The Yiddish Language Gets an Update for a New Era

The Yiddish Language Gets an Update for a New Era
Christina Comben

The first Yiddish-English resource guide in almost fifty years has been published by GitlSchaechter-Viswanath, to reflect the changes that have occurred in the last half century. Until now, Yiddish speaking English students have referred to the “Modern English-Yiddish/Yiddish-English Dictionary,” which was published in 1968.

A complete and respectable source for language students, however, no longer possible to describe as “modern.” In a bid to keep the Yiddish language alive and update it for the modern era, this latest resource will now include thousands more words, including “email,” “transgender,” and “texting.”

The recently published Comprehensive English to Yiddish Dictionary includes some 50,000 entries and 33,000 subentries to prove that Yiddish is still very much a living language.

This latest upgrade to existing resources includes many words and expressions found in both classic and contemporary literature, onlinepublications, and a host of different sources of the written word. It also takes into account regional variations of Yiddish.

The 826 pages aim to give the ancient language a facelift for the modern world and – above all – keep the language alive. For Schaechter-Viswanath, that meant inventing new words, by recombining existing Yiddish words into compound words.

Although it wasn’t all fun and games completing this labor of love. The latest Yiddish-English guide was compiled only after extensive research, consulting with prominent members of the Yiddish community and existing thesauruses and dictionaries.

One interesting modern word that didn’t come from a reference book or consultation is “flip flops.”RukhlSchaechter, Schaechter-Viswanath’s sister, coined the term as a child when she called them “fingershikh,” which means “finger shoes.” The word was soon adopted by the Yiddish community at large and is now officially recognized in the new dictionary.

In contrast to Hebrew speakers, who have a tendency to adopt English words, Yiddish speakers keep to their language, preferring to use terms such as “blitspost” over “email.”

How Many People Speak Yiddish?

Yiddish has been on the languages at threat from extinction list for many years, with an estimated 500,000 speakers in the United States and Israel, and an additional 100,000 around the world. How big is the demand for a Yiddish-English dictionary? While the market is certainly limited, the first 1,200 copies of the dictionary have already sold out, with another 1,000 editions currently in print.

What inspired Schaechter-Viswanath to take on such a huge task? Asks The Times of Israel – “I did it for my children, my grandson, my colleagues in the Yiddish world, and myself. Most of all, I did it for my father,” who was an avid Yiddish linguist.

Derecho de autor: aga7ta / 123RF Foto de archivo

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