The Disruption of a Triglossic Situation as a Motivating Factor for Language Death: The Case of Western Yiddish
In the literature on Yiddish linguistics, the phenomena of language shift and language death with respect to the continental varieties of Yiddish -- Western (WY), Central (CY), Northeastern (NEY), and Southeastern Yiddish (SEY) -- have largely been neglected. This is somewhat surprising since Western Yiddish, the Yiddish dialect predominantly spoken in Germany, France, and Holland, presents us with a comparatively clear case of language death, that is, the abandonment of a native language and its replacement with a new "non-native" vernacular in a given speech community.
Most descriptions of Western Yiddish (e.g., Weinreich, 1980: 243) refer to it as beginning to become obsolete toward the end of the eighteenth century and further state that by the middle of the nineteenth century it had ceased to be a living or functionally intact language ( Birnbaum, 1979: 35). Obsolescence occurred when the formerly Yiddish-speaking community shifted to the co-territorial language. Since WY was primarily spoken on German speech territory, this involved mainly a shift to New High German, but note that for a number of WY speakers language shift meant the adoption of Dutch ( Weinreich, 1980: 282). Weinreich ( 1980) and others ( Birnbaum, 1979; Weinberg, 1969) explain the death of WY as a result of the urbanization of Jewish life and the rise of the Haskalah or Enlightenment movement with its pronounced hostility toward the Yiddish language. However, such an approach, focusing entirely on the relationship between language shift and its macrosociological causes, fails to provide us with a detailed account and description of the course of language shift. What is needed is a description of the process by which social change results in linguistic change during the everyday interactions of individuals. We argue that the death of WY was a