During his lifetime Y.L. Peretz explained that great works of Yiddish literature should be transliterated in Latin letters so as more people would have an easier time learning and appreciating the language.
His idea was a noble one, however extremely misguided and anti-Yiddish. Among nations who have created written language, alphabets have served an integral part of a languages character, not to mention a source of pride. Even if it makes learning the language more of a reality for more peoples, the process of removing one alphabet in favour of a dominant one does more to rob the Yiddish language of it’s spirit than promote that very spirit.
Surely it was not Peretz’s intention to do anything that would harm the Yiddish language, but it is not hard to see that transliteration as an end functions only as a mercenary for the forces of assimilation. One has only to look at its function in this country to understand its backwards role.
Transliterated Yiddish is so widespread in the United States, that many people, both Jewish and non-Jewish, are completely unaware that Yiddish uses the Hebrew alphabet, or was ever a written language in the first place. Transliterated Yiddish enriches the English language, while robbing ours.
In its most widespread form, transliterated Yiddish is the written language of the illiterate semi-assimilated Jewry who grew up with the oral tradition, but not with the accompanying education necessary for literacy. Being literate in English, the modified Hebrew alphabet was replaced with the Latin one when the rare occasion for written Yiddish was called for among the semi-assimilated Jews.
The trend of replacing the Hebrew alphabet with the Latin one is undeniably a sign of weakness. It is an example of bowing down to a dominant culture. Yiddish arose in Germany, but even 1000 years ago it was not written in Latin letters. In fact, where ever a Jewish language has arose in the Diaspora, they have never embraced the alphabet of the non-Jewish population. This goes not only for Yiddish, but Ladino and Judeo-Arabic as well. The Hebrew alphabet is a common denominator for all the world’s Jewry; functioning as the soul of our written communication.
Despite the bankruptcy of transliterary ideals, it does have its uses in the Diaspora. As the current of assimilation continues to sweep our youth away, more and more Jews will grow up with a minimum or non-existent knowledge of our alphabet. For re-education to occur, it will then be necessary to utilize transliteration as a tool to learn the Hebrew alphabet and the intricacies of Yiddish pronunciation. As a means to an end, transliteration proves itself to be a helpful tool in reclaiming our identity. However, as a end in itself, transliteration is just as unacceptable as illiteracy.
With the rise of the internet, there has come new hope for the sharing of Yiddish ideas. However, manipulating Hebrew letters on a machine outfitted with an English keyboard can be difficult and frustrating. Such a harsh set of circumstances has led to an exodus of literate Yiddish writers running to embrace the Latin alphabet for the sake of convenience. But convenience too is a soldier for assimilation. If the dominant culture cannot oust the “foreign” cultures completely, it will still work its hardest to do as much damage as possible.
Despite technological difficulties, the Jewish spirit is one that refuses to die. The magnificent Refoyl Finkl has designed an online program that allows those working on non-Jewish machines to transform the cursed transliteration that we have been damned to make due with, back to the glorious Hebrew letters that givex Yiddish so much of it’s soul. It is accessible at http://www.cs.uky.edu/~raphael/yiddish/makeyiddish.html
For the literate, there is now no excuse to defame our great language on the internet by expressing it in the wretched alphabet of assimilation. Those who are too apathetic to embrace the Hebrew alphabet are an affront to the status of our people.
If a language is the soul of a people, it follows that an alphabet is the soul of a language. In order for the rebuilding of our people to be complete, we cannot return to a soulless language. Our language, like our people, must have a soul if we are to “again become a normal respectable people, worthy of being a member of equal standing in the family of nations constituting humanity!”