Complete loss of case and gender within two generations: evidence from Stamford Hill Hasidic Yiddish
Abstract: Yiddish was the everyday language spoken by most Central and East European Jews during the last millennium. As a result of the extreme loss of speakers during the Holocaust, subsequent geographic dispersal, and lack of institutional support, Yiddish is now an endangered language. Yet it continues to be a native and daily language for Haredi (strictly Orthodox) Jews, who live in close-knit communities worldwide. We have conducted the first study of the linguistic characteristics of the Yiddish spoken in the community in London’s Stamford Hill. While Krogh (in: Aptroot, Aptroot et al. (eds.) Leket: Yiddish studies today, Düsseldorf University Press, Düsseldorf, pp 483–506, 2012), Assouline (in: Aptroot, Hansen (eds.) Yiddish language structures, De Gruyter Mouton, Berlin, pp 39–62, 2014), and Sadock and Masor (J Jew Lang 6(1):89–110, 2018), investigating other Hasidic Yiddish-speaking communities, observe what they describe as morphological syncretism, in this paper we defend the claim that present-day Stamford Hill Hasidic Yiddish lacks morphological case and gender completely. We demonstrate that loss of morphological case and gender is the result of substantial language change over the course of two generations: while the case and gender system of the spoken medium was already beginning to undergo morphological syncretism and show some variation prior to World War II, case and gender distinctions were clearly present in the mental grammar of both Hasidic and non-Hasidic speakers of the relevant Yiddish dialects at that stage. We conclude the paper by identifying some of the language-internal, sociolinguistic and historical factors that have contributed to such rapid and pervasive language change, and compare the developments in Stamford Hill Hasidic Yiddish to those of minority German dialects in North America.