Diglossic translanguaging: How Jewish speakers in Berlin perceive and explain their linguistic choices
2022-04-14, 14:30–15:00 (Europe/Vienna), Room 4


In this talk I show that German-speaking Jews in today’s Berlin have access to and make use of what Benor has defined as a “distinctively Jewish linguistic repertoire” (2008: 1068). The use of lexical elements from this repertoire differs according to the speakers’ individual linguistic background and actual positioning in the Jewish community. I argue that despite this level of interspeaker variation a general pattern concerning the distribution of elements within each speaker emerges.
Like other contemporary Jewish communities (Benor & Hary 2017; Kahn & Rubin 2016), German Jews make use of a distinctive Jewish linguistic repertoire that consists mainly of lexical items from Yiddish and Hebrew. In addition to the expression and construction of Jewish identity, it offers possibilities for inter- and intraspeaker variation especially concerning the choice between loans from the different donor languages that are integrated into German.
As there is to date no research on the multilingual ressources Jewish speaker in today’s Germany have access to due to their Jewishness and make use of, I first conducted expert interviews in order to collect lexical items from the assumed repertoire. The main study consisted in semi-structured qualitative interviews with 12 Jewish speakers in Berlin from different religious and linguistic backgrounds. Inspired by methods from the field of Perceptual Dialectology (Cramer 2016) the participants were asked to evaluate single lexical items from the repertoire according to their individual use and to comment on them. The aim of these interviews was twofold; to get first insights to speakers’ individual use and to grasp their explicit and implicit explanations for the use and avoidance of distinct items.
My findings show that speakers' linguistic choices as well as the perception of other speakers’ use are heavily influenced by “language ideological assemblages” (Kroskrity 2004: 134) towards Hebrew and Yiddish, but also by the sociolinguistic-based salience (Auer 2014) of individual items. To what extent these globally or locally shared ideologies influence speakers’ choices depend on their own (linguistic) biography and their actual positioning. However, all speakers make use of items from both languages, Hebrew and Yiddish, and the variation within the individual speakers shows a clear distribution according to domains.
With this study, I contribute to the fields of language contact and language variation with the example of speakers from a community that has access to elements from mainly two additional languages. These shared multilingual ressources as well as the shared language ideologies allow for meaningful exploitation of the possible variants in order to navigate within the local and global Jewish community.


Auer, Peter. 2014. Anmerkungen zum Salienzbegriff in der Soziolinguistik. Linguistik online 66. 7–20.
Benor, Sarah Bunin. 2008. Towards a New Understanding of Jewish Language in the Twenty-First Century. Religion Compass 2. 1062–1080.
Benor, Sarah Bunin & Benjamin Hary (eds.). 2017. Languages in Jewish Communities, Past and Present (Contributions to the Sociology of Language). Berlin: de Gruyter Mouton.
Cramer, Jennifer. 2016. Perceptual Dialectology. In Oxford Handbook Online.
Kahn, Lily & Aaron D. Rubin (eds.). 2016. Handbook of Jewish languages (Brill's handbooks in linguistics 2). Leiden, Boston: Brill.
Kroskrity, Paul V. 2018. On recognizing persistence in the Indigenous language ideologies of multilingualism in two Native American Communities. Language & Communication 62. 133–144.

I am a postdoctoral researcher at the Universität Oldenburg.
My research field is sociolinguistics/linguistic anthropology with a focus on language ideologies and the social meaning of variation.
I am especially interested in how speakers exploit their (multi)linguistic repertoire to make meaning and present at the ICLaVE 11 a study on Jewish speakers in today's Berlin.