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  • Print publication year: 2014
  • Online publication date: June 2014

13 - Linguistic emancipation and assimilation in Europe


Into the modern world

We have followed the addition of languages to the Jewish sociolinguistic ecology historically and regionally: the adoption of Hebrew in Canaan; the addition of Aramaic and Greek in the ancient world; the spread of Greek and addition of Latin in the Mediterranean Diaspora, and of Judeo-Persian in the eastern; the spread of Arabic to Jews as well as others as a result of the Muslim conquest; the development of Judeo-Romance varieties in Western and Southern Loez; the process from German dialects to Yiddish in Ashkenaz and further east; and the period of Judeo-Slavic (Knaanic) before Yiddish took over in eastern Europe.

This survey took us through the ancient and medieval worlds, with surprisingly little variation in pattern as Jews, usually forced to migrate by conquest or persecution, added new languages to their repertoire, modified them when isolated by internal or external pressure, and, throughout, generally maintained Hebrew as their heritage, sacred, and literary language. In Renaissance Europe, the expulsion of Jews in 1492 from the Iberian Peninsula did not just spread Judezmo as far as Turkey, but also was associated with a flurry of translations by Jews of Classical texts via Arabic to western languages. Essentially, in the next two chapters we trace the next stage of development in what might be called the modern world, remembering that modernization, industrialization, political emancipation, and westernization came to different parts of that world at different times; earliest in Germany, and never in some Islamic nations, whose Jews were emancipated as citizens only after their escape to a western Diaspora or to the new State of Israel.

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