Yiddish Frowns on Gender-Nouns

NEWS ITEM: Students of Yiddish in universities are taught to treat nouns as either masculine or feminine. But among Hasidim — the foremost speakers of Yiddish today — grammatical gender is largely ignored. Hasidim, for example, use di (“the”) for most nouns without respect to the noun’s gender. (Di has historically been applied only to female nouns, while the equivalent der has been used for male nouns.) As Yiddish scholar Zelda Kahan Newman recently noted in the Forward, a gap has emerged between the Yiddish that is actually spoken among Hasidim and the formal Yiddish taught in universities. She called for more attention to be paid to Yiddish as spoken by Hasidic Jews.

So who would know? So who would guess?
That Yiddish nouns go genderless?
Gramatic’ly, we bid adieus
To gender ’mongst Hasidic Jews.

The der and di as specified
In texts no longer are applied
In daily verbal intercourse
Where mameloshn thrives, perforce.

Consider di, the word for “the”:
All nouns take di now equally,
While “the” as der goes all unused
Among Hasidim! We’re confused!

(The word for female nouns is di,
While der is masculine, you see?)

Illogic’ly, old grammar rules
Continue to be taught in schools,
But Yiddish, in vernacular,
Elects to follow its own star.

The Yiddish tongue, once scorned and shunned,
Refuses to be moribund!
Hasidim, with their glottic skill,
Keep it alive and versatile.
Indeed, they teach it to their kids,
Who constitute our future Yids!

If they change Yiddish more, we might
Some day read it from left to right!

Written by

Stanley Siegelman

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