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The Story of Yiddish
How a Mish-Mosh of Languages Saved the Jews

by Neal Karlen

      In The Story of Yiddish, Karlen describes how Yiddish is a language that reflects Jewish culture, as opposed to Hebrew, a language that Jews use for study and prayer. According to the text, "Yiddish contains medieval and modern German, the Jews’ own antiquated holy Hebrew and Aramaic, Russian, Polish, Czech, Romanian, Ukrainian, Lithuanian, Galician, Hungarian, Judean, Ladino (the 'Yiddish' of Jews along the Iberian Peninsula, South America, and Mexico), and American English." The book explains how the language helped Jews survive troubled times throughout history.

The author weaves personal and historical anecdotes throughout the text using well-known entertainers and scholars (Jew and non-Jew) to draw readers into the story. Part scholarly work, part first-person narration, the book will have readers racing for the dictionary one minute and giggling at funny stories the next. Rather than a smooth flowing progression, The Story of Yiddish jumps around between different chapters and even within chapters, so that readers are never quite sure what to expect in the next paragraph. While entertaining and interesting, the book is its own "Mish-Mosh" of information, anecdotes, and narration.

For "der yidn" (Jews) and "der goyim" (gentiles or non-Jews) interested in how languages reflect culture, this book provides plenty of insight. End notes and bibliography provide additional information for students and scholars.

The Book

William Morrow/Harper Collins Publishers
April 2008
Miscellaneous / Language / Culture
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NOTE: Profanity

The Reviewer

Leslie Halpern
Reviewed 2008
NOTE: Reviewer Leslie Halpern is the author of Reel Romance. The Lovers' Guide to the 100 Best Date Movies and Dreams on Film. Coming Soon: A Writer's Guide to Fearless Interviews.
© 2008