Jewish languages, identities and cultures georgetown university

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Riggs Library

FEBRUARY 18-19, 2007

Sponsored by the Program for Jewish Civilization,

Faculty of Languages and Linguistics,

Department of Linguistics at Georgetown University,

and National Resource Center on the Middle East




FEBRUARY 18- 19, 2007

Organized by Deborah Schiffrin (Georgetown) and Elana Shohamy (Tel Aviv)

Jews have been making and remaking identities and cultures through language and other symbolic media over time, across place and within genres. Relationships among Jewish languages, identities and cultures have been reshaped, and have been reshaping one another, for thousands of years. Each facet of Jewish life has been woven and rewoven together over time and across the many different places where Jews have lived, from ancient Israel, the wide ranging Diaspora in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas, to modern Israel. Likewise, Jewish representations of selfhood, nation and culture appear within a wide variety of genres ranging from religious texts to oral story telling, oral history, fiction, poetry, drama and music, each of which provides different formal and performance options for weaving language together with identity and culture.

When we started planning this conference, our goal was to explore the issues above by bringing together our interests in language policy (Elana) and language use (Debby). Elana had researched and written about various issues related to language policy, language acquisition by immigrants and language ideologies in multilingual Israel. The languages of Israel: Policy, ideology and practice (with B. Spolsky) documents the rich repertoire of languages (Jewish and others) used and practiced in Israel today in the midst of conflicts and paradoxes associated with the Hebrew ideology. Elana also spearheaded the multilingual language education policy that became official in Israel. Debby’s wide range of interests in discourse (language in text and context) had included an interest in the way Jewish Americans tell stories and argue with one another; she had recently begun analyzing the stories told in Holocaust oral histories and the formation of public discourse about the Holocaust. When Elana came to Georgetown as a Visiting Professor in Spring 05 and 06, a mutual interest in Jewish language policies and uses was kindled and we decided to put together a short symposium. One topic led to another and we became convinced that a conference on the many ways that Jewish identity and culture are interwoven with language would be interesting not just for scholars, but also for people outside of the ‘academy.’ We were fortunate enough to have PJC director Yossi Shain, and then PJC Acting Director Jacques Berlinerblau, share our vision for the conference. We are also immensely grateful for the intellectual and material support provided by the Program for Jewish Civilization, Faculty of Languages and Linguistics, Department of Linguistics, and the National Resource Center on the Middle East. Assistance provided by Jacques Berlinerblau, Amber Kurtz, Yossi Shain, Melissa Spence, Inge Stockburger and Rabbi Harold White is also greatly appreciated.
On the next pages, you will find the conference schedule (3-4)- and then (in keeping with the schedule), the list of speakers, some information about who they are, a brief abstract of their presentations (5- 18) and a map of Georgetown University (19). Enjoy!


Sunday, February 18, Riggs Library

9:00 Coffee and light breakfast

9:30 Welcome: Marjory Blumenthal (Associate Provost, Georgetown)

9:45 Introduction: Jacques Berlinerblau (Georgetown)

Deborah Schiffrin (Georgetown) and Elana Shohamy (Tel Aviv)

“I Talk, Therefore I Am: Jewishness as a Linguistic Enterprise,”

Lewis Glinert (Dartmouth)

10:30 Panel: Speaking Jewish in the United States

“Jewish American English,” Sarah Bunin Benor (Hebrew Union College)

“Who Am I?: Jewish and Russian Cultural Identities among Third-Wave Soviet

Émigrés in the United States,” David Andrews (Georgetown)

“Learning and Using Hebrew in the United States,” Jonathan Paradise

(University of Minnesota)

Moderator: Elana Shohamy

12:00 Lunch, Healy Hall

1:00 Panel: Performing Jewish Languages, Identities and Cultures

“Ladino: Performance, Survival and Resurgence,” Gloria Ascher (Tufts


“Yiddish as Performance Art”, Jeffrey Shandler (Rutgers University)

“Language and Immediacy in the Hebrew Cinematic Lens,”

Eric Zakim (University of Maryland )

Moderator: Jacques Berlinerblau

2:45 Panel: Performing Memory (I)

Ari Roth (Artistic Director; Theater J, Washington D.C.)

Henry Greenspan (Psychologist and Playwright, University of Michigan);

Moderator: Deborah Schiffrin (Georgetown)

3:45 Coffee Break

4:15 Panel: Speaking Jewish in Israel

“Interpreting 'Jewish' Languages in Israel Today: Language Policy in Israel ,”

Elana Shohamy (Tel-Aviv University)

“Language Policies and Practices of Palestinian Arabs in Israel”,

Uri Horesh (Georgetown University)

“Judeo Arabic in Israel and Elsewhere”, Benjamin Hary (Emory University)

Moderator: John Myhill (University of Haifa)

6:00 Dinner, ICC Galleria

Machaya Klezmer Band

8:00 Keynote Event: A Conversation with Cynthia Ozick

Jacques Berlinerblau (Georgetown)

Riggs Library
Monday, February 19, Riggs Library

9:00 Coffee and light breakfast

9:30 Panel: Jewish Languages, Past and Present

“Language Loyalty and Language choice; Yiddish and Hebrew in the Aftermath

of the Holocaust”, Miriam Isaacs (University of Maryland)

“Broken Hearts, Broken Homes: The Holocaust and Its Languages",

  Alan Rosen (Yad Vashem)

“Old Languages in new versions of Holocaust oral histories”, Deborah Schiffrin

(Georgetown University)

Moderator: Deborah Tannen

10:45 Coffee Break

11:30 Panel: Performing Memory (II)

“Voicing My Father: Bringing my Jewish Identity to the Stage”,

Deborah Tannen (Georgetown University)

“Voicing Anne Frank: Adaptation and Appropriation in a New Telling

of Her Story”, Derek Goldman (Georgetown University)

Moderator: Miriam Isaacs

1:00 Closing Remarks:

Elana Shohamy and Deborah Schiffrin

SPEAKER BIOS AND ABSTRACTS (listed in order of presentation)


I talk, therefore I am: Jewishness as a linguistic enterprise

Sunday, February 18, 9:45

We seemed so recently to have gotten over that Jewish language thing. No more

Jewish dialects, no more aleph bes. Even in Israel, they would have a language
like any other (just superficially Hebrew, but fully intertranslatable of
course). And  HOW we talked, too:  We were going to, Gentile. But
it hasn't quite turned out that way. They still seem to think we talk Jewish
(like Jerry Seinfeld,  about nothing). So does Deborah Tannen. Meanwhile, it has
dawned on Israelis that, if nothing else, they have an identity in Hebrew. And
it's now official:  language constructs reality. So the Rabbis had it right
after all: "With ten speech acts the World was created."
Speaker Bio:

Lewis Glinert is Professor of Hebraic Studies and Linguistics at Dartmouth

College. A graduate of Magdalen College, Oxford, he has held appointments at 
the University of Chicago, Haifa, Bar-Ilan and London University, where he
chaired the Centre for Jewish Studies. His books include Hebrew in Ashkenaz: A
Language in Exile (Oxford), The Grammar of Modern Hebrew (Cambridge), The Joys
of Hebrew (Oxford) and Mamme Dear: A Turn-of-the-Century Collection of Model
Yiddish Letters (Rowman & Littlefield), as well as many articles on language and
discourse in Jewish life and thought, spanning such topics as myths of the
Golem, the Israeli love lyric, language policy and aliya, Hebrew and Halacha,
and Hasidic attitudes to Yiddish. Lewis Glinert's 1992 BBC documentary on the
rebirth of Hebrew was nominated by the BBC for a SONY award.

Jewish American English

Sunday, February 18, 10:30 (panel)

Do American Jews speak a distinctively Jewish language variety like Yiddish, Ladino, or Judeo-Arabic? This paper shows how American Jewish English has most of the components common among Jewish language varieties throughout history: a co-territorial non-Jewish base language (English) and influences from a previous Jewish language (Yiddish) and textual Hebrew and Aramaic. I show how contemporary Jewish language
varieties are likely to have an additional component – influence from Israeli Hebrew – and are likely not to be written in Jewish orthography due to increased rates of literacy worldwide.
Among American Jews, variation in the distinctively Jewish features signals several elements of Jewish identity, including religious observance, textual knowledge, generation from immigration, ethnic heritage, Jewish social networks, and proximity to New York. Jews several generations removed from immigration who have weak connections to organized Jewish life and little religious observance may speak
general American English with only the addition of a few Hebrew or Yiddish words. Strictly Orthodox Jews are more likely to use elements of “Yeshivish” – English filled with words from Yiddish, Hebrew, and Aramaic and Yiddish influences in grammar and pronunciation. Jews with strong affinities for the State of Israel may prefer Israeli Hebrew pronunciation over the Ashkenazic Hebrew common among strictly Orthodox
Jews. The lesson for Jewish linguistic studies is that “Jewish language” serves not only to distinguish Jews from non-Jews but also to distinguish Jews from Jews.
Speaker Bio:

Dr. Benor is Assistant Professor of Contemporary Jewish Studies at Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion (Los Angeles campus) and Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Linguistics Department at the University of Southern California. She received her Ph.D. from Stanford University in Linguistics in 2004. She teaches about the social science of American Jews, as well as about language and culture, and she has

given lectures to Jewish groups around the country about Jewish languages, Yiddish, American Jews, and Orthodox Jews. She is currently working on a book entitled /Becoming Frum: How Newcomers Learn the Language and Culture of Orthodox Judaism/. Dr. Benor edits the Jewish Language Research Website <> and moderates the Jewish Languages Mailing List <>, both of which she founded. In her spare time, she enjoys her husband, Mark, and their two young children, Aliza and Dalia.


Who Am I?: Jewish and Russian Cultural Identities among Third-Wave Soviet Émigrés in the United States

Sunday, February 18, 10:30 (panel)
In the twentieth century there were three successive waves of Russian-speaking emigrants from the Soviet Union to the West, known as the three “waves.” The First Wave was precipitated by the Bolshevik Revolution, the Second by World War II and its aftermath. The Third Wave began in 1972, when the Brezhnev regime eased emigration restrictions for Soviet Jews as a gesture of détente. The Third Wave, therefore, was predominantly Jewish, with a complicated mix of Jewish and Russian cultural identities that would become even more complex after arrival in the United States.
Speaker Bio:

David Andrews is a Professor in the Department of Slavic Languages at Georgetown University, where he has been teaching for 18 years. He specializes in contemporary Russian socio- and psycholinguistics, with a particular focus on émigré Russian and on standard versus nonstandard speech forms. In those areas of interest he has published numerous articles and a monograph entitled Sociocultural Perspectives on Language Change in Diaspora: Soviet Immigrants in the United States.


Learning and Using Hebrew in America

Sunday, February 18, 10:30 (panel)
My remarks will focus primarily on how Hebrew is studied and used in Jewish community schools (both “Day Schools” and supplementary schools) with less attention given to the study of Biblical Hebrew in theological seminaries and Biblical and Modern Hebrew in universities. A content analysis of curricular materials of the leading publishers will indicate the thrust and scope of typical school programs and lead to a discussion of the raisons d’être for Hebrew given by the various “streams” in the Jewish community (along with the justifications offered for not teaching Hebrew as a language for communication). I will discuss the extent of spoken Hebrew for communicative purposes in both formal classroom settings and informal contexts. Particular attention will be paid to the growing extent that Hebrew phrases and terms are used in public communal settings and in printed media. I will explore the extent that choice of (public) pronunciation style creates a link with the spoken language, and the opportunities that exist for enhancing and encouraging greater roles for Hebrew in the Jewish community. If time allows I will address how children in parochial schools view learning Hebrew, their expectations, their acceptance of learning materials that are sometimes incomprehensible and not age-appropriate.
Speaker Bio:

Jonathan Paradise (Ph.D. University of Pennsylvania) is Professor Emeritus of Hebrew at the University of Minnesota where he taught courses in Hebrew Language and Literature, Hebrew Bible, and occasional courses in Akkadian from 1965 to 2003. His publications deal with Family Law at ancient Nuzi, Bibilical matters, and Hebrew language pedagogy.

Since his retirement, he has been working intensively developing multimedia materials for teaching Hebrew and computerized tools for Hebrew teachers.


Ladino: Performance, Survival, and Resurgence

Sunday, February 18, 1:00 (panel)
Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) is a “seriously endangered” language, according to the most recent UNESCO listing. Yet the Judeo-Spanish language has not only survived, but is enjoying a resurgence worldwide. Both its survival and its current resurgence are intimately connected to “performance”: the oral transmission of traditional and contemporary songs, for example, within families and now within ever-broadening communities. In 2003 the first Festiladino, the annual international competition, based in Israel, to encourage the composition and performance of new songs in Ladino, was held, and every year more lyricists, composers, and musicians of various ethnic, religious, and national backgrounds participate. The heart of this event is performance: it is, above all, the singers and musicians who are showcased. Judeo-Spanish songs are being performed by many singers and groups, including some in the U.S., who are enriching the tradition with new compositions and musical styles. Less obviously and dramatically, the performance aspect of Ladino is exemplified by the tradition of telling stories, which continues not only in informal family and community settings, but in organized presentations and competitions as well, notably in Israel. There are also theatrical performances of new plays and musical comedies, and new poems, including some by my students, are recited in the special programs produced and presented on Kol Israel by Matilda Koén-Sarano. It is significant that the activities of Matilda Koén-Sarano, the foremost activist, writer, and scholar in the field of Judeo-Spanish, include, as an essential element, various modes of performance.
Speaker Bio:

Born in the Bronx, New York of parents from Izmir, Turkey, Gloria Ascher is descended from Jews expelled from Spain in 1492 and grew up with the Judeo-Spanish (Ladino) language and tradition. Co-director of Judaic Studies at Tufts University (Associate Professor), she teaches, besides other Judaic, German, and Scandinavian literature courses, Ladino Language and Culture – the only such courses offered regularly at a U.S. college or university. In addition to her scholarly activity, she writes poetry (published also in Turkish, German, and English translation) and composes and performs songs in Ladino. The song “A kaza” (“Home”), her poem set to music by Hayim Tsur, made the finals of Festiladino 2004. Her translation of Matilda Koén-Sarano’s two-volume text is the only Ladino grammar in English.


Postvernacular Yiddish: Language as a Performance Art

Sunday, February 18, 1:00 (panel)
I will discuss a variety of recent Yiddish cultural festivals and related public events in North America as a point of entry into analyzing how performances exemplify what I have termed the postvernacular mode of Yiddish. Though varied in their venue, format, and agenda, the performances under consideration all transform the use of Yiddish

as a vernacular through events that are marked as special by boundaries of time and place. At these events Yiddish is often juxtaposed with one or more other languages, and there is, as a result, a performative self-consciousness about the use of Yiddish. These events also frequently transform Yiddish vernacularity by replacing it with some other activity such as singing, lecturing, dancing, reciting poetry, playing musical instruments), and they often entail a professionalization of speaking Yiddish as a performative skill. Taken together, these events evince a signal shift in the relationship of vernacularity and performance in secular Yiddish culture over the course of the twentieth century. Moreover, the analysis of these events speaks to a larger shift in notions of Jewish vernacular behavior in the post-World War II era.

Speaker Bio:

Jeffrey Shandler, a scholar of modern Jewish culture, is an associate professor in the Department of Jewish Studies at Rutgers University. His most recent book is Adventures in Yiddishland: Postvernacular Language and Culture, a study of contemporary Yiddish culture (University of California Press, 2005). Among his other publications, Shandler is the author of While America Watches: Televising the Holocaust (Oxford University Press, 1999) and translator of Emil and Karl, a novel for young readers by Yankev Glatshteyn (Roaring Brook, 2006). He is also co-convener of the Working Group on Jews, Media, and Religion at the Center for Religion and Media, New York University (


Language and Immediacy in the Hebrew Cinematic Lens

Sunday, February 18, 1:00 (panel)
The aim of this talk is to explore the relationship between language and visuality, that is: how did the development of Hebrew enable a specific way of seeing—in particular, a way of seeing Palestine and the landscape of a rebuilt Eretz Israel as a quintessential part of the rejuvenated individual? In this, the enactment on screen of a sense of immediacy in the relationship of individual to nation seems derived from the sonic experience of language itself and thus focuses the centrality of Hebrew as the essential experience of the nation, as an analysis of Keren Hayesod’s Land of Promise (1935) brings to the fore.
Against the Zionization of a linguistic-based understanding of immediacy in visual representations of the land, a late- or postzionist encounter with language has lately inverted this relationship between immediacy and Hebrew, disengaging from the immediacy of individual-national enunciation in favor of a wider historical understanding both of language and of visuality. At least, this critical conclusion emerges from an analysis of both Dina Zvi-Riklis’s 3 Mothers (2006) and Roee Rosen’s Zionist Ventriloquist (2004). Can we then abstract these recent video encounters with language within broader trends of how Hebrew is conceptualized within Israeli society as tied to national constraint and an ideological mission? Does postzionist Israeli visuality work against language as a fundamental element of the Zionist psyche, and thus reach toward a strongly critical stance against language?
Speaker Bio:

Eric Zakim received his Ph.D. from the Department of Comparative Literature at the University of California at Berkeley in 1996. From 1993 to 2002, Eric Zakim taught at Duke University before moving to the University of Maryland where he coordinates the Hebrew Program and serves as founding director of the Joseph and Alma Gildenhorn Institute for Israel Studies. At both Duke and UM, he has taught various aspects of modernist and postmodernist literature and cultural studies, focusing especially on Hebrew literature and Israeli culture. His research concentrates on Zionism, critical theory, and the aesthetics of poetry, film, and music. Eric Zakim’s book, To Build and Be Built: Landscape, Literature, and the Construction of Zionist Identity, was published last year by the University of Pennsylvania Press. An edited volume, Mediterranean Studies: Rethinking the Boundaries of Culture, will be published by the Modern Language Association Press.


Performing Memory (I)

Sunday, February 18, 2:45
This session will both reflect upon, and show in performance, the recreation of memory in drama. Henry Greenspan and Ari Roth will discuss their plays and short excerpts from each will be presented.

Key questions include: “What happens” when primary source material—testimonies, documents, and so on—are transformed, written and rewritten, for dramatic performance? What are the intended and unintended consequences for audiences, those whose lives are re-presented, and perhaps for the playwrights and actors themselves?  What does “authenticity” mean in different kinds of plays in which Holocaust memory and post-memory (especially of the 'second generation') are performed? What questions arise—inside such works and outside of them--about "who can speak for whom,” with what claims, and with what authority?

Speaker Bios:

Ari Roth is the author of some twenty plays and, for the past ten seasons, artistic director of Theater J, the resident professional company of the Washington DCJCC at 16th and Q streets. His repertory cycle, Born Guilty and its sequel, Peter and the Wolf (and Me), is currently running in Atlanta at Jewish Theatre of the South.  Born Guilty, based on the book of interviews with children of Nazis by Peter Sichrovsky, was commissioned and first produced by Arena Stage and subsequently in acclaimed productions Off-Broadway and across the country. 

Henry Greenspan is a psychologist and playwright at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He has been teaching and writing about Holocaust survivors’ retelling for more than twenty-five years, and is the author of On Listening to Holocaust Survivors: Recounting and Life History (1998) and, with Agi Rubin, Reflections: Auschwitz, Memory, and a Life Recreated (2006). In 2000, he was the annual Weinmann lecturer at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Among his plays, REMNANTS is also based on two decades of his conversations with survivors. The piece was originally produced for radio and distributed to NPR stations nationwide. As a stage play, Greenspan has performed REMNANTS at more than a hundred venues throughout the United States and Canada, as well as in Britain, Israel, and the Czech Republic.
REMNANTS will be performed on Monday, February 19, 7:30 pm (at St. Mark's Episcopal Church, Capitol Hill: Third and A Streets, SE, Behind the Library of Congress (Office: 118 Third Street SE) Phone: 202.543.0053


Interpreting 'Jewish' languages in Israel today: Language policy in Israel

Sunday, February 18, 4:15 (panel)
What makes languages possessions of, or associated with groups? Or, alternatively, what makes groups belong to, or associated with, certain languages? Is Hebrew, a language associated with the Jewish people and their scriptures, a Jewish language in the state of Israel today, given its dominance and wide use, not only by Jews, but also by non-Jews? Is the definition of 'Jewish languages' different in Israel where Jews are a majority than in other places where Jews are minorities?
The paper will address these issues by claiming that languages are free commodities that can be associated and appropriated by people and groups for various goals in different contexts. Upon the arrival of Jews to Palestine they appropriated Hebrew as the only language of Jews in Israel, secularized it and rejected Yiddish and other language spoken by Jews. Hebrew became an ideological tool, the dominant language and the lingua franca currently claimed and appropriated by non-Jews as well (e.g., Arabs, immigrants). Hebrew today is used by 'all its citizens' of Israel, as a first, second or hybrid language.
The implications of groups defining languages as 'theirs' will be discussed in relation to the consequences of inclusion/exclusion, membership, loyalty and 'otherness' in Israel today. It will focus on the strategies of the 'other' groups to the ownership claims - conforming, as a political reaction to the ownership of land, or as rejection (e.g., Ultra Orthodox using Yiddish). I end by discussing the high costs paid by people and groups for language ownership in terms of personal rights, participation, comprehension and loss of group and personal identity. Implications to a revised language policy will be proposed.
Speaker Bio:

Dr. Elana Shohamy is Professor of Applied Linguistics in the School of Education at Tel Aviv University. Her work focuses on a variety of topics related to conflicts, controversies and debates in multilingual societies, especially in Israel. Her main research and publications are in the areas of language policy, language rights, language issues of immigration, languages in public space and the politics of language tests. Her more recent authored books include: The languages of Israel: Policy, ideology and practice (co-authored w/ B. Spolsky; 1999, Multilingual Matters); The power of tests: 2001, Longman); Language policy: Hidden agendas and new approaches, 2006, Routledge). She is currently writing a book on methods of reviving Hebrew and is editing a volume on Linguistic Landscape. She is also the co-editor of the journal Language policy. Professor Shohamy was a visiting professor at the Linguistics Department at Georgetown University in the Spring of 2005 and 2006.


Language Policies and Practices of Palestinian Arabs in Israel

Sunday, February 18, 4:15 (panel)
The Palestinian citizens of the State of Israel, or The Arabs of ’48 as they are often referred to in the Arab World, are at the crossroads of cultures. The linguistic manifestation of this phenomenon—in both practice and policy—is the subject of my talk. I begin with a discussion of two linguistic practices found among Palestinians in Jaffa, a mixed Arab-Jewish town in which I did ethnographic fieldwork. The first linguistic practice concerns a sound change in progress: Palestinian Arabic Spoken in Israel (PASII)) is adopting features of Europeanized pronunciation akin to those adopted earlier by Israeli Hebrew (presumably via Yiddish). Second is switching between Arabic and Hebrew. Both linguistic practices are pertinent to the shaping and definition of an emerging, complex identity.
In addition to discussing linguistic practices of native speakers of PASII, I address language policies. This is more of a challenge because it is difficult to determine what the policies are, what they address (e.g. schooling, occupations) or even whether such policies exist. Basically, PASII seems to be rapidly emerging as a Jewish language spoken by non-Jews in a country that consistently excludes non-Jews from its self-definition. Israeli Hebrew is already imposed as a Jewish language for Jews and non-Jews alike. Intolerance toward non-Hebrew or non-Jewish identities is painfully abundant in Israel, whether the victims are Palestinians, Russian-speaking immigrants, atheists, or gastarbeiters. Although Palestinian Arabic, and its formal counterpart, Modern Standard Arabic, are not literally close to extinction, their preservation as emblems of national and cultural identities faces a great deal of erosion on virtually every linguistic level of analysis.
Speaker Bio:

Uri Horesh has a BA from Tel Aviv University in Arabic Language & Literature and Semitic Linguistics. He is currently working on his doctoral dissertation in Linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania, which investigates phonological variation and the intersection of diglossia and bilingualism in Palestinian Arabic Spoken in Israel. His research interests include Arabic dialectology, sociolinguistics (language variation and change; language contact), historical and comparative Semitic, Modern Hebrew, language and gender/sexuality. Prior to his coming to Georgetown, Uri taught courses in Arabic dialectology and sociolinguistics, comparative Semitic, general linguistics and sociolinguistics at Tel Aviv University, the Walworth Barbour American International School in Israel, the University of Pennsylvania and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

JOHN MYHILL (moderator; Sunday, February 18, 4:15 (panel)
John Myhill is an Associate Professor in the Department of English Language and Literature at the University of Haifa since 1995. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1984 and previously taught at SUNY-Buffalo and the University of Michigan. His articles on Jewish sociolinguistics, Hebrew semantics and syntax, Black English, and language typology have appeared in journals and edited collections. He is the author of Typological Discourse Analysis (1992) and Language in Jewish Society (2004) in which he argues that language in Jewish societies can be understood in relation to identity. Also discussed is the revival of Hebrew, Hebrew in the Diaspora, the survival and 'sanctification' of Yiddish, the idea of 'Jewish languages', and sociolinguistic phenomena in the Holocaust and the Arab-Israeli conflict



Judeo Arabic in Israel and Elsewhere

Sunday, February 18, 4:15 (panel)
Why is Judeo-Arabic a “Jewish-defined” language? What makes “Jewish-defined” languages? Or for that matter, “Christian-“ or “Muslim-defined” languages? How is Judeo-Arabic used in Israel and elsewhere? How is it used and perceived by the public? In academia?
This paper defines the nature of “Jewish-defined” languages arguing that almost all Jewish- and Christian- defined languages bear the historical imprint of the “Holy Book.” The paper refutes the notion that Israeli Hebrew is the only living language significantly based on the Bible. What seems like a unique exception, in fact represents a much wider linguistic pattern. The impetus for standardization of vernacular languages is often given by Bible translations. The massive spread of printed Bibles among the population from the 15th century onwards gave the “Biblical” vernaculars an extraordinarily wide exposure and provided it with prestige. These Bible translations have to a large extent endowed standard languages with a religious “character.”
Judeo-Arabic serves as a good example: Sa’adia Gaon’s translation of the Pentateuch in the 10th century, popular among Arabic-speaking Jews, had a considerable impact on the standardization of classical Judeo-Arabic. The most popular book of Yiddish printing ever, Tsene Urene, was in effect a Bible digest targeting non-formally educated women and men. It had a strong influence on the standardization of Eastern Judeo-German dialects into Yiddish in 1907.
This paper argues that Judeo-Arabic as well as Yiddish and Israeli Hebrew are indeed “Jewish-defined” languages. It also traces the historical development of Judeo-Arabic, concentrating on its modern use in Israel and elsewhere among Arabic-speaking Jews, its perception and prestige or lack of it by the public and in the academic world.
Speaker Bio:

Benjamin Hary is an Associate Professor of Hebrew, Arabic and Linguistics at Emory University. His research interests include Jewish languages in general and Judeo-Arabic in particular, corpus linguistics, sociolinguistics and dialectology. He published Multiglossia in Judeo-Arabic in 1992 (Brill) and edited and co-edited Judaism and Islam in 2000, Corpus Linguistics and Modern Hebrew in 2003 and Esoteric and Exoteric Aspects in Judeo-Arabic Culture in 2006. He also published over 30 articles and book reviews on Judeo-Arabic, Arabic and Hebrew linguistics.



in dialogue with JACQUES BERLINERBLAU (Georgetown)

Sunday, February 20, 8:00, Riggs library
Speaker Bios:

Cynthia Ozick is one of the foremost Jewish authors in the world today, certainly the most acclaimed Jewish woman writer. We have included her in our conference because her lifework resonates so closely with the various themes of the symposium. Ozick’s essays and fiction explore boundaries of languages, identities and cultures among Jews across time, place and genre.

In her essay Bialek’s Hint (Commentary, February 1983), for example, Ozick explores the notion of Jewish languages (including English, Yiddish and Hebrew), connecting them with both sacred and secular writing across cultures and through history. In “The Rights of History and the Rights of Imagination” (Commentary, March 1999), Ozick probes the junctures between fiction and fact, art and history, art and politics, and the boundary between imagination and impersonation, exploring how all can (and have been) manipulated and exploited. Ozick’s work also crosses genre boundaries: as noted in the New York Times book review of Metaphor and Memoir (Vintage, 1989), for example, her arguments and expositions are like stories whose plots convince and persuade readers to accept her point.

A partial list of Ozick’s publications includes The Pagan Rabbi and Other Stories (1971) The Shawl (1980), Art and Ardor (1983) , The Messiah of Stockholm (1987), Envy; or, Yiddish in America (1989), Metaphor & Memory (1989), What Henry James Knew (1994), A Cynthia Ozick Reader (1996), Fame & Folly: Essays (1996), The Puttermesser Papers (1997), Quarrel and Quandry (2000),Heir to the Glimmering World (2005) and The Din in the Head: Essays (2006)

Jacques Berlinerblau holds separate doctorates in ancient Near Eastern Languages and Literatures, and in Sociology. He is currently the Visiting Professor of Jewish Civilization at Georgetown University. He is also director of Jewish Studies and Associate Professor of Religion at Hofstra University.

Berlinerblau has published on a wide variety of issues ranging from the composition of the Hebrew Bible, to the sociology of heresy, to modern Jewish intellectuals, to African-American and Jewish-American relations. His articles on these and other subjects have appeared in Biblica, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, Semeia, Biblical Interpretation, Journal of Northwest Semitic Languages, Hebrew Studies, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, and History of Religions. He has published three books, including Heresy in the University: The Black Athena Controversy and the Responsibility of American Intellectuals (Rutgers University Press). His most recent book is The Secular Bible: Why Nonbelievers Must take Religion Seriously (Cambridge University Press). Berlinerblau is currently at work on a collection of interviews with sixteen of the world's most famous biblical scholars which is tentatively titled, Thumping the Bible: Experts in Sacred Scriptures Speak Out on the Use and Abuse of the Bible in Contemporary Politics


Language Loyalty and Choice in the Aftermath of the Holocaust
Monday, February 19, 9:00 (panel)

Central to the factors that shaped Jewish culture in the Displaced Persons camps in the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust were language issues.  Drawing from the press of the DP camps this paper examines how refugees addressed language and identity issues. The future of Yiddish, the native language of many of the victims of the war, was a topic for concern. Once the language of only a relatively few Zionist Jews, Hebrew was growing in prominence as the central vernacular Jewish language for the soon to be Jewish homeland of Israel. In that case, what was to be the role for Yiddish? What about the many other, non-Jewish languages brought from former homelands, especially Polish, Hungarian, Czech and Russian? How did Jewish survivors’ attitudes and aspirations relate to language practices? In the American and British zones of occupied Germany and Austria how would English or German figure in their recovery? Jewish survivors writing in postwar Europe viewed the era in which the DP camps functioned as a critical time and this paper address that period and its impact and the effects of the survivors’ efforts to preserve and reconstruct whatever they could.  This talk will describe the linguistic shift that took place, with a focus on Yiddish, its destruction and its shift of locus away from Europe.

Speaker Bio:

Miriam Isaacs (University of Maryland, College Park) holds an Ph.D. and M.A. in Linguistics from Cornell University. Her research has largely been in socio-linguistics, and especially the role of Yiddish as a heritage language in Yiddish-speaking Hasidic communities. Her interest in the DP camps and in ethnic identities stems from the fact of her birth in such a camp in occupied Germany and her later experiences among refugees in multi-ethnic Montreal and Brooklyn. A native speaker of Yiddish, her teaching focuses on aspects of Cultural Studies and Yiddish language and culture and she has also taught and consulted on ESOL and multi-lingualism. She has recently published on language loyalty and choice with respect to the Yiddish playwright, Peretz Hirshbein.


Broken Hearts, Broken Homes: The Holocaust and Its Languages

Monday, February 19, 9:00 (panel)
The choice of language among European Jews was never neutral. During the Holocaust, contention over languages intensified: idealistic calls for a return to Jewish languages competed with realistic defections to the vernacular; speaking a flawless German, Polish, or Ukrainian could, moreover, help one escape the persecutor’s net. The main arenas of terror forged their own tongues: coded communication in the ghetto, a fabricated jargon in the camps. Language in the war’s aftermath was marked by these wartime struggles. Psychologist David Boder claimed that the victims’ postwar speech bore evidence of trauma, and this was one of the factors that led to his 1946 interview project.
A Latvian Jewish émigré to America, Boder traveled to Europe in 1946 to carry out 120 interviews with those whom he referred to as "wartime sufferers"--interviews that he conducted in nine languages and recorded on a state-of-the-art wire recorder. Seventy English-language transcriptions totaling some 3100 pages were eventually brought out by Boder. My paper will glance at some language issues during the Holocaust as a prelude to discussing Boder's handling of them in its aftermath. The interplay between Jewish and non-Jewish languages forms a crucial dimension of his work, and implicates issues of audience, advocacy, retribution, trauma, ethnicity, and ethics.
Speaker Bio:

Alan Rosen lectures in English and Holocaust Literature at Bar-Ilan University and the International School for Holocaust Education at Yad Vashem. He is most recently the author of Sounds of Defiance: The Holocaust, Multilingualism and the Problem of English; the collaborator on a French edition of I Did Not Interview the Dead, by David Boder; and the editor of Approaches to Teaching Wiesel’s Night. He is a 2006-2007 research fellow of the Fondation pour la Mémoire de la Shoah, working on a book entitled “That Great Mournful Period: David Boder and the Ethnography of Holocaust Testimony.”


Old Languages in New Versions of Holocaust Oral Histories

Monday, February 19, 9:00 (panel)
Although the majority of oral histories from Holocaust survivors, at least in the United States, are told in English, none of the survivors were native speakers of English. This means that both the initial experiences and the memories of those experiences were lived through, and initially remembered in, the survivors’ native languages. Linguists know little about how life events and their memories develop and persist across different languages. By focusing on the use of different languages within one person’s multiple tellings of an oral history, I examine how those languages reveal not only the intricacies of her own life, but also the construction of public testimonies and memory culture about the Holocaust.
I begin by developing the idea of a ‘language autobiography’ and noting briefly how language is both a topic and a practice within a life story and how the use of several languages provides an important resource through which to portray both events and feelings. I then examine three versions of an oral history from one Holocaust survivor. Here I observe the changing roles of three different languages in the reenactment of life experiences that are discursively constructed at different times, in different places and with different people. We will see that Hebrew, German and English play very different roles in the oral histories. Although Hebrew fades away, and English is limited to a pivotal point after the war, the use of German is both constricted (as some episodes disappear over time) and expanded (to structure the description of Auschwitz).
Speaker Bio:

Deborah Schiffrin, Professor of Linguistics (and currently Chair of the Department) at Georgetown University, teaches and does research on discourse. Major publications include Discourse markers (Cambridge 1987) that analyzes the use of small words like oh, well and y’know, Approaches to Discourse (Blackwell 1994, 2nd edition forthcoming) and In Other Words (Cambridge 2006) that analyzes speech repairs, references and retold stories. She is also co-editor of the Handbook of Discourse Analysis (2001 Blackwell) and Discourse and Identity (Cambridge 2006). Schiffrin has always been interested in personal narratives and life stories and has more recently, turned her attention to the narratives (and other kinds of discourse) that emerge during oral histories of Holocaust survivors, as well as public discourse concerning the Holocaust. With the help of a Fellowship at the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, in Fall 2000, she initiated a research project on Multiple interviews with Holocaust survivors.


Voicing My Father: Bringing my Jewish Identity to the Stage

Monday, February 19, 11:30 (panel)
My doctoral dissertation and first linguistics book propose a framework for analyzing conversation based on a tape-recorded dinner-table conversation in which I took part; consequently I ended up providing an account of New York Jewish conversational style. Though my Jewish identity was thus foregrounded at the start, it became so not by design but as a byproduct of my analytic method. In the quarter century of linguistic research and writing that followed, that identity has been backgrounded. But it took center stage–literally as well as figuratively--in a play I wrote about a trip I made with my father to Warsaw, his birthplace. Supported by a brief reading from the play, I discuss the process of writing and presenting the play as it relates to my Jewish identity and as it compares and contrasts with the creative process of linguistic research.

Speaker Bio:

Deborah Tannen is University Professor and Professor of linguistics at Georgetown University.  Her most recent research, supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, examines family discourse.  Among her twenty books, Conversational Style: Analyzing Talk Among Friends was recently published in a new edition by Oxford University Press, and Talking Voices: Repetition, Dialogue, and Imagery in Conversational Discourse will soon be published in a new edition by Cambridge University Press. Her book You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation was on the New York Times best seller list for nearly four years and has been translated into 29 languages. Her book You're Wearing THAT?: Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation was recently published in paperback.  She has recorded two series of audiotaped lectures as part of the Recorded Books' Modern Scholar series. She has published a book of literary criticism about a modern Greek writer, as well as poems and stories.  Her play "An Act of Devotion" was included in The Best American Short Plays: 1993-1994 and was performed, together with her play "Sisters," by Horizons Theater in Arlington, VA in 1995.


Voicing Anne Frank: Adaptation and Appropriation in a New Telling

of Her Story

Monday, February 19, 11:30 (panel)


This presentation explores questions of individual and collective memory by examining the process of developing Right as Rain, a play about Anne Frank and the Holocaust. In 1993, I was commissioned, along with my theater company in Chicago, to develop a new play in association with Facing History and Ourselves' traveling exhibit "Anne Frank in the World." As we reread the diary, what struck us most was the ferocity of Anne's imaginative gifts and her relentless sprit of inquiry. As we dug deeper, we were troubled by the sense that as Anne has become iconic and mythologized, the diary has been reductively romanticized as a "song of hope." Her legacy has, as Cynthia Ozick expresses, left us with complicated questions about "who owns Anne Frank." By personifying Anne's relationship to Kitty, the imaginary friend to whom she famously addresses her diary, and by juxtaposing the events of Anne's life with excerpts from the trial of Arthur Seyss-Inquart, the Nazi official most responsible for the round-up of Jews in the Netherlands, we sought to open an imaginative space for interrogation and commemoration. I will present selected scenes from a recent workshop production of revised version of Right as Rain. Among the issues raised will be the implications of converging different kinds of source material (e.g. diary, trial transcripts, oral and written testimony, composite monologues and dialogues), questions of authenticity, and ethical responsibility; and the politics and poetics of representation-- e.g. what stage forms are best equipped to evoke the un-representable atrocities of the Holocaust.

Speaker Bio:

Derek Goldman is Associate Professor of Theater and Performance Studies(Georgetown) and Founding Artistic Director of the StreetSigns Center for Literature and Performance, an acclaimed, socially-engaged professional theater company founded in Chicago in 1992, now based in Chapel Hill, NC. Under Goldman's leadership, StreetSigns has produced 57 productions, and has received numerous awards and honors. Recent adapting/directing credits include his adaptation of Studs Terkel's Will the Circle Be Unbroken which premiered at Steppenwolf and was remounted at Chicago's Millennium Park with an all-star cast including Garrison Keillor. Most recently it was presented by Playmakers Rep with David Strathairn. He directed the long-running Off-Broadway hit Sholom Aleichem -- Now You're Talking. He is the author of more than twenty professionally produced plays and adaptations, and has directed more than sixty productions. His articles on adaptation, performance ethnography and political theater have been featured in Sage's Performance Studies Handbook and numerous journals.

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