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For Linguistics Scholar in Taiwan, Yiddish is More Than Just Shtick

S.H. Chang is a Yiddish specialist at Wenzao Ursuline College of Languages in Taiwan. She may be one of a kind — after all, you don’t find many Chinese academics in Taiwan studying and writing about Yiddish.

A soft-spoken Taiwanese woman in her early 30s who has written about and researched the Yiddish language — she speaks it as well — Chang is one of the few Yiddish philologists in the Chinese-speaking world.

She heads the department of German at Aiwan College in the subtropical, southern part of Taiwan, an island nation of 23 million Buddhists and Taoists.

“When I set about learning Yiddish, I was merely opening up a new door for myself,” the professor says.

With a doctorate from Germany’s Trier University under her belt, Chang has gained world renown as an expert in German and Jewish literature, delivering academic papers around the world. In addition, she has become a Jewish historian for the Chinese and Taiwanese people, as well as a philologist of German and Yiddish.

Chang admitted in a recent telephone interview with JTA that learning Yiddish did not come easily at first, though she said that the fact that the “language of Jewish exiles” contains around many German morphemes made it easier, since she already had mastered German as a university student in Taiwan and Europe.

In addition, she speaks Chinese, Taiwanese and English.

Chang plans to write a book for the reading public in Taiwan, explaining the nuances of Yiddishkeit and the history of the Jewish Diaspora — and the meaning of such words as kvell, chutzpah and nachas, she said.

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