(Yiddish text below English)

In the 21st century, it seems to me that all reference works should be available on the Internet, in particular those that are only practical when computerized. The first project to be presented here is a series of maps that display the Yiddish names of cities, towns and regions in central and eastern Europe, along with the official names for the past 100 years. They are based on the list published in Yiddishland: Countries, Cities, Towns, Rivers, available on the YIVO website. This is the first attempt to collect and publish all Yiddish place names of central and eastern Europe in one book. From the introduction:

A gazetteer of Yiddish place names has been a desideratum for many, many years. In YIVO-bleter VII (1934:229), the editor notes that Saul Chajes’s list of Yiddish place names (Chajes 1934) will be “an important contribution to the Yiddish geographical index that is being prepared by the philological section of YIVO,” which to the best of our knowledge never appeared.  The bulk of the material is drawn from the card files of the late Dr. Mordkhe Schaechter, to whom this work is dedicated and to whom it should properly be attributed.

Our definition of Yiddishland includes present-day Austria, Belarus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Ukraine, as well as the European regions of Russia. This includes what M. Herzog (1965:7) designates “Yiddish Language Area,” as well as neighboring countries with at least a few Yiddish place names of long standing.

As explained below in the instructions for the user, this work is prescriptive as far as is practicable. The Yiddish names reflect the pronunciation of the natives of the respective location rather than the spellings that are most widespread in published sources. To orient the reader to the normative approach of this work, we reprint in English translation part of a chapter of Schaechter’s Laytish mame-loshn (Authentic Yiddish) entitled “Yidishe geografishe nemen” (Yiddish Geographical Names; Schaechter 1986:17-18):

What is the Yiddish name of a place? The name used in normal speech by the Yiddish speakers native to the place. As Yudel Mark put it: “The question of spelling is not directly relevant to the […] matter of Yiddish geographical names. In this instance, the spelling should reflect the way Yiddish speakers actually called the cities and countries where they lived. The more deeply rooted spoken tradition takes precedence over the written tradition” (1958:92).

This is what the present writer calls the domain of place. The official language cannot be decisive; nor can the vague notion that simple or learned Jews in far-away places may have. The name of Isterik [=Ustrzyki Dolne, Poland] should not depend on journalists in Warsaw (much less New York) or linguists in Vilna. The coachman or storekeeper from Isterik is the highest authority in this case.

 As to the question of how and why Yiddish place names came into being, Stankiewicz states (1965:181): “… If the Yiddish place names are in the end result so different from their Slavic equivalents, it is because, strictly speaking, they were not borrowed but adopted, reinterpreted and fused with the other components of Yiddish, with which they shared the same historical development. The history of the Yiddish place names … is the clearest illustration of this process of uninterrupted linguistic adaptation and fusion which determined the structure of modern Yiddish.” The Yiddish language has its own rules of historical development, in its phonological, morphological, and grammatical systems, which the corpus of names in this work illustrates in great detail. To put it very simply: place names, in particular when derived from the Slavic languages, were reinterpreted to fit Yiddish speaking habits. Perhaps the best example is Zhetl (in western Belarus), which appears to be a compromise between Polish (Zdzięcioł) and Belarusian (Dyatlava).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: