Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Journalese in Yiddish

From my Jewish Post series:

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The Yiddish Forverts doesn’t publish a print edition anymore. They still have a pretty active internet presence, but that’s it. I used to check it out once in a while at the Rady Center library, but they stopped subscribing a few years ago. The only Yiddish paper I see nowadays is the Allgemeiner Journal at the downtown library.

They are two very different papers. The Forverts had a number of very capable Yiddishists on staff, which is to say cultured, intelligent writers with a serious attitude towards fostering the language for its own sake. The Allgemeiner Journal is different. As far as I can see, they want to put out a Yiddish paper that their readers will be able to understand…that is, to spread their word as far as possible into the English-influenced milieu of Orthodox New York. And so their writers make use of a Yiddish that the Forverts people would surely look on with horror. 

It’s something that I find fascinating to observe, and yet I’m not sure I can convey it to a general readership. But that’s what I’m going to try. Let’s see how far we get…

I have in front of me an article from last January written by Mendel Adler, one of two or three regular staff writers who are together responsible for 75% of the total content of the Allgemeiner Journal. Here he is, reporting on the evacuation of a Palestinian encampment from “Area I-1” between Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim:

“Bei’m melden die evacuierung (in announcing the evacuation) vun die Palestiner vun die gezelten (tents), hât Premier Netanyahu gesâgt as “séi hâben nischt kéin ursach (they have no cause) zu gefinnen sich dort (to be there, lit. “to find themselves there”). “Mir hâben bafõhlen (we have ordered) zu schliessen die ganze gegent (to close the whole area), k’dey menschen sollen sich nischt versammlen dort (in order that people should not assemble there) un ver-ursachen umsüste reibungen (and cause unnecessary friction) un stören die ordnung” (disturb the peace).

Let’s see how this compares with the other guys. Now, the Forverts is really more of a news-magazine and so it focusses more on culture, commentary and historical topics; but so as not to compare apples and oranges, I’ve picked a recent news article, also relating to affairs between Israel and the P. A. As above, I’ve kept my translation as literal as possible so you can hopefully follow it word-for-word:

“Mittwoch bei nacht (Wednesday night) seinen vun der Yisroel-tephisa (prison) bafreit geworen 26 Palestiner terroristen – araus-gelâs’t (released) wie a geste vun guten-willen m’tzad (on the part of) der Yisroel-regierung (government). Bei der residentz vun der Palestiner Administrazia “Mukata” in Ramallah hâben sich zunauf-genummen arum tausend einwõhner (there came together around a thousand residents) zu bagegenen (to meet) die 11 bafreite, welche seinen über-gegeben geworen (who were given over) direkt in die händt vun der administratzia auf dem kontrol-punkt “Beituniah”.

Okay, looking over my two examples I see that I’m hardly proving my point. Maybe because their news-writers are more highly influenced by the wider world as compared to the culture writers, there’s not that much to choose between the two articles. To be sure, the Forverts has two Hebrew words (I’ve marked them with italics) to the zhournal’s one. But even the Forverts uses internationalisms like administrazia and direkt in die händt when there are much more Yiddischlach alternatives…verwaltung for adminsitration, and gleich in die händt. Or even better: über-gegeben geworen dem Instanz gleich in die händt arein. I like that.

And yet even so I find the Forverts excerpt, on some subjective level, to be a bit more flowing and natural than the other one. The very first words of the zhournal article grate on me…”bei’m melden : in announcing”…what’s that called, where the verb is used as a noun…a gerund? I don’t think that’s really an authentic Yiddish form as it appears here. And the –ieren­-verbs like “evacuieren” (another gerund I guess, but nischt dâs bin ich ausen…that’s not my point) where you take any international verb and make it Yiddish with the –ieren ending ….well, the zhournal is rife with them. 

I think the worst Yiddish is where they quote Netanyahu…you can tell it’s bad because you can calque it almost word-for-word right back into English. No one ever spoke Yiddish like that. But I have to allow them a little slack here. If you literally took Netanyahu’s words and converted them into a truly idomatic Yiddish, it would be very hard to avoid replacing the Israeli PM with Tevya der Milchiger. “Would it be so terrible if they should just go somewhere where they wouldn’t be making such tzuris  for us?” Maybe it’s just as well to let the zhournal stick to its journalese.


Meena said...

Just so you know, the Forverts does still publish a print edition - it comes out twice a month.

Marty Green said...

I stand corrected. I'll ask the Winnipeg Public Library to order a copy.

By the way, how do you like my transcriptions?

Unknown said...

Regarding the transcriptions, your arguments about what is yidishlekh might have more force if your transcriptions weren't transmuted into quasiGerman. German is a fine language, but it is not Yiddish and vice versa.

There is a YIVO standard Yiddish orthography (in Jewish characters) and a YIVO transcription standard for Yiddish into Roman characters.

Marty Green said...

It is true that the deep thinkers of YIVO have chosen a transcription system which makes our language all but incomprehensible to a hundred million German speakers. But I fail to see what my choice of transcription systems has to do with the force of my arguments.