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The Languages of the Jews
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Book description

Historical sociolinguistics is a comparatively new area of research, investigating difficult questions about language varieties and choices in speech and writing. Jewish historical sociolinguistics is rich in unanswered questions: when does a language become 'Jewish'? What was the origin of Yiddish? How much Hebrew did the average Jew know over the centuries? How was Hebrew re-established as a vernacular and a dominant language? This book explores these and other questions, and shows the extent of scholarly disagreement over the answers. It shows the value of adding a sociolinguistic perspective to issues commonly ignored in standard histories. A vivid commentary on Jewish survival and Jewish speech communities that will be enjoyed by the general reader, and is essential reading for students and researchers interested in the study of Middle Eastern languages, Jewish studies, and sociolinguistics.

Reviews

‘Bernard Spolsky's magnum opus shows us the complexities of a globalized sociolinguistic system within a relatively small community of people. It is a sobering book for those who still cherish a one culture - one language image of societies, and an encouragement to all those who take delight in the unexpected intricacies of language in society.'

Jan Blommaert - Tilburg University

‘… an impressive tour de force through time and space, tracing three millennia of multilingualism of the Jewish people.’

Benjamin Hary - Emory University

‘An engaging and panoramic vade mecum through four millennia of Jewish history, the languages they spoke, and the essential formative role of Hebrew throughout … laced with intimate and questioning reflections of a distinguished scholar.’

Norman A. Stillman - Schusterman/Josey Professor of Judaic History, University of Oklahoma

'… a masterpiece that in one fell swoop replaces the earlier partisan, parochial works emanating from this or that theory-pusher … Spolsky lays out on his generous table the vast universe of ideas and facts, beautifully structured. Yet for all his love of the languages covered, he is able to stand back and give the reader a meticulously honest selection of interpretations and sources from which to choose. [This] is the first (and only) work to tell the general reader about the ongoing robust debates about each language and period (and indeed about all of them), with fairness to all sides and PR for none; with clarity … about each position, and with careful compilation of bibliography enabling you to continue study of whichever language (or theory) attracts you. A magnificent contribution to the study of Jewish languages. At long last.’

Dovid Katz - formerly Vilnius University

'Spolsky’s book is an important addition to the literature of [the] field, a must-have reference for historians of the Jews and scholars of Jewish languages.'

Sarah Bunin Benor Source: Marginalia Review of Books

'For the first time we have a remarkable book summarizing in a very clear way the complex history of Jewish languages, and presenting to specialists an erudite and breathtaking sociolinguistic study. I hope that this important book will raise debate and discussion among specialists of general linguistics helping to understand the birth, evolution and structure of languages. It will become, without a doubt, one of the most important books on the languages spoken by Jewish people, past and present, studied from a sociolinguistic perspective.'

Jean Baumgarten Source: Journal of Sociolinguistics

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