Why Study Yiddish with the KU Slavic Department?

Languages in the Slavic Department


Why Study Yiddish?

Yiddish is the language of European Jews and has been spoken since the Middle Ages in Western, Central, and Eastern Europe. It thrived most recently as the language of Jewish communities in the Austro-Hungarian and Russian Empires and vast numbers of its speakers emigrated at the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to the United States. A rich writing tradition in Yiddish, much of it still non-translated, remains even as the number of speakers dwindled in the second half of the twentieth century as a result of both the Holocaust and assimilation. Writers such as Sholem Aleikhem—the “Jewish Mark Twain”—wrote works in Yiddish that are part of the world literary treasures of the modern age. Yiddish is still spoken in Orthodox Jewish communities in Israel, Europe, and the United States and the language has undergone a revival among secular Jews on U.S. college campuses since the 1960s.

Linguists find Yiddish a particularly interesting language to study because of its blended nature: its lexicon is made up primarily of German, Hebrew, and Aramaic components, but it also has structural characteristics that reveal commonalities with Romance and Slavic languages.

Learning Yiddish is fun because it is the language of an ethnic group whose humor and musical sensibilities are inseparable from the language itself. Any course in Yiddish inevitably includes songs, jokes, riddles, and insults that reflect the essential elements of everyday discourse and life in Yiddishkeit.


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In Memoriam

Reed Rankin ✝ 12/29/2019

The faculty and students in the Department Slavic Languages and Literatures are deeply saddened that one our undergraduate majors, Reed Rankin, passed away last week (12/29) in Fredonia, Kansas. Reed was a beloved student in the department and is fondly remembered by his peers and professors. He began studying Russian as a Freshman and stayed with a challenging but rewarding language for three and a half years, tackling introductory, intermediate, advanced levels, and even continuing his studies into his senior year with Russian for the Professions. We know that he was planning further study in Moscow in the next academic year, prior to matriculation at KU School of Law.

A thoughtful student, Reed often contributed insight and posed challenging questions in class. ​​ Reed’s dedication to the study of Russian language, culture, and history was tremendous and fueled by infectious curiosity. He showed great acumen in translating from Russian into English, always finding English-language equivalents for Russian cultural concepts through skillful use of one-liners from American films. We also treasured his ability to speak in fluid Russian about rural, farm life in Kansas, and the effects that natural phenomena, like floods, on a farming community. He was a pleasure to know and teach, and will be remembered for his kind and polite demeanor. Our thoughts are with Reed’s family at this time

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KU’s Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies program is one of only 12 federally-funded national resource centers in the US
Only doctoral program in Slavic Languages and Literatures between the Mississippi and the West Coast
100% of graduate students in the Slavic program had funding in academic year 2012-13
KU's Libraries house over 500,000 volumes of Slavic books and electronic editions
Two of the department’s last four doctoral candidates have won a Fulbright grants to conduct dissertation research abroad