How to Speak Yeshivish

A friend of mine is a linguist researching Orthodox Jewish English, or what a layperson like me can call Yeshivish. Most of the features she's listed are neither new nor surprising, but what a linguist (like any scientist) does is to empirically back up phenomena and classify them in a systematic way. I think this is the first list I've seen that does that for "frumspeak."

Distinctive features of Orthodox Jewish English
Sarah Bunin Benor

Orthodox Jewish English: English used by Orthodox Jews with distinctive features in several areas, mostly influences from Yiddish, Hebrew, and Aramaic:
1. Lexicon
2. Phonology
3. Syntax/semantics/pragmatics
4. Discourse markers
5. Prosody
6. Subtractive features

Many loan words from Yiddish, Hebrew, and Aramaic (500-2500 depending on speaker, audience, topic, setting)

A rabbi teaching a co-ed class on Hilchos Pesach:
“The mitzvah of the matzah by the seder should be- We’re machmir, it’s a chumra to have shmura mishas haketsira, that the wheat that is harvested for peysach should be already watched from the time...”

A 19-year-old man from California learning Gemora with his younger brother:
“[begin chanting intonation] Whenever you’re shaych, then you can be an eyd; whenever you’re not, you’re not [end chanting intonation]. So why does Rashi say-? That’s cause dina d’malchusa dina. It’s because they’re- even if not dina d’malchusa dina, Rashi says later cause al din hu nitstavu bney noyach. The goyim are shaych to dinim; they’re not shaych to gitin. That’s why it’s good.”

Frequent /t/ release/aspiration where general American English would use glottal stop or flap
1. at the end of words (right, not)
2. between vowels/liquids and syllabic [n] (certain, button)
3. between vowels (humanity, spirituality)

Final devoicing (wrong[k], bird[t])

Non-raising of pre-nasal /ae/

Syntax, semantics, pragmatics
Modal constructions
1. Would: If you would have seen it, you would have believed it.
2. Should: I want that you should get her number.
3. Could: I could do that.

Phrasal verbs:
give over ‘communicate, impart’
< Yiddish geb iber
speak out ‘say aloud, utter’
< Yiddish red oys
tell over ‘recount, retell, tell [a story]’
< Yiddish dertseyl iber

Prepositions: “by”
1. at [a location/structure]: “by the mikvah (‘ritual bath’),” “by the table” “by the restaurant,” “by the bus station”
2. at the house of: “Are you eating by Rabbi Fischer?” “I’ll stay by them.”
3. with, among: “By Chabad, it’s different,” “Things they’ve seen by their parents,” “By us, monarchy, unity did not mean individuals losing their individuality.”
4. according to the opinion of, in the mind of: “Who’s Reb Yehuda holding by?” “I pasken (‘rule halachically’) by him.”
5. at [an event, time of year], on (coincidence): “If you have children by the seder (‘Passover ceremony’),” “by the rehearsal,” “by Pesach (‘Passover’)”

Prepositions: “to”
1. You should come to us for Shabbos.
2. I went to Rivka.

1. hold/halt (‘be located in one’s religious observance’): “Who am I to judge where they’re holding religiously?” “Where are you holding?”
2. hold/halt (‘be located in a text’): “Where are we holding?” “We’re holding here.”
3. hold/halt (‘opine, practice’): “He holds that, if it goes out, you don’t have to relight it.” “The shul holds like that.” “He holds like Reb Yochanan.”
4. hold by/halt bay (‘accept, believe in’): “We don’t hold by the eruv.” “If you hold by Reb Aron,...”
5. hold by/halt bay (‘be on the verge of’): “With all that handshaking, I guess they’re holding by an agreement” (Weiser 1995:37).

Other words with semantic/pragmatic influences from Yiddish:
1. bring (‘cite as part of an argument’ < breng): “examples brought by Rav Hirsh”
2. learn (‘study traditional texts’ < lern): “Are we going to learn next week?”
3. be well (‘take care’, used to end a conversation < zay gezunt): “OK, be well.”

Extra connective “so”:
“If I see someone who’s using the wrong language, so I’ll realize that they’re just becoming frum (‘religious’).”
“Since we don’t have a Temple nowadays, so we don’t do that.”
“Since they were here early, so they can start now.”

Tense: progressive
I’m a BT fifteen years, and I don’t say that” (‘I have been a BT’)
“I know someone who’s already frum for 20 years” (‘who’s been religious’).

Word order:
Post-verbal adverbial phrases
“You’ll be stuck studying all day Torah.”
“I was able to pick up pretty well the lingo.”
“If it’s warping, it’s for sure kosher.”

Word order:
Fronting / Y-movement
“180 days worth of party he has there.”
“This word I didn’t know.”

Verb-first: narrative sequentiality (in classroom settings)
“We said before that that the mitzvah is from sunset til ... the feet leave the marketplace. Asks the Gemora, how much time is that? In other words, how much time is that til the feet leave the marketplace? How much time? Said Raba, ...”

Preposition dropping (***):
1. Her bus gets in *** 10:15. (FFB woman)
2. *** Chol hamoed (‘down time between the holiest days of a long holiday’) I’m not going to work, bli neder (‘without a vow’).
3. Next year *** Tisha b’Av (‘Ninth of Av holiday’), we will have another one.
4. I’m already frum (‘religious’) *** 20 years.
5. What are you doing *** Sukkos (‘Feast of Tabernacles’)?

Discourse markers
Navigating Gemora study:
1. Zogt di gemora
2. Zogt di gemora vayter
3. Zogt rashi

“Let’s go inside”; “Why don’t you read inside”
“We’ll talk outside”
In other words
Over here
Over there

Markers of praise:
1. Oh!
2. Psshhhh!

Hesitation click from Israeli Hebrew:
“But sometimes it’s more- [click] I don’t know how to explain it.”
“Boys are more- [click] boys are more interested in that kind of thing.”

Chanting intonation – text reading, translation (underline = higher pitch, italics = lower pitch)
Kagon she’oyrach shtey hashuros min hamizrach u’mayriv - The length of the two rows, it was from east to west.”

Chanting intonation in discussions about the text, esp. if-then sentences
“He says that had they not been rushed out of Egypt, they would have made their matzas in Egypt itself.”

High-falling pitch boundary: dramatic point
1. “And they should be, and they are, done together.”
2. “By saying that, that would make other groups feel uncomfortable.”
3. “Years back, they would have maybe just had one video... So now, they make it a point to make ... two videos.”

Rise-fall intonation: laid-back attitude
1. “As I was becoming frum, I got more interested in it.”
2. “If you’re going to the store, get me some milk.”

Rise-fall “whatever” – dismissive
1. “Somehow it just leaks out [that someone is a BT]. Whatever, it’s not the worst thing.”
2. “He was, whatever, not that frum.”

Speech rate: sometimes faster?

Subtractive features
Less loshon hora (‘gossip’)
Less obscenity
Less slang

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