In compliance with additional reader request, we will again dip into the vague, murky reservoir of long term memory, to recall and relate, certain further observations, on the folkways and newly resettled life, of the Ashkenazi Brooklyn Immigrant, during the 1940’s and 50’s. We have previously published four mini-essays on various aspects of that American, Immigrant sub-culture, “A Long Time Ago, In Brooklyn,” “Losing Our Marbles,” “Ancient History,” and, “More Ancient History, Extinction.” In this present, informal, post we would attempt to describe the warm and extremely colorful subject, of their interactive relationships.
We comprehend the Latin term, “lingua franca,” to signify a crafted language, understood between speakers, whose own native languages are different. In the East New York section of Brooklyn, during the relevant period, Ashkenazi Jews, emigrated from many different Countries, notably, Russia, Poland, Germany, Lithuania, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. Although native languages were different, variant Yiddish, as a previously known, lingua franca, was electively used as a primary language. We choose to describe Yiddish, as an Eastern European language, comprised of approximately, 70% Low German, 10% prayer book Hebrew and 20% of the language of the particular country, you emigrated (escaped) from. Accordingly, the spoken Yiddish of all immigrants, was not entirely, uniform.
In is important to understand, that these European immigrants, earnestly desired to adjust to, and be part of, their newly adopted homeland, principally, by learning to speak its English language. Unfortunately, as a practical matter, such desired facility was historically, to be reserved, for their future generations, born and raised in America. As a result, they spoke an interim language, we have chosen, to call, in classically, elegant Latin, “Lingua Franca Brooklynesis.” In fact, their language was an inelegant, oral pastiche, a varied, multi-ingredient, “stew,” which was prepared with various available ingredients, including, broken English, regular and nuanced Yiddish, and, when needed, vocabulary, from their respective Nation of origin.
As time went on, such inelegant, linguistic “stew,” became a regularly spoken and understood “patois,” which, in modern times, has been, derisively, dubbed, “Yinglish.” In the relevant neighborhoods, there seemed to develop, a species of linguistic hierarchy; the highest, a speaker of acceptable English, rather than Yiddish, next in class, those that spoke proper Yiddish, instead of the newly concocted “Yinglish,” and in the lowest linguistic rank, the speakers of what has been termed, “Yinglish.” To this day, it is quite possible to find, at least one such immigrant, who will admiringly, and no doubt, erroneously, say of another, “He speaks a well “English.”
Immigrant attempts to speak English, in retrospect, often have a risible quality to them. However, critical reaction in fairness, should be tempered with an understanding of their sincerely felt desire, to become a legitimate part of American life, for themselves and progeny. Accordingly, it is with due respect and appropriate deference, that we would offer some representative samples, of their valiant attempts, to do so, in their best, “lingua franca Brooklynesis.”
First, as may be needed, a brief explanatory note on the subject of the nuanced features, included in the content and style of “Yinglish.” Ashkenazi Immigrants of all ages, social position and, generally, Country of origin, spoke Yiddish (with some differences as to pronunciation, or the inclusion of words from their diverse countries). Attempts to speak in English, demonstrated various permutations and combinations of, the use of legitimate Yiddish vocabulary, the populist misuse of Yiddish vocabulary, the accepted use and the misuse of English words (or foreign words), or a composition of those variants; at times, even attempted Yiddish translations of an English expressions, were used for clarity or emphasis. Brooklyn Ashkenazi Immigrants, most often, evinced a composite, and truly exotic conglomerate of all of the foregoing, (Brooklyn Yinglish”). We offer a few examples:
- “Close der vinder.”[ Legitimate English word, [close] legitimate Yiddish word (“the”) and a corruption of an English word, (window), The Yiddish word for window is ”fenster.”]
- “Spill me in a glass water”. [ wrong use of English word, should be “pour,” use of “me” is not necessary, and humorously suggestive,] “of” [is omitted before water.] The English request should be, [“Please give me a glass of water.]
- “Close (Open) the light,” [turn off, turn out] the light.
- “A cup tea, a cup coffee, a glass milk”, etc. [all need the word, “of”]
- “It’s good to be between people” [among people]
- “No question about” [ there is no question about it]
- “Vos (what) is der (the) vedders”? [What is todays weather?]
- “Alles [Yiddish for “all] vet [will be] ousepressen” [ pressed out] [improper use of the English saying,” Everything will work out; be ironed out]
- An”accountan”, a “plumeber”, a” lendler”, a “”paintner [ an accountant, plumber, landlord, painter.],
These few selected illustrations we hope, will somewhat suffice, to inform the reader, as to the valiant attempts and the consummate failure, of the subject immigrant group, to speak in the desired American manner and style, that they so ardently sought. Add to the mix, the numerous variations in tone, articulation, style and tempo, of their, respective, diverse language of origin, and the nature of their veritable, Herculean challenge, in learning to speak the American language, as native Americans do, may be duly appreciated.
All social interactions, of whatever purpose or consequence, with members of the subject ethnic group, would, predictably end, with the receipt of a ubiquitous benediction. Accordingly, in keeping with the genre of this writing, and our personal interest in the subject, we will conclude the same, with a thank you for your interest, and more in the groove, “You should only have good luck and good health, and also your children.”