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Reapplying the Language Tree Model to the History of Yiddish

In: Journal of Jewish Languages
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  • 1 , Chaville, France
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Abstract

The article discusses several definitions of the notion of Yiddish that exist in linguistic studies. The Germanistic approach emphasizes differences between various German and Yiddish dialects. The Judeo-Centric approach, developed during the second half of the 20th century as an alternative method to that used by the Germanistic school, puts the uninterrupted chain of languages spoken by Jews in the center of its linguistic analysis. For the representatives of this school, Yiddish is a fusion language from its inception, the process they generally posit to the period when the first Jewish communities appeared in German-speaking territories. As suggested in this article, for the adequate understanding of the development of Yiddish, several notions used by the two approaches should be combined. Only the Germanistic approach provides appropriate frames for analyzing the genesis of Yiddish according to the Language Tree model. Its (re)application shows the inadequacy of certain basic positions of the Judeo-Centric Approach. Yet, several notions introduced by the proponents of the latter method still represent a major contribution in Yiddish studies. The notion of “fusion” creates an appropriate theoretical tool for studying the development of Yiddish varieties. The consideration of the uninterrupted chain of languages spoken by Jews sheds light on factors that were invisible within the Germanistic approach. The article also suggests a classification of languages spoken by Jews useful for the analysis of their historical development.

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