Beyond standard: understanding variation in language
Linguists dealing with language structures often end up concluding that a wider social and anthropological context is crucial. The starting point to initiate this group was the knowledge of and interest in Yiddish. The courses of Prof. David Bunis on comparison between Yiddish and Ladino inspired us to better understand the context and made us feel that a nurturing environment for dialogue between scholars, especially young ones, is needed.
From a linguist’s point of view, language structures can be separated from cultural and sociological context. Even if so, how can this be done right? It is especially difficult for those who conduct comparative studies between languages. What makes data comparable? The more different is the community of the one we know, the more background is needed. Yiddish and other Jewish languages represent an important example of languages that are based both on Jewish and non-Jewish linguistic and cultural basis, languages with rich variation because of dispersion and also languages whose literary standard, if exists, can be questioned by many of the speakers. That’s why we decided to learn more about the languages that are similar to Yiddish in these parameters and the relations between these languages and the cultural, historical and demographic/sociological aspects of their speakers, and the literary and philological characteristics of the linguistic documentation. This linguistic knowledge also gives back to the other fields by reflecting these parameters in an easily measurable way, and linguists with their skills in digital humanities can positively influence the researchers of the other fields.
- Group activities
The goal of the group is to broaden our understanding of the parameters of complex sociolinguistic situations of and the language phenomena reflecting it. Obviously it will be interesting for linguists, including general ones and philologists, specialists in specific languages, who belong to particular departments with little communication (i.e. researchers of Jewish Arabic language and culture at the Arabic department, researchers of Ladino at the Spanish department), as well as typologists, especially those working on languages in contact. More importantly, the seminar can attract those interested in many other fields dealing with the interrelations between society and language. First of all, it is philology and history which provide the context and the textual documentation of the linguistic data. Second, it is sociology and anthropology, which reflect the real relations within the community and with the other communities demographic changes, and ideology, affecting the use of language and its changes. What is more, because of the nature of Jewish languages and also for investigation the conservative religious studies we are interested in (comparative) religion studies. It might be that philosophers will also be interested in this issue of exchange of between communities.
The group will be comparing several languages/communities which are similar to it in different ways, by reading academic papers, looking for available data, introducing research tools, methods and corpora from different disciplines and perspectives, and finally, establishing connections between researchers. There will also be at least one guest lecture. As the result of this work, we would like to come up with proposals of valid comparative case studies. Next year a workshop can be organized to present our findings and discuss them with others researchers working on relevant topics.
Topics for discussion with sources (2-3 meetings for each topic: overview of the sources and/or presentation of own related research):
● Jewish languages: how can they be compared
The term “Jewish languages” refers to the local language varieties Jews spoke and suggests that all communities had close sociolinguistic situation: preserving Hebrew/Aramaic as the holy languages, which results in their influence on the local variety, specific relations with local non-Jewish community etc. Researchers claim there are more than 30 Jewish languages. We are going to discuss the parameters that distinguish the societies, their use of the language and which kind of documents available.
Kahn L., Rubin A. (eds) (2015). Handbook of Jewish languages. Brill.
Benor, S. B., Hary, B. (2018) A Research Agenda for Comparative Jewish Linguistic Studies. Benor, S. B., Hary, B. (eds) Languages in Jewish Communities, Past and Present. De Gruyter Mouton.
● Yiddish and Romani and other “non-territorial” languages: dialectology vs. language contact
Another parameter important for language in cultural variation is dispersion of a language on a big area, with any particular state that would be the center and could serve as a source of the standard. It is also unknown how much these communities were in contact, so that regional varieties could influence each other. This differs from traditional dialectology.
Matras, Y., & Reershemius, G. (2016). Functions of a particle in two European minority languages: Nu/no in Yiddish and Romani. P. Auer, & Y. Maschler (Eds.), NU / NÅ A Family of Discourse Markers Across the Languages of Europe and Beyond (pp. 132-161). De Gruyter Mouton.
Elšík V., Matras Y. (2006) Markedness and language change: the Romani sample. De Gruyter Mouton.
● Influence of the gentile standard: Yiddish, Ladino and Jewish-Arabic in press and other genres
Next important parameter is the influence of a closely related language
Historical Jewish press: http://web.nli.org.il/sites/JPress/English/Pages/default.aspx
Kirschen, Bryan (2013), “Language ideologies and hegemonic factors imposed upon Judeo-Spanish speaking communities”, Mester ,42(1), 25-38.
Krogh, S. (2012). Daytshmerish toyg nit! Germanismen im Ostjiddischen von 1800 bis heute. I S. Bauschmid, S. Krogh, S. Neuberg, C. D. Conter, G. Goetzinger, P. Gilles, S. Kiedroń, A. Berteloot, A. Daróczi, ... J. Koch (red.), Vielheit und Einheit der Germanistik weltweit. Band 3: Jiddische Sprache und Literatur in Geschichte und Gegenwart. Luxemburgistik im Spannungsfeld von Mehrsprachigkeit, Regionalität und Internationalität. Ältere Niederländische Literatur. Niederländische Sprach- und Literaturwissenschaft mit besonderer Berücksichtigung des Afrikaans (s. 27-31). Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.
● Conservative communities (Haredi Yiddish; Pennsylvania Dutch; diasporal Greek, Armenian, Russian in Alaska) vs. other heritage communities/speakers
Conservative community is a very special environment for the language. In comparison with diasporic communities which are not ruled by ideology, they exist under pressure to preserve the culture, including the language, which also means separating from any influence. That’s why this language variety may differ from the standard language.
Assouline, D. (2017) Contact and Ideology in a Multilingual Community. Yiddish and Hebrew Among the Ultra-Orthodox.
Bergelson, M., Kibrik, A. (2010) The Ninilchik Variety of Russian: Linguistic Heritage of Alaska. Mustajoki, Protassova, Vakhtin (eds.) Slavica Helsingiensia. Instrumentarium of Linguistics. Sociolinguistic Approaches to Non-Standard Russian.
Rosenberg, Peter. 1996. Dialect convergence in German speech islands. 1–23
Spolsky, B. (2009) Language Management. Cambridge University Press.