Mumme Loohshen, An Anatomy of Yiddish, by Joseph Witriol

Mumme Loohshen, Joseph Witriol’s book on Yiddish, is now “published” at The Yiddish recorded in the book is that spoken by his mother, mumme loohshen (mame loshen being one of several more usual transcriptions). In the few instances where this deviates, or seems to deviate, from “printed” Yiddish he still records what he heard his mother speak. It was the first linguistically oriented book on the Yiddish language as a whole to be written in English.

For non-linguists, his discussion of Yiddish proverbs and sayings and words and idioms would undoubtedly be more accessible than the meaty, text-book like chapters on the HebrewGerman and Slav elements of the language. Many examples that he uses to illustrate words and expressions reflect his own circumstances and experiences as a Jew growing up in London in the 1920s and 1930s as well as his later life as a teacher, husband and father. The final chapter entitled The Tragedy of Yiddish is a moving one, albeit with a concluding opinion that some would reject.

A quote from one of his letters to a publisher:

“…[Mumme Loohshen] is a comprehensive survey of the Yiddish language [with] a strong linguistic bias. The book is discursive in style and, I hope, makes pleasurable reading. Inevitably, however, there are a few parts which are of a text-book nature. The book contains a great deal of solid linguistic information which I believe can be found in no other English book, certainly not in Leo Rosten’s Joys of Yiddish or Lilian Mermin Feinsilver’s The Taste of YiddishGermanisten, in particular, would find the description of the links joining Yiddish with Archaic German and Middle High German of great interest….”

I discovered from this hand-written draft of a letter to The Jewish Chronicle’s Publications Department that he first mooted the idea in April 1952 and he wrote

I hope to have the complete typescript ready by 30th September 1953 (sic).

[His sic presumably shows that he meant to write 1952.]

The reply from the Manager is here. The next letter I have – two decades and three kids later – is also to The Jewish Chronicle and in it he says he has completed the typescript!

I have various typescripts and hand-written articles written, I presume, at about the same time. This one is on the Polish and Russian elements in Yiddish.

For the next three years, as he put it with typical self-deprecating candour,

“…like the young man who was thrown out of some of the best Jewish houses, [Mumme Loohshen] was rejected by some of the best Jewish and non-Jewish publishers…”

Some of these rejections are here as well as letters to and from at least one vanity publishing outfit as well as “some of the best Jewish and non-Jewish publishers”.

Apart from the customary spousal thanks, the Acknowledgments page mentions Gabriel Richard Stern, a good friend of my father’s, who helped with Polish and Russian words. This document has queries dad sent to him with his responses.

I am happy for the work, or extracts from it, to be published elsewhere, but would appreciate acknowledgement of the author and a link to the original website.