Voices Yet to Be Heard: On Listening to the Last Speakers of Jewish Malayalam

in Journal of Jewish Languages
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Jewish history in Kerala, the southernmost state in modern India, goes back to as early as the tenth century CE. In the mid-twentieth century, Kerala Jews migrated en masse to Israel, leaving behind but a handful of their community members and remnants of eight communities, synagogues, and cemeteries. The paper presents a preliminary attempt to describe and analyze the language—so far left undocumented and unexplored—still spoken by Kerala Jews in Israel, based on a language documentation project carried out in 2008 and 2009. In light of the data collected and studied so far, it is clear that the language in question fits nicely into the Jewish languages spectrum, while at the same time it fits perfectly into the linguistic mosaic of castolects in Kerala. Though the linguistic database described here reflects a language in its last stages, it affords salvaging the remnants of a once rich oral heritage and opens new channels for the study of the history, society, and culture of Kerala Jews.



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See Kastiel 1756:39a: קאפא < kaːppǝ, ‘Engagement Feast’; 43b: אייני < aːyaṉi, ‘Bridal Feast’; 66b: פליפוגא < paɭɭipoːga, ‘Synagogue Procession.’ Cf. Walerstein, 1987:95–113.


See Subramoniam 2006, Izhava-Thiyar, p. 20 (keðakku < kiȥakku, ‘East’), 44 (poða < puȥa, ‘river’). See also idem., Nayar, p. 21 (ketaŋŋu < kiȥaŋŋu, ‘bulb’).


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