Monday, July 31, 2017

Was There A Babylonian Renaissance?

In his "History of the Yiddish Language" Max Weinreich regarded the 13th century as a turning point in the history of the Yiddish language. He identifies it as the boundary between the Early Yiddish and Old Yiddish periods. More specifically he writes about a 13th century Babylonian Renaissance characterized by a change in the Ashkenazic norms of Hebrew pronunciation. He says that the change was centered around Rothenburg and involved scholars who bore names that were previously rare or unknown among German Jews but were used by Jews in the Middle East. The name Bablyonian Renaissance comes from Weinreich's beliefs that the pronunciation norms came from Mesopotamia and that the scholars who brought them migrated from there.
From Charles Nydorf at Gothic Yiddish.

The post by Mr. Nydorf continues by marshaling evidence that studies of Ashkenazi Jewish genetics corroborate this date as an important one for a major German-Middle Eastern admixture and for a bottleneck followed by a population expansion mostly derived from this core group.

1 comment:

Joshua Lipson said...

Nydorf is taking the cited dates a bit too seriously. 800 ya is the date of expansion from a bottleneck, but it stands to reason that the major admixture event happened much earlier—the much more Italian-like (or even conceivably French-like) character of most European ancestry among Ashkenazim suggests that proto-Ashkenazim arrived in Germany and developed a Yiddish-speaking culture, pre-admixed. Later, Ashkenazim who spread into the Slavic and Baltic lands picked up minor admixture from pagans further east.

The most important, and least tenuous, line of evidence which Nydorf is ignoring, is that Mesopotamian Jews are very genetically different from Western Jews—that is, the group that encompasses Ashkenazim, Sephardim, Italkim, Romaniotes, North African Jews, and (broadly speaking) Syrian Jews. Babylonian Jews resemble Assyrians genetically, with a minor bent toward the Levant. This is epitomized by a very high share of "West Asian" or "Caucasus" ancestry relative to other Near Eastern and Mediterranean components. Ashkenazim do not resemble a two-way mix between Iraqi Jews and Europeans, full-stop.