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Latin Characters to Substitute Hebrew in Yiddish Language in Soviet Union: Demand Put at Yiddish Phi

January 10, 1931
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The demand for the abolition of the Hebrew characters used in Yiddish and their substitution by Latin characters in the Yiddish papers and books published in the Soviet countries, which has been put forward several times before, is again to be the chief point of contention at the Yiddish Philological Congress which is opening in Kiev on February 1st.

The Congress has been called by the Institute of Yiddish Culture. The advocates of the idea of abolishing the Hebrew characters argue that in Turkey both the language and the press have gained by the abolition of the Turkish alphabet and its substitution by Latin characters. Jewish life in the Soviet Union today, they say, rests on other foundations than formerly, and a more modern appearance of the Jewish press and books is essential.

Other points down for discussion include the vast new terminology that has grown up as a result of the changing Jewish occupations in the Soviet countries, resulting in Jews abandoning trading and becoming peasants and workers, thus adapting into the Yiddish language new words which have to do with the work of peasants and labourers, the need of finding new expressions for scientific terms in industry and economics, which were hitherto foreign to the Yiddish language, the fixing of a uniform system of spelling, the elevation of the Yiddish language generally to make it suitable for the purpose of instruction in the High Schools and technical schools, and the publication of maps and geographical charts in Yiddish.

A recommendation that Yiddish should be printed and written in Latin characters has been before several Yiddish Cultural Congresses held in the Soviet Union. It was formally put to the Yiddish Cultural Congress which met at Charkoff in 1928, but was rejected after a long discussion. The Yiddish Communist central organ “Emess” published at the time a warning against what it said was dangerous experimenting and would make it more difficult to obtain readers. The most important reform that has been made in Soviet Russia, it wrote, the new spelling of Hebrew words as if they were Yiddish, has so far not yet been regulated and stabilised. The best rationalisation of Yiddish orthography, it went on, would be to replace the present Hebrew alphabet with Latin characters, which would practically solve all the problems of Yiddish orthography but under present conditions such a reform would be followed by deplorable results and all our influence on Yiddish cultural life would be at an end, because the Yiddish language in Latin characters would lose the mass of its readers.

Last year the Ukrainian Commissariat of Education ordered the abolition from the Jewish alphabet of the final Hebrew consonants, eliminating the final “choph”, “mem”, “nun”, zaddek”, and “fei”. New Yiddish books were ordered to be printed, leaving out all these final letters, but it was urged that the reform could not be carried fully into effect immediately because of lack of sufficient Yiddish type.

The substitution of Latin characters in the Hebrew language, too, has been urged, notably, by Mr. Ittamar Ben Avi, the son of Eliezer Ben Jahuda, the Hebrew lexicographer, and Mr. Vladimir Jabotinsky. He was sure, Mr. Jabotinsky has written, that the movement would have a great influence on the development of Hebrew by enabling many people who could not read the present Hebrew script to read Hebrew books and papers. Efforts in this direction, he said, have also been made by Dr. Bodenheimer in Cologne and by the Hebrew poet, Dr. Jacob Cohen.

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