Wed, 14 April 2021
Last week, the language-learning app Duolingo introduced a new course on Yiddish. The course sparked significant interest, and provoked significant controversy. Suddenly, this language-learning app became the site of a proxy argument over modern Jewish identity. In the app’s menu, each language is typically represented by the flag of the primary country in which that language is spoken. But Yiddish is a language without an obvious home, and so which flag should represent it became the subject of much and fervent debate. Moreover, since each Yiddish dialect is associated with particular cultural and religious orientations, controversy also surrounded the question of which dialect should govern pronunciation of the language in the audio elements of the app.
To better understand these controversies, one of the Duolingo app’s Yiddish course developers, Meena Viswanath, joins this week’s podcast. In conversation with Mosaic’s editor Jonathan Silver, she explains how the controversies came about, what they mean for students of Yiddish, and what they reveal about Jewish identity right now.
Musical selections are drawn from the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, op. 31a, composed by Paul Ben-Haim and performed by the ARC Ensemble.