No grand wizard

victor steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Thu Nov 10 22:52:34 UTC 2011

As to say, not to contradict my esteemed colleague, but Chaim Bialik was
born in Volhynia [Volynsakya Gubernia] and raised in the general area of
Zhitomir (same area as one of my grandfathers' family was from). Thus he
most certainly was born to a family of Yiddish speakers, who likely spoke
at least one of the local Slavic languages--Russian, Ukrainian, Belorussian
or Polish--likely at least a couple of them. The name is Yiddish, with
strong Slavic influences, and the connection to Hebrew is incidental.
Nonetheless, I suspect, it would be pronounced the same or nearly the same
in Hebrew--I'm not sure about the extent of palatalization in Hebrew. The
most obvious connection, aside from the poet, seems to be to "bialy" that
may be found in an average NYC bagelry (and even in some Stop'n'Shop in the
Boston area). In fact, I would suggest they have the same origin. Wiki
claims that "bialy" is a shortened form of *bialystoker kuchen*, a biscuit
from Białystok (I'm used to Russified spelling and pronunciation
Bialostok--Yiddish ביאַליסטאָק, Belorussian Belastok, all originating from
Slavic root for "white"). Bialik is the Bialystok equivalent of "Polak" or
"Litvak" (hence various variation including Pollock, Pollack, Polak,
Polack, Litvack, Letvack, Litvin, Litvinov, Letvin, etc.). Whatever the
case may be with the specifics of its origin, I don't doubt that the
direction of flow was Polish > Yiddish > Hebrew, not the other way around.
I am actually wondering if Ms. Bialik is aware of the origin of her own
name (and, perhaps, of her family). Her detractors apparently are not or
we'd be hearing a whole litany of other sorts of conspiracy theories.

Of course, Mel Brooks and Zero Mostel knew how to pronounce it--so much so
that they could give Lee Meredith a Swedish accent to say it.

But they speak good Yiddish. ;-)


On Thu, Nov 10, 2011 at 3:42 PM, Geoff Nathan <an6993 at> wrote:

> "Victor Steinbok" <aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM> said:
> 'BTW, Gregory pronounces Bialik as "Bee-'elik". Are there no Slavs or
> Yiddish-speakers in the media? '
> Without wishing to contradict my esteemed colleague, I should point out
> that the first Bialik I heard of was the famous Hebrew poet (granting the
> influence of Slavic and Yiddish on modern Hebrew, of course... And the fact
> that he also wrote a few poems in Yiddish) .
> The point still stands, though. Media people these days don't know
> nuttin... Muttermuttergrumble...
> Geoff
> Geoffrey S. Nathan

The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list