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Yiddish in Taiwan

by: Dan Bloom - Last updated: 2005-06-01



Professor S H Chang is a Yiddish specialist at Wenzao Ursuline College of Languages in Taiwan, and she's one of a kind. After all, you don't find many Chinese academics on Taiwan studying and writing about Yiddish.

Chang, a soft-spoken Taiwanese woman in her early 30s who has written about and researched the Yiddish language (and speaks it as well) is one of the few Yiddish philologists in the Chinese-speaking world. She heads the department of German at the Taiwan college in the subtropical, southern part of the island nation of 23 million Buddhists and Taoists.

"When I set about learning Yiddish, I was merely opening up a new door for myself," the professor says. With a doctorate from Germany's Trier University under her belt, Chang has gained world renown as an expert in German and Jewish literature, delivering academic papers around the world. In addition, she's become a Jewish historian for the Chinese and Taiwanese people, as well as a philologist of German and Yiddish.

Chang admitted in a recent telephone interview with this reporter that learning Yiddish did not come easy at first, although she said that the fact that the "language of Jewish exiles" contains around 85 percent German morphemes made it easier as time went by, since she had already mastered German as a university student in Taiwan and Europe. In addition, she speaks Chinese, Taiwanese and English.

Is Profesor Chang aiming to be the Leo Rosten of the Chinese-speaking world, perhaps? She plans to write a book someday - in Chinese, of course, what else?  - for the reading public in Taiwan, explaining the nuances of Yiddishkeit and the history of the Jewish disapora - and meaning of such words as kvell, chutzpah and nachos, she said. The Chinese people have had their own disapora, too, so the two cultures, Jewish and Chinese, have many similarities.

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