Jews' Next Dor

Congregation Beth David's Young Adult Group for Jewish 20 & 30 Somethings

American Jewish Language Use Survey Results

Posted by challahbackgirl on November 30, 2009

I thought I’d share following article that landed in my email in an issue of Nu? What’s New?.

Survey on American Jewish Language Use
How do American Jews speak English? Who uses Hebrew and Yiddish words and New York regional features? When using Hebrew words, who prefers Israeli pronunciations and who prefers the Ashkenazic ones? Which Yiddish-origin features do some non-Jews use?

Two researchers from Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion, linguist Sarah Bunin Benor and sociologist Steven M. Cohen, have released the results of a large-scale survey of Jews and non-Jews in the United States that addresses these questions. The online survey began in the summer of 2008 with an e-mail invitation to about 600 people, and within 6 weeks, over 40,000 people had participated.

Benor and Cohen found that American Jews use many Yiddish words and constructions within their English speech (such as heimish, bashert, “staying by them,” and “she has what to say”) and that many non-Jews use selected Yiddishisms (especially klutz, shpiel, and “money shmoney”). Most Yiddish words are more common in the older generations, but some (including bentsh, leyn, and shul) are increasing among younger Jews who attend synagogue frequently. American Jews, especially those who have spent time in Israel or are highly engaged in religious life, also pepper their English with Hebrew and Aramaic words (including yofi, balagan, davka, and kal vachomer). Jews with different social networks have different understandings of the meanings of certain words (such as whether schmooze means ‘chat’ or ‘kiss up’). Outside of New York, Jews are more likely than non-Jews to use certain New York regional pronunciations, such as pronouncing “orange” as “AH-range.” And Jews are somewhat more likely than non-Jews to report that they have been told that they interrupt too much.

A summary of the survey results can be found at http://huc.edu/survey/09/docs/Survey%20popular%20paper%20final.pdf. A more detailed description of the project can be found at http://huc.edu/survey/09/.

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