Adventures in Yiddishland: Postvernacular Language and Culture

Adventures in Yiddishland: Postvernacular Language and Culture

Adventures in Yiddishland: Postvernacular Language and Culture

Adventures in Yiddishland: Postvernacular Language and Culture

Synopsis

Adventures in Yiddishland examines the transformation of Yiddish in the six decades since the Holocaust, tracing its shift from the language of daily life for millions of Jews to what the author terms a postvernacular language of diverse and expanding symbolic value. With a thorough command of modern Yiddish culture as well as its centuries-old history, Jeffrey Shandler investigates the remarkable diversity of contemporary encounters with the language. His study traverses the broad spectrum of people who engage with Yiddish--from Hasidim to avant-garde performers, Jews as well as non-Jews, fluent speakers as well as those who know little or no Yiddish--in communities across the Americas, in Europe, Israel, and other outposts of "Yiddishland."

Excerpt

“I’m writing a book about Yiddish after World War ii,” I tell a colleague, whom I’ve known for years, when she asks what I’ve been doing lately. “It’s a sad story,” she replies. the fact is, I don’t quite agree with her, though I refrained from saying so then. Hers is a response I hear often, especially from people who, like this colleague, are a generation older than I am and are native speakers of Yiddish. Their sense of its trajectory is different from mine, and while I have developed my own understanding of Yiddish language and culture, it is still very much indebted to theirs.

Nor are they the only ones who see the story of Yiddish in declinist terms. More often than not, discussions of Yiddish culture terminate in 1939, 1948, or some other date, with any later phenomena involving the language either characterized as vestigial or simply not mentioned at all. There are, in fact, compelling reasons for thinking of Yiddish culture as having terminated at some point in the middle to late twentieth century—as a result of the Holocaust, the Stalinist liquidation of Soviet Yiddish culture, the establishment of Hebrew as the official language of the State of Israel, as well as large-scale voluntary abandonment of Yiddish among Jews integrating into the cultural mainstreams of the Americas and Western Europe. As a consequence of these events, there has been a precipitous drop in the use of Yiddish, both in public Jewish culture and in Jews’ private lives. On the eve of World War ii the world’s Yiddish speakers were reckoned at around 11,000,000; at the turn of the twenty-first century estimates are sometimes well under 1,000,000. the inventory . . .

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