The politics of spelling

By General

matzoh ball

knaidels or kneydels or dumplings

What you call things clearly matters: global warming or climate change? High fructose corn syrup or corn sugar? Terrorist or freedom fighter? The knaidel/kneydl debate after the Scripps spelling bee is a reminder of the origins and implications of agreed, canonical spelling. Dara Horn writes an illuminating NYT Op-Ed about spelling as a political statement in Jewish Identity, Spelled in Yiddish.

Spelling in the early Soviet Union was even more perverse. There, government control over Yiddish schools and presses led to the invention and enforcement of a literally anti-Semitic Yiddish orthography by spelling the language’s many Semitic-origin words phonetically instead of in Hebrew. (Imagine spelling “naïve” as “nigh-eve” in order to look less French.) It was an attempt to erase Jewish culture’s biblical roots, letter by letter.

History is commonly understood to be written by the victors, but it’s interesting to think about the cultural and historial roots underlying in the way we spell.

Photo credit: infowidget


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