Canonical Inflected Stem

rangel at rangel at
Tue Dec 6 19:57:27 UTC 2005

Greetings All,

I am investigating morphological constraints on reduplicative languages (specifically Bantu) and am interested in information anyone might have regarding Downing's (1999) Canonical Inflected Stem.

Thank you.
Liz Rangel

>From: "Harold F. Schiffman" <haroldfs at>
>Date: Tue Dec 06 12:27:18 CST 2005
>To: Language Policy-List <lgpolicy-list at>

>>>From the Chronicle of Higher Education,
>>>From the issue dated November 25, 2005
>'The Tongue Is the Pen of the Heart': As Yiddish 'Dies,' Yiddish Lives
>In his precise, already canonical The Meaning of Yiddish (University of
>California Press, 1990), Israeli-American scholar Benjamin Harshav
>recalled how Max Weinreich (1894-1969), author of the magisterial
>four-volume History of the Yiddish Language, noted that the beloved
>mame-loshn ("mama tongue") of Ashkenazic Jews at first possessed "few
>names for flowers but three words for 'question': frage (derived from
>German), kashe (from Aramaic) and shayle (from Hebrew)."
>That's hardly chopped liver for a language and culture whose arc
>purportedly curves from initial respect for biblical authority to
>skepticism about absolutely everything. No wonder that while we wait with
>bated breath for a tome entitled The Joys of Ladino, the flow of
>rest-lessly inquisitive books on Yiddish  incisive studies such as David
>G. Roskies's A Bridge of Longing: The Lost Art of Yiddish Storytelling
>(Harvard University Press, 1995), or labors of love such as Miriam
>Weinstein's Yiddish: A Nation of Words (Steerforth Press, 2001)
>Jewish and American fascination with Yiddish mixes nostalgia and delight,
>ambition and appetite for irreverence, critical insistence and deference
>to ironic wit. Twentieth-century Jewish-American comics and Hollywood
>types infiltrated Yiddishisms from "klutz" to "yenta" into "American," and
>Leo C. Rosten, in his Joys of Yiddish (McGraw-Hill, 1968) and Joys of
>Yinglish (McGraw-Hill, 1989), documented the invasion while bridging the
>world of popular culture and academe. (Anyone remember that he taught at
>Yale and Berkeley and boasted a University of Chicago Ph.D.?)
>Who couldn't love a language Weinstein credits with "the world's best
>sense of humor," a wisdom tradition that teaches, "When you go to a
>restaurant, choose a table near the waiter," or, more somberly, "When you
>add to the truth, you subtract from it"?
>The pleasure taken in Yiddish's survival, in its occasional odd surfacings
>in American life  witness Colin Powell's pride a couple years back in his
>adolescently acquired facility  draws on layered ore: its contribution to
>European letters in masters like Solomon Jacob Abramovich, Sholem
>Aleichem, and I.L. Peretz; its force as a reliquary of faded Jewish life;
>its magic as a resource for aphorism. Harshav's description of Yiddish as
>"a fusion of lower-class attitudes with the pride and aspirations of a
>fallen aristocracy of the mind" suggests a snug fit with America's arc as
>As new studies follow old ones, attention to the history of Yiddish
>remains telescoped more toward its end than its beginning. Formed around
>AD 1000 as a German dialect that took on Slavic elements when European
>Jews moved eastward, it issues into the first Yiddish newspaper only in
>1862. The move of Jewish writers to Yiddish, exemplified by Aleichem's
>turn to it in 1881, allied Yiddish with a sense of reform and
>enlightenment in Jewish life, just as the Holocaust persuaded many to
>regard it as moribund.
>Yiddish and its boosters, however, have traditionally refused to say
>kaddish. Others wanted to declare the language safely honored and buried
>when the Swedish Academy awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature to Isaac
>Bashevis Singer in 1978. Singer, however, who delivered his acceptance
>speech in Yiddish, observed that it had been dying as long as he'd been
>alive. The 1980 founding of the National Yiddish Book Center in Amherst,
>Mass., like the many anthologies of translated Yiddish literature
>published in the past decade, weigh against a death watch.
>Two new books, however, speak volumes about different approaches to
>celebrating the subject. Yiddish Civilization, by Paul Kriwaczek (Alfred
>A. Knopf, 2005), is a solid, well-meaning cavalcade of there to here,
>festooned with memoir. A longtime BBC producer turned author, Kriwaczek
>rarely breaks a smile. Instead, he appears to have been mesmerized by a
>fundamental fact: "Yiddish" simply means "Jewish" in Yiddish, which is
>why, in the world of our immigrant fathers and mothers, they often
>referred to "talking in Jewish." That linguistic fact could tempt an
>author writing a book titled Yiddish Civilization to instead write a study
>of Jewish civilization, which proves to be Kriwaczek's misstep.
>Kriwaczek advises us that "Yiddish-speaking Jews were no mere religious or
>linguistic minority but formed one of Europe's nations, ultimately more
>populous than many others. ... The Yiddish people must be counted among
>the founder nations of Europe." He consequently rejects reducing Yiddish
>history to "a long saga of constant pogroms, oppressive laws invoked by
>civil authorities, anti-Jewish edicts by the Church, massacres,
>expulsions, tortures, and burnings at the stake." Instead, the author
>favors "the less frequented but happier and perhaps more important
>pathways: those that celebrate the success and even occasional splendor of
>the Yiddish civilization, its contribution to Europe's economy, society,
>religion, and intellectual progress."
>The commitment makes Yiddish Civilization a dutiful, wide-ranging, yet
>ultimately inert chronicle as it meanders from the Jews of ancient Rome
>(part of Yiddish history only in the most extravagant sense) to "frontier
>towns like Regensburg," where "there first came into being the mixed
>Jewish-Germanic-Slavic language and culture that underlies the Yiddish
>civilization," to the remnants of Yiddish life in London and the United
>States today.
>Sample typical Kriwaczek observations: "But as times change, so do
>fashions and values. What our parents found an embarrassment may be a
>source of pride to us, what we ourselves deplore our children often
>praise." Or, "The use of Yiddish words now seems to be considered rather
>hip, even among goyim, even in BBC news broadcasts." The tone is less
>Yiddish than British, more quaint than wry.
>In contrast, Born to Kvetch: Yiddish Language and Culture in All of Its
>Moods (St. Martin's Press, 2005), by Michael Wex, among the finest living
>translators of Yiddish literature and a humorist to boot, is, well, a
>hoot. If you can stop laughing long enough to finish it, Wex distills
>enough idiosyncratic insight about Yiddish to make any true admirer of its
>uniqueness kvell.
>Whereas Kriwaczek is the kind of author who writes "dragging," then
>includes "shlepping" in parentheses, Wex reminds you of the kid in grade
>school who would hold two fingers up behind your head  a compulsive joker.
>Kriwaczek is earnest, Wex inspired when he gets beyond schoolyard schtick.
>Wex's overarching frame is that "the Bible and the Talmud are to Yiddish
>what plantations are to the blues." Eschewing century-by-century plodding,
>he zooms in on the logic of Yiddish, centering on its perfection as a tool
>of kvetching, or complaint. A typical Wex riff: "If the Stones's '(I Can't
>Get No) Satisfaction' had been written in Yiddish, it would have been
>called '(I Love to Keep Telling You That I Can't Get No) Satisfaction
>(Because Telling You That I'm Not Satisfied Is All That Can Satisfy Me).'"
>Consider it parenthetical wit.
>"Like so much of Jewish culture," Wex argues, droll and probing at the
>same time, "kvetching has its roots in the Bible, which devotes a great
>deal of time to the nonstop grumbling of the Israelites, who find fault
>with everything under the sun." If Yiddish is, in Wex's phrase, "the
>national language of nowhere," one explanation is that "Judaism is defined
>by exile, and exile without complaint is tourism, not deportation." The
>will to kvetch similarly derives from the peculiar Jewish obligation to
>perform the 613 mitzvahs, or commandments, which Wex breaks down into 248
>"thou shalts" and 365 "thou shalt nots."
>It's the latter that truly annoy the so-called chosen people. "The Jews,"
>Wex quips, "have been chosen not to: not to have that BLT; not to sit on
>Santa's knee; not to catch the Saturday matinee or blend in with the
>people around them."
>Born to Kvetch continues in that spirit, capsulizing aspects of Jewish
>thought ("The Talmud is nothing less than Yiddish in utero") and the
>subversive origins of its target tongue: "The whole point behind Yiddish,
>its whole raison d'tre, is the need or desire to talk yidish, as distinct
>from goyish, Jewish instead of gentile. ... Yiddish started out as German
>for blasphemers, as a German in which you could deny Christ without
>getting yourself killed any more often than necessary."
>Current scholars of Yiddish often complain, ruefully, that the language
>now survives (outside Hasidic neighborhoods and Jewish nursing homes)
>mainly in the university, a "mere" subject of study rather than as the
>living argot of a community.
>To which an appreciator of academe might reply, "If it's good enough for
>Plato and Aristotle, for Plautus and Cicero, it's nothing to complain
>about for Abramovich, Aleichem, and Peretz." In the modern world,
>Weinreich's well-known saw, "A language is a dialect with an army and
>navy," might be usefully adjusted to, "A language is a dialect with an
>academic department devoted to it."
>In short, mere, schmear. But Wex's uncanny amalgam of Yiddish tone and
>analytical irony in street-smart American bolsters a further point: A
>receding language and its cultural ethos can be kept alive, in
>translation, by boldly re-creating its spirit in other words. To indulge a
>bit of vernacular, az me ken nit ariber, gait men arunter ("If you can't
>go over, go under.").
>Carlin Romano, critic at large of The Chronicle and literary critic of The
>Philadelphia Inquirer, teaches philosophy and media theory at the
>University of Pennsylvania.
>Section: The Chronicle Review
>Volume 52, Issue 14, Page B16

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