explains the history of Yiddish, and how it was almost wiped out by the persecution of the Jewish people before and during World War II. He states that it was the strongest non-territorial language in the world and had a large literature, including some respected newspapers.

Now it is estimated there are around 250,000 Hasidic Yiddish speakers worldwide, with efforts being made to teach new generations the language. Kutzik explains the lack of internet resources in Yiddish and what efforts are being made to correct this, as well as his vision for the next 10 years. Read the whole interview, it’s well worth a look.

Computers vs. humans

Posted on October 20th, 2009by Michelle
In Afrikaans, Hints and Tips, Language acquisition, Technology, Translation, Yiddish | 1 Comment »

Computer brain vs human brainOK, that sounds a little ominous, but it’s not the end of the world as we know it (yet).

Whilst learning a language, there are many resources we can use. A good resource should be accurate and reliable. That’s why you need to be careful when using translation websites.

Google Translate for example, currently has around 50 languages, from Afrikaans to Yiddish. Google uses something called statistical machine translation, which is useful for getting the general idea of documents, but may not be completely accurate.

Pros and cons: Google’s computerized approach means it can translate tons of content — and fast. But computers aren’t quite up to speed with ever-evolving modern speech, so reports of translation errors are fairly common.

On the plus side, the service has been vastly improved in the last five years, Och said. Also, Google lets people spot translation errors, suggest new wordings and translate its interface into languages Google’s computers don’t speak just yet. (Source:

Sites such as Babelfish and offer a similar service to Google Translate, and again are machine powered. also offers human translation, but at a cost. So when translating a specific phrase, it’s a good idea to double check the translation – perhaps try cross-translating it into the original language.

The popular social networking site Facebook, however, has a different method. Through crowdsourcing, they are translating their site into different languages using human knowledge.

Pros and cons: People are good at knowing idioms and slang, so Facebook tends to get these right, but there are limited numbers of multi-lingual volunteers who want to spend time helping Facebook translate things.

Also, Facebook’s site is available in many languages, but its human translators don’t touch wall posts, photo comments and other user-submitted items, which is a big con if you want to have friends who don’t share a common language with you. People who use Facebook Connect to translate their sites can choose which text they want users to help translate, according to Facebook spokeswoman Malorie Lucich.

What are your experiences of using Google Translate, Facebook and other machine translators? Do you find them more or less helpful than human translation?

The survival of Yiddish

Posted on October 7th, 2009by Michelle
In Culture, German, Yiddish | Leave a Comment »

A friend has brought to my notice an interesting programme on the BBC World Service (also available on the BBC website) about the Yiddish language.

Once a German dialect, Yiddish (literal translation “Jewish”) developed into a full language over the course of a millennium. Whilst the early history of the language is uncertain, it’s thought that it grew from a distinct Jewish culture called Ashkenazi in Germany in the 10th Century. At its height, more than ten million people spoke or understood the language.

Events in the 20th Century meant that many Yiddish speakers were killed and those remaining assimilated in to different cultures and languages. Today it’s estimated there are 3 million speakers worldwide.

In the first part of the programme:

Dennis Marks travels to New York to discover what has become of Yiddish and how much of the language survives today.

On the Lower East Side, where many Jewish migrants first came to live, he finds a musical and theatrical tradition which once supported a dozen Yiddish theatres on 2nd Avenue.

He hears from the publisher of The Forward, once the world’s most popular Yiddish newspaper, but which is now in seemingly terminal decline.

And he explores the enormous influence of Yiddish culture on American life, its literature and its comedic tradition. (Source: BBC World Service)