Sigmund Freud: Global Citizen

Author: Layla Mostaghimi

As a group which is tasked to record Yiddish London, we felt that we cannot go on without putting at least a small record about Sigmung Freud (6 May 1856 – 23 September 1939) the founder of psychoanalysis. Freud was born at the height of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in Moravia, what is today Příbor in the Czech Republic. He qualified as a doctor of medicine at the University of Vienna, before he become interested in psychoanalysis, inspired by the hypnosis method of Jean-Martin Charcot, a famous French neurologist. As the discoverer of the “talking cure” language was very important for Freud.

Freud’s relationship to Yiddish is not straightforward, in fact he did not speak the language at all. Instead, he belonged to the German speaking, elite Jewish community in Vienna. Speaking Yiddish was seen less affluent in Vienna. However, record has it that when Freud tells of his collections of Jewish jokes they were often connected to the language. He felt obliged to confess that he dabbled in the language and that he was not completely separate from its heritage, though he was very keen to dissociate himself from it.


In His article “Freud, Women and Jews” (2003) Ken Frieden tells us: “Because Freud’s own parents had moved to Vienna from Galicia, Freud was at pains to distance himself from the lower-class Jews from eastern Europe, who spoke Yiddish rather than German. Hence when Freud tells jokes about “dirty Jews,” he sets himself apart from them.” Interesting fact is that his mother retained a Yiddish dialect throughout her life.

Record has it that in conversation with Wilhelm Fliess, they discuss old Jewish jokes often connected with the traditional language. (The Riddle of Freud, by Estelle Roith) Though he was very keen to dissociate himself from the dialect, (on some occasions, he completely denied knowing it), his book ‘Jokes and relations to the Unconscious’ may reveal the suppression of his actual appreciation.


Some of his work was however translated in Yiddish by a socio-linguist called Max Weinreich (1894 – 1969).











However, to conclude on a broader note, despite an era of conflict, Freud’s contribution to philosophy and psychology encourages a more interconnected world and fosters global citizenship. On his arrival to London he continued his work on psychoanalysis and understanding the human mind. This enables us to understand the fundamental cognitions of people regardless of cultural barriers.

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