Mame-loshen, immigrants, and the Holocaust : Yiddish in the United States / by Esther Gerstenfeld Radick
Includes bibliographical references (p. 409-448)
Yiddish in the United States has generally followed the path of most immigrant languages, that is it has been displaced by English within two to three generations. Fishman (1965) has found that Jewish immigrants have tended to displace Yiddish with English even more quickly than has usually been the case for other groups (Hansen, 1938). However, unlike the experience of most other groups whose languages are being maintained in their home countries, Yiddish is not being maintained in any home country. Therefore the disuse of Yiddish by Jews in the United States virtually equates with the imminent death of this language. This study included an investigation of the impact of history, most especially recent history--notably the Holocaust and the creation of the State of Israel--on Jews and on the attitudes of a small group of Jews toward Yiddish. Eleven Jews falling into three groups--pre-Holocaust immigrants, Holocaust survivors,and the children of survivors, known as the Second Generation--participated in conversational interviews regarding their lives and experiences. Most respondents were bilingual or multilingual and had had at least some contact with Yiddish usage. Interviews were analyzed linguistically for key terms and ideas, known as folk terms and folk definitions elucidating the respondents' views; a thematic analysis followed. Responses fell into a wide range for topics such as definitions of Jewish identity and attitudes toward Yiddish. Though respondents' views of and usage of Yiddish ranged from a favorable attitude and frequent use to rejection of Yiddish and non-use, all the respondents were united in their making no effort to ensure the continuation of the existence of Yiddish. This study brings to light a small group's experience of and attitude toward the maintenance of their first language following immigration to the United States. As there are currently many immigrants from a variety of backgrounds coming into United States schools and being faced with learning English, there is a need to recognize the wide range of difference in how diverse groups value their language and other aspects of their culture. This study indicates that a larger multicultural examination of language questions must be performed to help us understand the dynamics of bilingualism and of language maintenance as they apply to different groups.
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