Old Musical, Old Language, New Experience

Hello LINGUIST Listers,

On the topic of language maintenance and revitalization efforts that we have been discussing during our 2019 LINGUIST List Fund Drive, let’s look at an exciting development in the world of musical theater.

The critically-acclaimed Broadway classic “Fiddler on the Roof” premiered off-Broadway entirely in the Yiddish language for the first time earlier this year. This newly re-imagined version of the musical pays greater homage to its roots; the original musical was based on Yiddish novels written by Sholem Aleichem around the turn of the twentieth century. Theater-goers reported an exciting authenticity watching the production in the language that Tevye and his village-mates would have been speaking in the early 1900s.

The Yiddish language has undergone seriously decline in recent decades but the creators of the new version hope that having such an iconic musical entirely in Yiddish will encourage an improved image for the language. Much of the Yiddish-speaking population now resides in the New York City area. With the production of “Fiddler of the Roof” happening nearby, it is hoped that increased exposure will strengthen the language’s vitality in the region and encourage the rising generation to respect their heritage.

Whether this will be the case will have to be seen but overall it is an enthralling project for Yiddish-speakers, “Fiddler” fans, and proponents of minority languages everywhere.

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