Language and Culture Atlas of Ashkenazic Jewry


About the Archive

The Language and Culture Archive of Ashkenazic Jewry (LCAAJ), is an extraordinary resource for research in Yiddish studies, consists of 5,755 hours of audio tape field interviews with Yiddish speaking informants collected between 1959 and 1972 and ca. 100,000 pages of accompanying linguistic field notes. The Archive does not include transcriptions of the interviews.

The data that constitutes the LCAAJ was collected from 603 locations in Central and Eastern Europe carefully chosen to reflect the distribution of the Yiddish speaking population on the eve of World War II. In a series of interviews lasting anywhere from 2.5 to 16 hours, informants answered questions on a wide variety of topics concerning Yiddish language and culture. The project was designed by Professor Uriel Weinreich, then Chairman of Columbia University's Department of Linguistics, and continued after his death in 1967 under the direction of Dr. Marvin Herzog, Atran Professor Emeritus of Yiddish Studies at Columbia University, who donated the Archive to the Columbia University Libraries in 1995.  Dr. Herzog passed away in 2013.

History of the Archive

The LCAAJ--A Living Archive of the Yiddish Language

In 1959, when the LCAAJ was founded, European Jews were viewed as a lost culture, largely destroyed during World War II, with a surviving minority displaced by emigration and internal migration.  The founders therefore viewed it as a matter of the greatest urgency to reconstruct the geography of Ashkenazic folk culture and of European Yiddish while reliable testimony could still be gathered from emigrant informants.

Uriel Weinreich wrote:

". . . what is familiar in one year may be thrust to the brink of oblivion in the next. . . . What was too obvious for study only yesterday has suddenly become precious. . . . what we do not collect in the coming decade or so will be lost forever."

What was "collected" now constitues the Language and Culture Archive of Ashkenazic Jewry (LCAAJ). The Archive, which resides in Butler Library at Columbia University in the City of New York, is one of the products of a long term investigation designed by Uriel Weinreich and directed by him at Columbia University until his death in 1967. It was then directed by Marvin Herzog, until he donated the Archive to the Libraries.

The LCAAJ - An Atlas of the Yiddish Language

The investigation was designed to yield a multi-volume Atlas: books of maps based on materials selected from the archive and displaying the distribution of the language and culture variants that characterized the Jewish communities of Central and Eastern Europe prior to World War II.

The Language and Culture Atlas of Ashkenazic Jewry (LCAAJ) was prepared by an Editorial Collegium [Marvin Herzog, Editor- in-Chief, and Andrew Sunshine in New York; Ulrike Kiefer, Robert Neumann, and Wolfgang Putschke in Germany]. It was published by the Max Niemeyer Verlag, Tuebingen, Germany, and copublished by the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York. There were originally supposed to be 11 volumes, but only the first three (Historical and Theoretical Foundations; Research Tools; and Eastern Yiddish-Western Yiddish continuum) were published.

Contents of the Archive

The archive consists of approximately 6,000 hours of spoken Yiddish recorded in Israel, Alsace, the USA, Canada, and Mexico from emigrant speakers native to more than 600 communities throughout Central and Eastern Europe. It is the largest and geographically most diverse record of living Yiddish - an irreplaceable repository pertaining to all aspects of Ashkenazic Jewish language and culture in pre-Holocaust Europe.

For Whom Are These Materials of Special Interest?

The selected materials in the published atlas volumes, and the vast corpus of materials in the archive, are of interest to scholars, students, and the lay public:

Among scholars and researchers, they are of interest to linguists specializing in dialectology, in Yiddish, in Hebrew and Aramaic, in the Germanic, Slavic, and other European languages; to ethnographers, folklorists, ethnomusicologists; to Jewish historians and historians of Central and Eastern Europe. Since many of the recorded speakers are themselves Holocaust survivors, some of the recorded biographical material may be relevant to Holocaust history as well.

The dialectologist will find in the LCAAJ the first Atlas investigation based on the principles of Structural Dialectology as first explicated by Uriel Weinreich in 1954. Since Yiddish was the "language-in-contact" par excellence, everywhere coterritorial with another European language, the LCAAJ also provides an unparalleled opportunity for the study of Bilingual Dialectology, the comparative study of variation in languages occupying the same geographic area.

The scholar of Semitic languages will discover in Yiddish the linguistic vehicle that sustained a significant body of Hebrew and Aramaic materials as part of every-day discourse among Ashkenazic Jews throughout the European period in Jewish history.

The particular significance of the LCAAJ for Germanic studies arises from the fact that Yiddish is the only Germanic language that shares the medieval forerunners of German, and that it developed its distinctiveness during centuries of coterritorial contact with German on German language territory.

Both the Germanist and the Slavist must share an interest in the fact that Yiddish provided a centuries-long transition--a bridge between German and the Slavic language-area to the East.

The archive will provide teachers and students of Yiddish with a wide variety of "living" models of the spoken language that are increasingly difficult to find anywhere else, and are nowhere available in the same place.

The lay public, along with scholars, teachers, and students will delight in the surprising variety of regional pronunciations, little-known words, unexpected variation in the meanings of common words, differences in cuisine, in holiday ritual and celebrations, rites of passage, beliefs and practices, songs and games, etc.

Using the Archive

The LCAAJ paper and audio recording collection is maintained by Columbia University's Rare Book and Manuscripts Library.  A digital copy of the finding aid for the LCAAJ can be found here.  The collection itself is located offsite, so please use the finding aid to order boxes to be sent to the Rare Book and Manuscript Library via the Special Collections Research Account in advance of your visit.

Online access to the LCAAJ recordings is provided by EYDES (Evidence of Yiddish Documented in European Societies).   EYDES partnered with Columbia in the audio digitization project and contributed to its funding.

Access to physical copies of the audio recordings is limited to tapes for which digital copies have been made, or which are in sufficiently good condition to allow handling. The Library maintains a list of copied recordings. Items not on the list must be evaluated for condition to determine if they can safely be played. Since evaluation may require a 24-hour wait, researchers should build adequate time into their plans, and whenever possible should notify the Library in advance.

Acquiring copies of the recordings

Copies of individual interviews on CD can be purchased from Columbia. Send email to prd-orders@library.columbia.edu specifying the 5-digit inteview Atlas Number.

Anyone wishing to publish materials from the Archive beyond normal fair use limits must obtain permission in writing.

Indices

The Language and Culture Archive of Ashkenazic Jewry is well indexed. There are three modes of access: by geographic origin, by question number (reflecting the topically based organization of the questionnaire used for the interviews), and by a number referring to 400 linguistic topics.

Geographic Origin: The interviews are organized by speaker's location of origin, using a five digit Atlas Number reflecting the geographic grid developed for the study. Indices which cross-reference geographic place name to location number and vice versa appear in published form in Volume II of the Language and Culture Atlas of Ashkenazic Jewry (available in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library). The audiotapes for each interview are identified by the 5-digit Atlas Number.

Question Number: Every point in the interview questionnaire is uniquely specified by a six-digit number that reflects both page and question numbering. Each set of field notes bears a location number and consists of answer sheets preprinted with the questionnaire numbers. The Archive contains two copies of the notes. One has been separated into individual pages and interfiled in order by questionnaire page number, creating a topical index to the collection by questionnaire number. The second copy is shelved by location number, to match to the tapes. Each includes a cover sheet providing information about the informant and the date and place of the interview. The Archive also includes files of dates, places and biographical information related to the survey informants.

400 Topics: Each of the 400 topics of inquiry in the dialectology is assigned a three-digit number. Volume II of the Atlas contains a cross index in both directions between dialectology numbers and relevant questionnaire numbers.

Preserving the Audio Tapes

The LCAAJ Archive was donated to Columbia University Libraries in 1995 by Dr. Marvin Herzog, Atran Professor Emeritus of Yiddish Studies at Columbia University, in order to ensure its continued existence in the future.  Two years later, the Preservation Division of Columbia University Libraries initiated a project to re-recording all of the tapes; the project finally reached completion in June of 2005.  This major preservation project was assisted by funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the New York State Program for the Conservation and Preservation of Library Research Materials, and smaller grants from many of the private foundations that had funded the original interviews. 

The preservation work adhered to internationally recognized preservation practices and technical standards for reel-to-reel recording established in the late 1990s.  At that time high-quality analog recordings were considered the best preservation medium because they reproduced exactly the sound waves and could be stored in cold environments for longevity of 50 years or more, while digitization techniques had not yet reached the level of quality attained later in the 2000s.  In order to keep the archival copies as true to the original recordings as possible, no manipulation of the original signal such as noise reduction, filtering or other signal-processing techniques was undertaken. 

Because scholars prefer to use digital versions in order to manipulate the sound and provide access online, the project also produced a digital version.  Digital copies in Wav format were created simultaneously with the analog version, and  stored on high-quality CD-Rs.  The project simultaneously created digital copies in Wav format stored on CD-Rs. 

Online access to the LCAAJ recordings is provided by EYDES (Evidence of Yiddish Documented in European Societies).   EYDES partnered with Columbia in the audio digitization project and contributed to its funding.

The original tapes, new preservation master tapes, and CDs are all tracked through a database that indicates when each was recorded, where it is housed, and other relevant information.  The recordings are permanently stored in Columbia’s high-density facility, the Research Collections and Preservation Consortium, where they are kept secure in a cool, dry environment designed to promote maximum longevity.  The CD copies are available to researchers at listening facilities provided in Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscripts Library.  Researchers may also purchase copies of CDs. 

Audio Samples

Click on the underlined text to hear the voice recording.  Use the "back" button on the browser window to return to this screen after listening to the recording

The complete list of recordings are available digitally at EYDES - Evidence of Yiddish Documented in European Societies

Note: The LCAAJ project had its own transliteration scheme which did not conform to current standards.

1. Bir = Birzai 56243 (בירז)

Yiddish Transcription Transliteration English Translation
אי)ן חדר בין איך (ג)עגען ביז דרייצן יאר 'n xejder bin ix egan biz drajtsn jor I went to "heder" till I was thirteen
אין בית-מדרש in besme'dres[!] in the prayer and study house
אין שטעטלשן בית-מדרש in ste'tlsn besmedres in the town prayer and study house
אי)ך (ה)א(ב) געלערנט אין סיטי-קאלעדז אין אוונט xo gelernt in siti kaledzh in ovnt I studied at City College in the evening.

 

2. Cho = Chorzele 52303 (כארזשל)

Yiddish Transcription Transliteration English Translation
נו, (ה)אט דער טאטע טים גע(ה)ענטפערט ni:, ot der tate nim gehentfert So, Father answered him
ס'אי(ז) דאך א קינד si dox a kint He was a child, you know
ס'אי(ז) געווען דער בכור
si gevejn der pxor He was the first-born
ה)אט אים גע(ה)ענטפערט "קענסט, קענסט קומען" ot im gehentfert "kenst, kenst kimen" So he answered him, "you may, you may come".

3. Ka = Kalisz 51187 (קאליש)

Yiddish Transcription Transliteration

English Translation

סאמאל געווען איינר s'amul gevezn ajner There once was a man
ה)אט ניש געהאט קיין סדר צו מאכן ot nis gehat kan sajder ci maxn had nothing to make a seder with.
איז ער נעבעך געזעסן מיטן ווייב iz er nebex gezesn mitn va:p So he, poor guy, was sitting there with his wife
זענען זיי געזעסן אין די שטוב 'ן  (ה)אבן געוויינט zenen ze gezesn in di sti:b 'n obn gevajnt sitting there in the room and crying.
ה)אבן גארניש געהאט obn gurnis gehat They had nothing.
ה)אבן זיי צוזאמענגענומען די פאר זאכן obn ze cezamingenimen di pur zaxn So, they gathered up their meagre possessions
זענען געגאנגען אוועקגיין zenen gegangen avegajn were on the verge of leaving
איז געקומען דער קונצנמאכער i gekimen der kintsnmaxer when the magician arrived.