15 May 2010

Jewish-Dutch literature

The Encyclopaedia Judaica (2008) contains the following account of language mixing in literature:

"Hebraic Influences on the Dutch Language

"The influence of the Statenbijbel on the Dutch language cannot be overestimated.  Expressions deriving from this translation are still current in literature and colloquial usage. Besides such common words as Satan, cherubijn, etc., there are expressions like 'met de mantel der liefde bedekken' ('to cover with the coat of love'), borrowed from the story of Noah (Gen. 9:23). The influence of Yiddish began to be felt with the appearance of Dutch books by Jewish authors, which contained Yiddish expressions. Some Yiddish words that have become part of standard Dutch are Mokum, the popular nickname for Amsterdam ('place,' from makom); bajes ('prison,' from bayit); gabber ('friend,' from ḥaver); stiekem ('in secret,' from shetikah); and lef ('courage,' from lev). Many more are to be found in popular speech and thieves' slang – jatten ('to steal,' from yad), and kapoeres ('gone to pieces,' from kapparah). Others which were mainly used by Jews are disappearing with the dwindling of the Jewish community in Holland.

"The Jewish community has coined some Dutch words for its specific linguistic needs. By subtly changing the prefix of verbs and nouns, meaning has shifted – predominantly in the verbs aanbijten (lit. 'to bite onto,' to break the fast after Yom Kippur) and uitkomen (lit. 'to come out,' to convert to Judaism), and the noun voorzanger (lit. 'singer in front,' Cantor), which are not in use outside the Jewish community."

Here is a case of the language of literature influencing the language of everyday life, surely something for literary critics to celebrate.  The rest of the entry, by the way, lists some Jewish writers writing in Dutch - a huge area for research and criticism.

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