Frum Guide To Talking Like an FFB, BT or an FFT

Abbreviated Guide to Ultra-Orthodox Speech Patterns

Not Your Grandma’s BFF: Ultra-Orthodox Jews are said to have a distinctive, sing-song intonation in their speech.
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Not Your Grandma’s BFF: Ultra-Orthodox Jews are said to have a distinctive, sing-song intonation in their speech.

By Philologos

Published August 04, 2013, issue of August 09, 2013.
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Benor lists several features that make all Orthodox speech special, such as a high number of loanwords from Hebrew and Yiddish, far more than are found in the vocabulary of non-Orthodox American Jews; Yiddish-influenced phrasing, as in English sentences like “I want you should come right away” or “We’re staying by my in-laws on Shabbos,” and Yiddish-influenced phonetic deviations, such as a full “t”-sound at the end of words and syllables. (An example of this would be saying “right” with the same “t” as is heard in “today,” as opposed to the partially swallowed or glottalized final “t” of American English.)

Two other peculiarities complete Benor’s list. One is a singsong “talmudic” intonation, particularly in sentences with logical reasoning expressed in dependent clauses like, “If you were going to the grocery anyway, why didn’t you buy some bread?” The other is what Benor calls a “hesitation click” — a “tsk”-sound used, like “um,” to give the speaker time to think of what to say next. (Although she is no doubt correct in ascribing this to Israeli influence, she errs in thinking that it is used this way in Israeli Hebrew. The Israeli “tsk” simply means “No,” although when occurring in midsentence in what Binor rightly calls a “corrective click,” this “no” can have the sense of, “On second thought, that isn’t what I really wanted to say, so I’ll try to say it again.” This is probably how, misinterpreted by Orthodox American Jews exposed to Israeli speech, it became an American Jewish “hesitation click.”)

BTs — the abbreviation, like FFB and FFT, is not Benor’s own and is widely used by BTs, FFBs and FFTs themselves — have to work hard at picking up these features if they wish to blend into FFB life; Benor gives several interesting accounts, based on personal acquaintanceship and field work, of how some succeed, some don’t and some don’t always try to, whether it’s because they wish to retain elements of their BT identity or because they simply don’t like to speak what seems to them “incorrect” English. The resistance is rarely to the use of Hebrew and Yiddish words connected to Jewish ritual and study (for example, “daven” instead of “pray,” “learn” instead of “study,” etc.), which seem more authentically Jewish to all BTs; rather, it is to speech habits, like Yiddishized syntax, that have nothing intrinsic to do with Judaism. Yet there are also many cases of what Benor calls “hyperaccommodation,” in which BTs so exaggerate FFB speech habits, as by saying things like borukh hashem, “Bless God,” in every sentence, that they give themselves away as BTs in their very effort to sound like FFBs.

MNW. (More Next Week.)

Questions for Philologos can be sent to philologos@forward.com


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