The Jews of the Middle East and North Africa in Modern Times

By Reeva Spector Simon; Michael Menachem Laskier et al. | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER
7
Jewish Languages
Enter the Modern Era

DAVID M. BUNIS, JOSEPH CHETRIT,
AND HAIDEH SAHIM

Before their modernization, an outstanding characteristic of Jewish communities throughout the world was their use of a vernacular that differed in diverse respects from the vernacular(s) used by their non-Jewish neighbors. Such vernaculars tended to be “fusion” languages, containing components derived from several stock languages: elements drawn from Hebrew and to a lesser extent Aramaic (the earliest known “Jewish” languages); material preserved from other Jewish languages once spoken by the community (e.g., Medieval Judeo-Italian elements in Yiddish, Old JudeoGreek elements in Judezmo); and the predominant component of the language, which consisted of elements selectively borrowed and/or adapted from the major language in use by the community's non-Jewish neighbors (e.g., regional German in Old Yiddish; Castilian in Old Judeo-Spanish, which came to be called Judezmo in the Ottoman Empire and Hakitia in North Africa). Some Jewish linguistic varieties of the Middle East (e.g., Judeo-Arabic in Baghdad) became significantly distinctive with respect to their non-Jewish correlates whenever the speech of neighboring Gentiles underwent changes not adopted by the Jews. Where other languages were used in a particular region (e.g., Turkish, Kurdish, and Persian in addition to Neo-Aramaic in Azerbaijan), or when speakers of a Jewish language migrated to an area where Gentiles spoke another variety of the same language (e.g., in Iran), or other languages (e.g., Slavic in the Yiddish speech regions of Eastern Europe; Turkish and Arabic in Judezmo and Hakitia speech regions in the Ottoman Empire and North Africa, respectively), these too made their contributions to the Jewish languages. Special, often highly

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