Monday, 3 December 2012

Jewish English — The New Idiom

by Ariadna Theokopoulos
Saturday, December 1st, 2012

“False friends are pairs of words or phrases
in two languages or dialects (or letters in
two alphabets)[1] that look or sound similar,
but differ significantly in meaning.”


Following the cancellation, under public pressure, of Stevie Wonder’s planned concert to benefit “Friends of the IDF” (FIDF), The National Director and CEO of FIDF, Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Itzak (Jerry) Gershon stated:

“We regret the fact that Stevie Wonder decided to cancel his performance at an important community event of the FIDF, an American organization supporting the educational, cultural, and wellbeing needs of Israel’s soldiers, their families, and the families of fallen soldiers. FIDF is a non-political organization that provides much-needed humanitarian support regardless of religion, political affiliation, or military activity.

I highlighted the self-definition of FIDF because it demonstrates the difficulty of learning Jewish English (JE), an idiom in which English words and concepts are expressed in terms that often have the opposite meaning to the generally accepted one or a strikingly different significance (e.g., “peace,” “purity of arms,” “self-defense”).

Although it sounds like English, JE poses similar difficulties for the non-native speaker as Yiddish does for the German speaker. Both Yiddish and JE are Jewish creations and both are offshoots of an already existent language, (linguistic corruptions like Pidgin English). That is where the similarities end, however, between Yiddish and JE. Whereas Yiddish (now virtually extinct among the younger generations) has been spoken only by Jews, JE has enjoyed a tremendous spread and is now spoken throughout the Western world, often successfully competing with English. It is the official language of the US Congress, the UK Parliament, and the Western MSM.

Most of us are colloquially fluent in JE to some degree through almost daily exposure to MSM, but the lack of an actual glossary of JE giving the Jewish definition of English words makes translations and indeed communication difficult.

This is what the definition of IDF might be in such a glossary:

“IDF = The only state-authorized Jewish real estate developer whose mission is to provide clean living space in Eretz Israel to Jews anywhere in the world through the relocation of local non-Jews by any means, irrespective of their religion or military activity.”

or another example:

“Israel: Demographic and Geopolitical Definition

Israel is a unique democracy that, although located in the ME and inhabited for the most part* by the direct descendants of the ancient semitic tribes of Israel, naturally belongs in the European Union and in organizations like NATO due to its inhabitants’ 2000-year sojourn in Europe, whose civilization and culture they created.
*Arabs very sparsely and sporadically inhabited the Israeli territory over the centuries (during the Jewish diaspora) and only started coming to Israel in large numbers after 1948 when, attracted by the prosperity of the State for Jews, they came looking for employment or, more often, for handouts, frequently creating conflicts and threatening the securty of the re-nativized Jews.”

In the video below (click to watch the vedio), Prosor, the Israeli ambassador, speaks JE. His speech can serve as a perfect exercise to test your fluency in JE. See how many of the words and phrases he uses you can define or at least interpret from the JE perspective.

The importance of studying JE and compiling glossaries, dictionaries and lexical thesauri for the improvement of global communication cannot be overemphasized.

Without a proper comprehension of the idiom, all speeches delivered in JE may just sound something like the sounds in the video below, appropriate and effective for our politicians but unintelligible and counterintuitive to the rest of us who know the “facts on the ground” they refer to:

River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian
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