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“Daytsh af tselokhes: Why Yiddish Isn’t German,” with Michael Wex
With respect to Yiddish, William Burroughs (American writer and primary figure of the Beat Generation) was wrong: language is not a virus, it’s a dybbuk, and as far as Yiddish is concerned, German is Linda Blair.
From the moment when Jews in the Middle Ages started speaking “German” to one another, they were speaking German af tselokhes, German to spite the Germans, a German that Germans wouldn’t understand, full of words that every German knew that were being used to conceal attitudes and ideas that, when not actively offensive to Christians, could hardly be considered endearing.
Yiddish embodies the successful circumcision of every German cultural assumption, including many that might not at first appear to have anything to do with religious practice or belief. This Jewish version of German dispensed with the Christianity (and much of the residual paganism) that informed the “original” language, sometimes disposing of it, at other times assigning to words and phrases meanings that simply were not there in the “original” language. We’ll be looking at some of these words and phrases, as well as at the sources of their new meanings and the ways in which Yiddish managed to sneak them in.
About Michael Wex» Author of three books on Yiddish, including the bestselling Born to Kvetch, Michael Wex, born in Lethbridge, Alberta, has taught the language at the University of Toronto and the University of Michigan and is a mainstay of the contemporary Yiddish scene. A native-speaker whose Yiddish songs have been recorded by such bands as the Grammy-winning Klezmatics, Wex has translated material ranging from classical Yiddish literature to testimony for war crimes trials. He has also translated The Threepenny Opera from German into Yiddish. His most recent book, Rhapsody in Schmaltz, a study of Ashkenazi food that did for Yiddish food what Born to Kvetch did for Yiddish speech, was published 2016 by St. Martin’s Press only a few months before the world premier of Bobe Mayses, a collaborative spectacle by Wex, Jennifer Romaine and Alan Bern developed and produced at Yiddish Summer Weimar. His most recent major project, Baym Kabaret Yitesh, an all-Yiddish cabaret show, premiered at Yiddish Summer Weimar in 2019.
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