Learning a Yiddish Accent
WHAT WILL YOU DOWNLOAD?
The download contains sixty-two (62) minutes of systematic instruction in MP3 sound files. You’ll also get a printable PDF of the instruction manual. It contains summaries of the audio lessons and full transcripts of the drill words, phrases, and passages.
WHAT WILL YOU LEARN?
You will learn the lilt/inflections, resonance (voice placement), and unique pronunciations of several styles and intensities of Eastern European Yiddish accent. Here’s a brief summary of the training.
- The 1st Lesson initially deals with this accent’s very recognizable lilts and inflections on stressed vowels. Then you will learn to avoid a stereotypic exaggeration of this trait by using it as a tool of emphasis and expressiveness.
- Lesson 2 teaches you mouth movements and posture that create the Yiddish accent’s characteristic resonance or voice placement. It continues with the minor vowel shifts associated with the mouth posture.
- Lesson 3 deals with more overt vowel pronunciations that are closely extending from or embedding into the muscularity/resonance trait.
- The 4th Lesson deals with Yiddish-accent consonant pronunciations that are related to its resonance.
- Lesson 5 first teaches the pronunciations of the Yiddish R. Then, it continues with other isolated consonants.
- Lesson 6 puts it all together with several drill passages. Firstly, it reminds you about the voice placement. Further, it walks you through the pronunciation phrase by phrase before leading you into a normal speaking pace.
MORE ABOUT THE YIDDISH ACCENT
Many actors and directors have major misconceptions about the origins of a Yiddish accent and who would speak with one. One common erroneous belief is that all New York Jewish characters should sound like Yiddish speakers. Another is that native-born Israelis would sound Yiddish. Let’s start with a few definitions:
- In the heyday of Yiddish, it was the native language of most Eastern-European Jewish ghetto communities. Although it is written with the Hebrew alphabet, it is linguistically more related to the German language.
- Hebrew is the language of the Jewish Bible and its prayer liturgy. It is closely related to Aramaic and Arabic—not to any European language. As modern Israel approached statehood, linguists created a modern language from these ancient roots as the official language of the country.
- English spoken with Hebrew and Yiddish accents sound TOTALLY DIFFERENT. Most listening to them for the first time would hear few if any similarities.
- There are very few native Yiddish speakers in the world today. The only growing pockets of Yiddish are within Hasidic communities in America, Israel and a few other countries.
- Exaggerated Yiddish accents have been at the core of many derogatory stereotypes over the last century or more. Clearly, there are historical, social, political, and moral reasons for avoiding such stereotyping. Also, actors should have a full range of personality types and actions available for characters regardless of language origins.
YIDDISH ACCENT FOR TODAY’S ACTORS
- When should you use a Yiddish accent? You might think all characters whose native language is Yiddish should have its accent on stage or screen. But what about characters who’d speak Yiddish in “real life,” like those in Fiddler on the Roof and Ansky’s The Dybbuk? English with a Yiddish accent might not be a good artistic representation of Yiddish without a “foreign accent.”
- In these situations, some directors often prefer using “no accent,” i.e., the standard English of the performance country. Others might still go with light accents to maintain both a flavor of characters’ real-world Yiddish and the impression of fluency. The same artistic choice applies to using French accents for Molière, Spanish for Lorca, Norwegian for Ibsen, etc.
- A classic accent is more often used when, in the story, first-language Yiddish speakers are conversing in English. Examples include many characters in Paddy Chayefsky’s The Tenth Man and adaptations of Chaim Potok’s My Name is Asher Lev and The Chosen. Here, directors would likely suggest accents to help identify these characters as first-language Yiddish speakers.