A Shpiel on Yiddish Language Assimilation
Just putzing around
( @c.o.bernstein / TikTok)
English isn’t like other languages — She’s Germanic, she’s Romantic, but most of all she’s a fucking trainwreck. It’s an amalgamation of complex grammar structure with a schmear of cultural influences that extend far beyond Europe.
The history of Jewish-Americans all begins with a decision to seek out opportunity and prosperity. Although it’s a similar goal to many other immigrant groups, Jewish-Americans uniquely brought along an emerging language with them. Originally from Jewish Eastern Europeans and Russians, this scholarly language soon developed into one of unity. Yiddish emerged as a prominent language spoken by and amongst Jewish Americans.
Yiddish did not remain in these ethnic groups. A result of generations of interactions resulted in a simplification of the language; enough that certain phrases began popping up in English.
This TikTok by Cameron Bernstein is a comedic take on a popular language trend where users sang to a specific beat in their native languages.
Viewers were surprised that they could understand some of Bernstein’s Yiddish. But it wasn’t just the German and Hebrew speakers sounding off in the comments. Surprisingly, English speakers could recognize some words. Because Yiddish is a Germanic language in origin, it’s bound to have some similarities.
In a follow-up TikTok, Bernstein explains Yiddish to be part of German with many distinct dialects. It mixed with Hebrew and English as a diaspora language, also popularly coined as Yinglish.
I don’t speak German, but Jewish influence on the English language goes beyond sharing a family tree.You know, I'm such a klutz sometimes. That’s what I get for schlepping around. You got to have a lot of chutzpah to be such a shameless meshugganah.
Reading it in writing makes these words jump out with their z’s and s’s, an alarm telling us they’re out of place. In reality, Yiddish is so ingrained into English we may not even realize it. Despite never speaking Hebrew or German myself, as a native English speaker, I can pronounce all of these words. Matt Greminger posted a TikTok detailing how prevalent Yiddish was in the English language and exemplified just how natural Yiddish phrases are in English.
This syncretizing of language is surprisingly ironic considering the atrocious history of anti-Semitism in the U.S. Jewish immigrants who brought their language with them had to encourage their children to avoid it entirely, or risk emotional harm or physical violence This has resulted in a shrouding of origin and a preference for assimilation over cultural connection.
Yiddish is far from a dying language, though. With many young educators on social media advocating for Yiddish and its prevalence in historical cultural hubs like Brooklyn, Yiddish is not at risk of fading away. However, education on its roots and how heavily it has influenced our own language is necessary in honoring it today.
Next time your Zoom call glitches out and you need a word to describe it, thank Jewish-American immigrants for granting you the eloquence of expression.
Kaylinn Escobar is a Staff Writer at Rowdy Magazine. She's fond of underrated claymation, sitting in extravagant chairs, and yearning to the sound of the 2005 Pride and Prejudice soundtrack. She adores classics, healthcare, and re-told historical fiction. Reach out to her at firstname.lastname@example.org for more info.