Posts tagged language.

nprfreshair:

Novelist Gary Shteyngart emigrated to Queens from the Soviet Union in 1979 at the age of 7. In his memoir, Little Failure, he writes about adjusting to life in a country he had been taught to think was the enemy. In his interview he talks to Terry Gross about his struggle to learn English:

My problem was that I didn’t know any English. So on top of not knowing any English, there was another language, Hebrew, which was even harder, that they were trying to teach me. It was too much.

… And at home we had no television so I couldn’t learn English from TV, so for the first years in Hebrew school I would sit apart from everyone at the cafeteria … and I would just have long conversations in Russian with myself … in this gigantic fur hat and fur coat speaking in a language that nobody understood. And all the kids would run up to me and do the crazy sign and laugh and laugh and laugh, but I wouldn’t stop because that was the only language that would make me comfortable. … In speaking it, I could pretend that the people I loved were around me.

image via townhall seattle

more Gary Shteyngart

In the decades before the Holocaust, national identity and Yiddish spelling were deeply intertwined. When I read Yiddish literature printed before World War II, I can often guess the writers’ political milieu through their spelling alone. In 19th-century Europe, religious writers spelled Yiddish words by imitating Hebrew, using vowel markings where none were necessary so their new writing would resemble ancient Hebrew texts. Meanwhile, Jews who wanted to assimilate into European life wrote in a Yiddish spelling that openly imitated German. This brand of spelling — it used Hebrew letters to represent even silent German characters in shared cognates — subtly announced, as leaders of the German Jewish Reform movement once proclaimed, that “Berlin is our Jerusalem.”

Spelling in the early Soviet Union was even more perverse. There, government control over Yiddish schools and presses led to the invention and enforcement of a literally anti-Semitic Yiddish orthography by spelling the language’s many Semitic-origin words phonetically instead of in Hebrew. (Imagine spelling “naïve” as “nigh-eve” in order to look less French.) It was an attempt to erase Jewish culture’s biblical roots, letter by letter.

Dara Horn, “Jewish Identity, Spelled in Yiddish" (The New York Times)
  June 11, 2013 at 09:20am via The New York Times

"Л love in Moldova"

sovietjewry:

liver licked out of shape, 
moldova moya, liquor
loves your shakes

louder the laughing,
lucky the fool, moldova
moya
, playing pool

laid out, olives
like eyes, moldova moya,
milked the lies

loved me once, listen
moldova, my semitic
look, moya svoboda

loved my lips fuller,
moya rabota, moldova,
developed Golgotha

old stolen slogans, you
listened, moya
moldova
, you listed

our livers on sale, you whistled
when missiles sailed over, moya
moldova, moya lyubovnitza

missed you last winter,
darling, moldova, missed the last
kisses, s’novim godom

beloved, maybe next season
I’ll visit, moldova,
maybe you’ll listen

to livers and spleens,
delicious fishes, moldova
moya
, kneading you

clean as whistles,
moya moldova, holding you
over till new year’s eve,

moldova moya, moy
gorod, svoboda
, my little
mother, my proper model

my small apartment,
my slide, my bottle
my cobbles, my sled

my awkward muddle
in my moldova, and moya shkola
and apples, and bread


— Marina Blitshteyn, published in Fawlt Magazine and also in her chapbook Russian For Lovers.

In the European countries where Yiddish was the language of daily life, there were traditions of extravagantly emotional songs of love, suffering, courtship and marriage. People sang violent ballads and graphic depictions of hard lives; songs of war, poverty, danger and natural disasters. Folksongs were like broadsides — carrying the news of the day, declaring the troubles in society. These songs were created and sung largely by women. Women working alongside other women in fields, markets, factories and homes shared songs reflecting their lives, their experiences, thoughts, dreams, imaginings.

He Beat Me Black and Blue: Yiddish Songs of Family Violence, Part One – The Arty Semite – Forward.com

In 1917 the majority of Russia’s Jews lived in the cities and shtetlach (small Jewish towns or villages) of the former Pale of Settlement, and over 90 percent spoke Yiddish on a daily basis. In 1918, soon after the Bolsheviks came to power, organizations designed to “Sovietize” the Jews economically and culturally were established. These were the Jewish sections (Evsektsii) of the Communist Party, which functioned until 1930, and the more short-lived Jewish Commissariat (Evkom), which operated until 1924. Their leaders saw the Yiddish language as the only medium with which to reach out to the Jewish masses and encouraged Jewish intellectuals to compose popular works in Yiddish. The Yiddish language itself was reformed several times during the Soviet period, initially with the goal of systematizing the spelling, including phonetic spelling of words of Hebrew origin, and later of purging the language of Hebraic elements that were seen as “bourgeois and clerical.” Yiddish popular culture was used as a tool to manipulate Jewish public opinion. The values of Soviet ideology filled short stories, theatrical performances, Yiddish songs, and even new holidays. These cultural products were designed to speed up the modernization and Sovietization of the Jewish population.

Anna Shternshis, Soviet and Kosher: Jewish Popular Culture in the Soviet Union, 1923-1939

Footnote: Recent scholarship, namely, works by Jeffrey Veidlinger, Gennady Estraikh, Katerina Clark, and David Shneer, argues that these Jewish activists, including some members of the Evsektsii, took advantage of Soviet opportunities and intended to build a secular Yiddish culture with a distinct, albeit non-religious Jewish content. For example, Veidlinger argues that producers, actors, and directors of the Moscow State Yiddish Theater were able to incorporate hidden Zionist and religious messages into their plays.

  April 11, 2012 at 03:35am
Title: Ekh Lyuli Lyuli #5: Catching Up 0 plays

Ekh Lyuli Lyuli #5: Catching Up
Air date: August 30, 2011 - 4pm EST

A show catching up on a bunch of different things: reflecting on a couple summer Russian-Jewish weddings; ranting about feeling insecure and inauthentic about language in Russian circles; and kvetching about how often Russian-Jewish projects and initiatives, particularly for youth, are reduced to Israel advocacy. Oh, and an introduction to RussianGirlProblems (check out their facebook page, too!).

Those in/around Toronto, check out The Koffler @ IFOA (International Festival of Authors) on October 23, 2011, exploring Russian-Jewish narratives and featuring events with Gal Beckerman, David Bezmozgis, Gary Shteyngart, and others.

Music:
"Memory Song" by Psoy Korolenko, Frank London, & others
"Disko Partizani" (Shantel cover) by Filipp Kirkorov
"Hava Nagila" by Filipp Kirkorov
"To Life" from Fiddler on the Roof
“Ich Hob Dich Zifeel Lieb” (I Love You Much Too Much) by The Barry Sisters
"Chiribim Chiribom" by The Barry Sisters 

Download the podcast.

  October 13, 2011 at 10:34am

"Л love in Moldova"

liver licked out of shape, 
moldova moya, liquor
loves your shakes

louder the laughing,
lucky the fool, moldova
moya
, playing pool

laid out, olives
like eyes, moldova moya,
milked the lies

loved me once, listen
moldova, my semitic
look, moya svoboda

loved my lips fuller,
moya rabota, moldova,
developed Golgotha

old stolen slogans, you
listened, moya
moldova
, you listed

our livers on sale, you whistled
when missiles sailed over, moya
moldova, moya lyubovnitza

missed you last winter,
darling, moldova, missed the last
kisses, s’novim godom

beloved, maybe next season
I’ll visit, moldova,
maybe you’ll listen

to livers and spleens,
delicious fishes, moldova
moya
, kneading you

clean as whistles,
moya moldova, holding you
over till new year’s eve,

moldova moya, moy
gorod, svoboda
, my little
mother, my proper model

my small apartment,
my slide, my bottle
my cobbles, my sled

my awkward muddle
in my moldova, and moya shkola
and apples, and bread


— Marina Blitshteyn, published in Fawlt Magazine and also in her chapbook Russian For Lovers. She read the poem on Ekh Lyuli Lyuli (Soviet/Russian-Jewish radio) — listen to the podcast.

More stills from the movie adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything Is Illuminated.

When I was growing up, I was very – I just wanted to fit in. I had an American nickname. Everyone called me Ally. I didn’t want to speak Russian at home. We had huge fights about it. I was very sensitive about my Russian heritage. I didn’t think it was cool. I didn’t want to chat about it. I just wanted to be like all the other kids. It was only really after college that I really started to realize — first of all, I was completely losing my Russian — if I don’t do something I’m not going to remember the language at all. Then when the wall came down and there was actually an opportunity to go back and visit. And I really I have all this family there. And I know nothing about this country that shaped my parents and my grandparents and these people who raised me.

Alina Simone, in "Hammer and Tickle" (The New York Times)
  April 25, 2011 at 12:42am via The New York Times