Walking the Walk. Talking the Talk. Linguistic Studies on Chabad

Arguably, people who consider themselves Chabad would be startled at the thought that some social scientist out there has suddenly taken an interest in the way they speak. But first some background info.

Do Jews Speak a Jewish Language?

Jewish audio

Diaspora Jews historically have ended up speaking and writing differently from the non-Jews in their host countries. What is often referred to as “Jewish languages” are actually “language varieties”.

Jewish “languages” include Yiddish (a Jewish branch of High German), Judezmo/Ladino (Judeo-Spanish), Judeo-Arabic, Judeo-Italian, and Shuadit (Judeo-Provencal). See more on Wikipedia.org.

Do Jews in Chabad communities speak differently than others American Jews?

Dr. Sarah Bunin Benor, Associate Professor of Contemporary Jewish Studies at Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion (L.A.), found a cluster of linguistic features forming a “learned (masculine) Orthodox style”. These features include a “/t/ release” at the end of some words, borrowed Hebrew terms, and “chanting intonation contours”. A “less-learned (feminine) Orthodox style” include some of these features but to a lesser extent.

Check out Dr. Benor’s findings in “The Learned /t/: Phonological Variation in Orthodox Jewish English” and “Do American Jews Speak a ‘‘Jewish Language’’? A Model of Jewish Linguistic Distinctiveness“.

For an easier read by Benor, try “The Sounds of Becoming Frum” in Shma: A Journal of Jewish Ideas.

References:

Benor, Sarah Bunin. “Do American Jews Speak a” Jewish Language”?: A Model of Jewish Linguistic Distinctiveness.” Jewish Quarterly Review 99, no. 2 (2009): 230-269.

Benor, Sarah Bunin. “The Learned/t: Phonological Variation in Orthodox Jewish English.” Penn Working Papers in Linguistics: Selected Papers from NWAV 2000. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Department of Linguistics (2001): 1-16.

Benor, Sarah Bunin. The Sounds of Becoming Frum. Sh’ma: A Journal of Jewish Responsibility. Josh Rolnick, The Sh’ma Institute. November 2010: 11-12.

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