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  • Historische jiddische Semantik: Die Bibelübersetzungssprache als Faktor der Auseinanderentwicklung des jiddischen und des deutschen Wortschatzes
  • Roland Gruschka
Erika Timm and Gustav Adolf Beckmann. Historische jiddische Semantik: Die Bibelübersetzungssprache als Faktor der Auseinanderentwicklung des jiddischen und des deutschen Wortschatzes. Tübingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag, 2005. viii + 736 pp. index. append. tbls. bibl. €112. ISBN: 3–484–73063–3.

According to a popular view, the Jews are the "People of the Book" — the Bible. The truth contained in these words has by now been rather underrated, as far as the linguistic identity of Ashkenazic Jewry is concerned. By the end of the sixteenth century the vernacular of Ashkenazic Jewry, Yiddish, had developed a rich set of varieties, registers, and literary languages that served the multifarious genres of its literature. All the literary forms of early Yiddish (in Max Weinreich's terminology, Old and Middle Yiddish) took shape in the western territories of Ashkenaz, which for a short period included even certain metropolises of Northern [End Page 578] Italy, where the well-known Jewish philologist Elia Levita (1468\69–1549) succeeded as author of Yiddish novels adapted from contemporary Italian Renaissance literature.

All too often the languages of this formative period are not regarded as representing a full historical stage of Yiddish, but as mere rather-German-than-Yiddish "predecessors" of it. Moreover, most of the different forms of early literary Yiddish still lack a detailed comprehensive historical-linguistic description of monograph length. Among these early forms of literary Yiddish, the language of the Yiddish Bible translation and the metalanguage of instruction used in the heder (the traditional Jewish elementary Bible school) both formed long-lived traditions, and their vocabulary is amply documented in manuscripts (most of them of the fifteenth century) and prints (beginning with Mirkeves hamishne of about 1534). These two varieties of early Yiddish are the object of Erika Timm's study. According to the author, the traditional Yiddish Bible translation idiom took a vital role in the formation process of the Yiddish language as a whole by enriching the vocabulary, the semantics, the idioms, and, to a certain extent, even the morphology of ordinary Yiddish in a way that resulted in a progressive divergence from the mainstreams of German language history. The central aim of Timm's study is to demonstrate this idea, which further develops the theories of the Yiddish linguist Max Weinreich (1894–1969). It should be stressed here that the vocabulary of the traditional Yiddish Bible translation language includes no Hebrew elements at all, but consists mainly of genetically Germanic calques, taken partly from Hebrew, partly from the language of the older Judeo-French Bible translation of Sephardic Jewry.

The book consists of three parts. Part A ("Allgemeiner und synthetischer Teil") is a general introduction into the field of research. The textual corpus of the study is based on about 120 texts from the late fourteenth to the eighteenth century, the methodological preliminaries and the conceptual framework are outlined, and the most characteristic features of the Yiddish Bible translation language are described. Part B ("Alphabetischer Teil") is composed as a glossary of selected expressions of the language of the Yiddish Bible that differ in meaning and semantics from their modern standard German correspondents, and for which such correspondents do not exist. The semantic difference is explained by the etymology of the words, the loan phenomena, the influence of medieval Jewish versus Christian exegesis, the specific textual sources for semantic borrowing (Ashkenazic Jews translated from the Hebrew original text, not from Greek or Latin), employing a broad knowledge of the cultural history of both Jews and Christians. The study traces the use of these words in the corpus texts and documents their incorporation into ordinary Yiddish, in particular into the modern literary language. Part C ("Realien in den Bibelübersetzungen") comprises case studies on the translation of the names for musical instruments, the gems on the high priest's breastplate (cf. Ex 28:17–20, Ex 39:10–14), and flora and fauna. On the basis of her findings, Timm argues for the "fundamentale Einheit" (28) of Western and Eastern Ashkenaz and the linguistic continuity from Old Yiddish to [End Page 579] the...


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