Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Fall 2001 Newsletter

A Conversation With . . . Ghil`ad Zuckermann - Ransom Fellow

Photograph: Ghil`ad Zuckermann at the Ransom Center, March 2001.

Ghil`ad's Texan friends nicknamed him "Giladiator."
Ghil`ad Zuckermann at the Ransom Center,
March 2001. Photo by Pete Smith

I spoke with Dr. Ghil`ad Zuckermann, Gulbenkian Research Fellow at Churchill College (University of Cambridge), last spring while he was at the Ransom Center for a Dorot Fellowship.

— Sheree Scarborough

SS: First, please tell me why you're here at the Ransom Center.

GZ: I'm here in order to conduct research on the survival of Yiddish beneath "Ivrit". Ivrit —or "Israeli"— is what I call "revived Hebrew" — the language currently spoken by Israelis. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Yiddish and Hebrew were in competition to become the national language of the Jewish people. At first, it seems as if Hebrew won, and Yiddish was destined to be spoken only by Orthodox Jews and some eccentric academics. But my research claims that, in fact, much of the winning "Hebrew" is Yiddish. In other words, as long as Ivrit survives, Yiddish survives beneath it. I'm here in order to look at books, pamphlets and journals from the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, all of which are in the Gottesman Collection. The Gottesman Collection consists of thousands of items collected by two people: Glanz and Horowitz. One of them was a linguist, so he had many books in the area of language revival and language planning, and the other was a literary critic.

SS: Have you enjoyed your time in Texas?

GZ: When I came here I knew no one, and only now am I beginning to feel at home, and then I will have to leave. I guess that is the story of many people's lives, especially Jewish people; they arrive in a place, it's hard for a while, then it's excellent, but they need to move on. I must say that it may not be only Jewish, but Israeli as well. Israel is a hotbed; things are happening all the time. It is not relaxed. It's the antithesis of Texas, especially when you go to real Texan places—not necessarily here at the University—but to places like Lubbock. People seem to be like "Zorba the Greek."

Editor's Note: Thanks to the generosity of the Albert and Ethel Herzstein Foundation of Houston, Mort Meyerson, and others, phase one of the cataloging of the Judaica collection begins this spring.

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