Yiddish among the Stream of languages along the Danube

Author: Zahra Al-Hadi

Adam Nadasdy’s lecture titled A Stream of Languages: Speech along the Danube” was a  great way for the rest of us to experience the different flavours of languages we hadn’t had a chance to sample through the week. It demonstrated the  interconnectedness of the different languages and how easy it is to spot and enjoy the similarities between them. On one hand we have the Indo-European canopy of languages (which include Germanic, Latin, Slav and Indo-Iranian) on the other the Uralic canopy (branching into Finno-Ugric and Samoyed types). Interesting points were made on the nature of Aryans, how Germanic languages sought to associate with that heroic Aryan status and hence held a higher opinion of themselves whilst looking down upon those who were of “non-Aryan” descent. Whereas the non-Aryan Hungarians were proud to have independence from such heroic heredity and instead would upgrade the depth of their language into Turkic territory, somewhat linking them to the legends of Attila and the Huns. Development of languages overtime therefore holds such a rich palette of history, culture, fiction, non-fiction, social and political cues that a linguist could never possibly find themselves within the tendency to become bored. And we are all linguists in some fashion.

The argument of biological descent not equating to that of language’s descent therefore surfaced, and this was shown in the way that the genotype and phenotype of culture shapes the nature of language. For instance, the Bulgarian practice of placing the definite article at the end of a noun comes not from its closely genetically-linked Slav, but from Latin/Romanian roots. Language will therefore have a genetic predisposition to act a certain way, but it is the environmental factors that will determine to what extent a certain language is exercised in its speech, appearance and behaviour.

Another interesting point made, which is very much reflected in the opening quote, was the realm of distinction that dialect and language has to offer across different countries and cultures. For instance, from a linguistic point a view, the degree of similarities between the Czech and Slovakian languages is of greater relation than that of British English and American English. That is a truth. What is also a truth however? That whilst the British and Americans associate themselves as utilising the same language, (termed simply as English), for Czech and Slovakia, they are solid in differentiating themselves. Fair enough. But what does this tell us about language playing a role in nationalism, purism, pride and the nature of human perception of belonging? Whilst some are happy to link continents through means of similar communication, some neighbouring countries prefer to form divisions in spite of this.

The concept of boundaries and dialect in language is therefore seen as a direct manifestation of subjectivity-there is no right or wrong. There is only understanding others’ views of how they wish to label themselves and their languages, based upon what ideologies they identify with. Which in itself is one of the most direct, beautiful and valuable ways of identifying what it means to be a global citizen. Figuring out what makes somebody who they are, to understand the varieties of individual and communal perceptions that make up different families, villages, countries, cultures and nations. To understand different languages therefore is one of the quickest and most powerful of tools to exercise that necessary ability to continuously connect and commit to the world around us.

His talk ended on an impromptu episode of “Who Do You Think You Are”, as we journeyed into Adam’s past, tracing back his ancestry via his family tree and the tales of his time. An example of a man with many Danubian flavours that shaped him into the successful author and lecturer he is today.

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