Jerusalem - Reports of its death are greatly exaggerated. The European-Jewish language Yiddish, the demise of which has been forecast for years, will not become extinct for at least the next hundred years, according to a conference to be held next week in Jerusalem. There are at present around two to three million Yiddish speakers in the world, a number, say the experts, which ensures that the language can survive for the next century.
Research to be presented at the "Century of Yiddish 1908 - 2008 " conference at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem next week shows that only languages spoken by approximately 1000 people can become extinct in the next hundreds or so years.
Not only is Yiddish not dead, but its vocabulary is growing as it attempts to keep pace with the 20th century. Among the new words to be introduced to the conference are "shleptop" for laptop, a highly- appropriate choice, as anyone who's ever had to carry a laptop around can attest, "blitzmail" for e-mail, and "internetz" for internet.
"Until recently, Yiddish was thought of as a channel for jokes. But in the last decade we have witnesses a renewed interest in Yiddish language and culture among young people and adults," said Professor Yechiel Szeintuch, Professor at Yiddish at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Yiddish is a hybrid language derived mainly from medieval German, but also containing some Hebrew. It was once the language of Jews of European origin, and at its height around 100 years ago was understood by 11 million of the world's 18 million Jews.
It had its own specific and highly-visible culture - some 1,700 national and local Yiddish newspapers were published in Poland alone during World Wars I and II - which was virtually wiped out during the Holocaust.
At present the language is spoken mainly by ultra-Orthodox Jews, and by enthusiasts who are determined to revive the language and bring it back into mainstream Jewish life.
However, many Yiddish words have entered mainstream English, mainly, but not exclusively, in the United States - "shlep" (to carry or drag a load), "chutzpah" (audacity), "kvetch" (to whine, complain), "nebbish" (a simpleton, a weakling) being just a few.
Other Yiddish words which have entered the language cannot, sadly, be included in an article for a mainstream news agency.