Unesco register of Good Practices in Language Preservation

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UNESCO Register of Good Practices in Language Preservation

UNESCO Register of Good Practices in Language Preservation

Winnipeg Yiddish Women’s Reading Circle


Received: spring 2006; last updated: summer 2008

Brief description:

This report describes the activities of the Winnipeg Yiddish Women’s Reading Circle, a reading group in Manitoba, Canada that uses texts in Yiddish to provide participants with opportunities to speak and read the language, to regain confidence in their linguistic competence and to tutor each other.

Yiddish is a Germanic Jewish language. In the 2006 census of Canada, 16,295 people indicated Yiddish as their mother tongue. For the Winnipeg (Manitoba) community, where the project is located, the number of Yiddish speakers is approximately six hundred.

The Reading Circle was started in the wake of the rediscovery of Yiddish women's literature at a local library event in Winnipeg. In the circle, female members of the local Yiddish community meet regularly once a month to read and discuss texts by female Yiddish authors. Since the start of this library event, the Reading Circle activities have resulted in the revitalization of Yiddish language competence in its members. Reading the texts aloud and group discussion on the texts as well as language issues more generally, has allowed for an invigorating exchange between more and less fluent Yiddish speakers. As a further result, an anthology of English translations of stories by the female Yiddish authors, edited by an academic expert, was published. The Reading Circle assisted with the translation and compilation of texts for this anthology, further contributing to the rediscovery and revitalization of Yiddish among participants.

Reader’s guide:

This project is an example of a community-driven, low-cost effort for language revitalization via the social activity of regularly holding a reading circle, using texts in the endangered language of Yiddish. In addition to the rediscovery of ‘buried’ linguistic competences, a form of ‘peer-teaching’ is achieved among participants with different degrees of language mastery. Organizational and resource requirements are fairly low; the concept is therefore flexible and could be easily adaptable to different cultural contexts and participants’ circumstances. The publication of an anthology, which grew out of the Reading Circle’s activities, exemplifies how small local projects (community initiatives) such as this one can lead to broader-scale opportunities for awareness-raising and cultural transmission.

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