McWhorter Questions Efforts To Save Dying Languages

In an essay in the recent issue of the World Affairs Journal, linguist and Columbia literature professor John McWhorter questions the effort to save dying languages:

At one point McWhorter discusses Yiddish directly:

At first, McWhorter’s column made me bristle. I don’t speak Yiddish fluently, but feel that the mamaloshen is a linchpin of my Jewish cultural identity, and rely on it daily to adequately express myself. What a shame it would be, I thought, to just accept its death.

But, on second thought, McWhorter’s argument began to make sense. Yiddish language and Yiddish culture — the latter being hard to precisely define, but largely synonymous with American Jewish culture — has already been separated.

Yes, there is the study of Yiddish literature in universities, by Michael Wex, and in newspapers like this one, which to this day publishes a Yiddish edition. I admire all these efforts, and have certainly made my own attempts to pump some blood into the language.

But to a great extent, it is with the Haredi that the language lives. And that language is altogether separate from the culture of shlepping, kvetching, bagel-shmearing and Woody Allen-loving that takes place around the country.

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