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Heritage Language Socialization Practices in Secular Yiddish Educational Contexts: The Creation of a Metalinguistic Community


This dissertation develops a theoretical and empirical framework for the model of metalinguistic community, a community of positioned social actors engaged primarily in discourse about language and cultural symbols tied to language. Building upon the notions of speech community (Duranti, 1994; Gumperz, 1968; Morgan, 2004), linguistic community (Silverstein, 1998), local community (Grenoble & Whaley, 2006), and discourse community (Watts, 1999), metalinguistic community provides a novel practice-based (Bourdieu, 1991) framework for diverse participants who experience a strong connection to a language and its speakers but may lack familiarity with them due to historical, personal, and/or communal circumstances. This research identifies five dimensions of metalinguistic community: socialization into language ideologies is a priority over socialization into language competence and use, conflation of language and culture, age and corresponding knowledge as highly salient features, use and discussion of the code are primarily pedagogical, and use of code in specific interactional and textual contexts (e.g., greeting/closings, assessments, response cries, lexical items related to religion and culture, mock language).

As a case study of metalinguistic community, this dissertation provides an in-depth ethnographic analysis of contemporary secular engagement with Yiddish language and culture in the United States. The project is based upon nearly three years of fieldwork in Southern California, Northern California, and New York in over 170 language classes, programs, lectures, and cultural events, resulting in more than one hundred hours of video- and audio-recorded interactional and interview data. It has also investigated literature, print media, and online sources related to Yiddish in secular milieus. In order to capture the diversity of actors and contexts through time and space, the study examines meta-Yiddish literature in historical context, conflicted stance (DuBois, 2007; Goodwin, 2007; Jaffe, 2009) toward linguistic alternatives as socialization practice, Yiddish "endangerment" as interactional reality and discursive strategy, a person-centered ethnographic approach (Hollan, 2001) to Yiddish as a heritage language, and epistemic ecologies in intergenerational contexts. This project explores the multiple ways that metalinguistic community members engage in "nostalgia socialization" into an imagined nationhood (Anderson, 1983) of the Jewish diaspora, demonstrating the central role of language as identity maker and marker within multilingual contexts.

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