Duolingo Can Help Keep Yiddish Alive
I have been inspired by the renewed interest in the Irish language that the Duolingo course has evoked. People all over the world interested in Irish culture have had their first linguistic experience with Irish, thousands of miles from Ireland. I thought, perhaps the same thing could be done with Yiddish.
While more people speak Yiddish than Irish around the world, the language itself is losing speakers rapidly, by about a thousand speakers every year. All of my great-grandparents spoke Yiddish, two of my grandparents did, but neither of my parents do. Because I speak German already, I would appreciate the chance to learn my family's language, a language that the events of World War II all but obliterated.
For German-speakers, Yiddish is greatly intelligible. There are a lot of words and expressions, however, which originated in Hebrew and Slavic languages, and not in German. Yiddish is a language with rich history that bridges the gap between those cultures. It's time we started speaking it again.
Yiddish, like Hebrew, is written in the Hebrew alphabet, and I realize this is unprecedented for a Duolingo course. It's true that Modern Hebrew will likely be incubated before a Yiddish course, but the idea has to spread. As Irish has shown us, and as Esperanto will show us, this platform isn't just unique for it's capacity to teach languages. This website is special because it gives languages a renewed vitality and allows someone like me in Boston to start becoming fluent in Danish because I thought it sounded interesting. No expensive software will ever make money on Yiddish or Esperanto. With Yiddish and other endangered languages, Duolingo can play a major role in cultural survival.
Here is a video of Leonard Nimoy (from Star Trek, and childhood friend of my grandfather's) speaking in Yiddish, about Yiddish: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9QAYvI5CC5s
I would love to have Yiddish on Duolingo. It's a language that I kind of feel that I was robbed of (joking) because my parents know very little Yiddish, and my grandparents were all pretty proficient/fluent, but I've never known them.
It's really cool that your grandfather was friends with Leonard Nimoy :)
I agree! I don't remember seeing any Yiddish speakers on Duolingo who expressed interest in making a course, though. It would be interesting to try work backwards and to spread the word about Duolingo to people in existing Yiddish preservation/revival organizations. There are several online and off, and I think they would see what a great opportunity a Duolingo course would be, and maybe be willing to help make it.
Thanks for writing this. I would love to see a Yiddish course. Yiddish was the common language of the Jews murdered in the Holocaust and I feel that learning Yiddish would be a meaningful way of connecting with that lost generation and keeping their memory alive. A Hebrew course would also be good. I am active on italki and I see that there is a need for Hebrew on duolingo.
I've noticed a couple interesting differences in phonology and grammar. A lot of the u and ü sounds in German are i sounds in Yiddish, like the word Yiddish itself: in German, it would be Jüdisch. Also, Yiddish is very much more like English in word order. Standard German would say something like, "ich bin in der Stadt geboren," but Yiddish, at least to my ear, would probably say something like, "ik ben geboren in de shtetl."
I don't think I'm Jewish. I can't know for sure as they were a lot of Jewish communities in Albania during the centuries. I find Jewish very interesting indeed. Also there really good relations between Albanians and Israelis. They offered a lot of help during the Kosovo War in 1999.
For my great-grandmother Yiddish was a mother tongue, but after decades of not speaking it she gradually forgot it, and since her no one in the family speaks it anymore, save for some words, expressions, and of course songs. I am sure that the Duolingo course will help people reclaim and reconnect with a part of their identity and origins. I can only congratulate you on doing this important work and I'm staying tuned for updates. A groyse dank! ;)