Who Can Translate Yiddish?
The “Hidden Policy” of the Language
It is useless to try to explain why the rules of good English forbid you to say: “He made himself a non-perishable name by inventing an imperishable food.” You let it go with the remark that that happens to be the genius of the English language—and then add hastily that “genius” as here used does not mean extraordinary gift of native power, but pervading spirit. Every language has its genius, which is nontransferable; and Yiddish differs from English or French or Italian just as these differ from one another.
It differs in the same way from German, even though it has taken from a German dialect about eighty-five per cent of its raw material. The primitive roots of a language are like foods absorbed by different persons: the end results are incommensurable. Ivan eats a potato and it becomes Ivan, Hans eats the same potato and it becomes Hans. From this point of view it is wholly wrong to identify Yiddish with German, and especially silly to call it, as some do, a corrupted German. (It is of course equally absurd to suggest, as others are tempted to, that German is a corrupt Yiddish.) When the Jews of the Rhine valley had, after some centuries, digested the German roots, they were no longer recognizable as far as the spirit is concerned.
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