Yiddish to fulfill A&S language requirement

By: Ayla Cline, College of Arts & Sciences, 
April 20, 2021

This fall, Cornell's new Yiddish program is setting its sights higher, riding a generational trend in interest and changing attitudes towards the language.

Currently, Yiddish classes meet one evening a week. Starting with the Fall 2021 semester, Elementary Yiddish will be offered for four credit hours and held four days per week. As of Fall 2022, with the addition of a redesigned Intermediate Yiddish class, students will be able to fulfill the College of Arts & Sciences’ language requirement by taking Yiddish.

“Many people think of Yiddish as the language of humor and shtick, but students quickly learn that it’s a complete language, able to express the subtlest, most profound things,” said David Forman, Yiddish language instructor in the Department of Near Eastern Studies.

The change is part of a broader trend. This April, the popular online language-learning site Duolingo made a splash in the headlines by adding Yiddish to its array of over 30 language courses. Duolingo's addition of Yiddish, in the works for years, is significant. Across all languages on Duolingo, there are currently 42 million active users. A tiny fraction of that would represent a large gain for Yiddish learning.

"Press accounts," according to Forman, “have reported on Duolingo's controversial balancing act between the contemporary dialect spoken by Hassidic Jews, who make up a large share of current Yiddish speakers, and the literary standard, or ‘Yivo’, Yiddish generally taught in the classroom. Critics of Duolingo say that users do not become proficient, but only reach a high elementary level. What is undeniable is that Duolingo can sustain and even enhance people's interest in language learning.”

Cornell students interested in taking Yiddish should contact David R. Forman at drf84@cornell.edu.

Collection of contemporary Yiddish books