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University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics

Abstract

This is a pilot study investigating synchronic variation in New York Hasidic Yiddish (HY) object pronouns. HY is a variety that has been transmitted directly by immigrants from Eastern Europe following the second world war and is presently the everyday language of thousands of Hasidic Jews in New York and other communities around the world. In Yiddish, pronominal forms in the dative case, 'mir' (1SG) 'dir' (2SG), have historically been used in four types of syntactic constructions: 1) when the pronoun referent is the recipient of an action in a double object construction; 2) with a transitive verb that inherently selects for an object in the dative form; 3) with a dative experiencer; and 4) as the object of a preposition. Anecdotal observations suggest an innovative leveled paradigm with accusative forms 'mikh' (1SG) and 'dikh' (2SG) in all four historically dative positions. Moreover, while other Yiddish dialects have dative case marking on definite articles and attributive adjectives, spoken HY has largely lost these. With 'mir' and 'dir' as the sole remaining dative forms in in the pronominal paradigm, learners of HY have less evidence for positing dative case than do learners of other dialects. The data for this study come from an online controlled judgement experiment with 113 native HY speakers from New York. Regression analysis reveals an age effect, with younger speakers tending toward innovative dative forms, and an interaction between age and gender, with younger females innovating more extensively than males. However, sex is confounded with language dominance in this community, largely because of an educational model that supports HY-English bilingualism among girls but gives primacy to HY in the education of boys. The model also selects speakers from Hasidic neighborhoods in Rockland County as the most likely innovators. Overall, the results of this study suggest an emergent reduction in the HY case system where, for some young speakers, the distinction between the accusative and dative case forms has been lost. HY offers linguists a unique opportunity to observe the development of a post-coterritorial Yiddish dialect in a new language contact environment. This investigation into HY in its unique sociocultural context contributes to Yiddish linguistics by highlighting changes that have occurred since its arrival to the US and to general theories of language change by identifying the social factors that may be playing a role in these developments.

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