Listening to the Languages of the People

Lazare Sainéan on Romanian, Yiddish, and French
Listening to the Languages of the People book cover
ISBN: 
978-963-386-593-4
cloth
$65.00 / €55.00 / £47.00
Publication date: 
2022
200 pages

This tale of great achievements and great disappointments offers a fresh perspective on the interplay between scholarship and political sentiment in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Lazăr Șăineanu (1859–1934), linguist and folklorist, was a pioneer in his native Romania, seeking out the popular elements in culture along with high literary ones. He was among the first to publish a study of Yiddish as a genuine language, and he uncovered Turkish features in Romanian language and customs. He also made an index of hundreds of Romanian folktales. Yet when he sought Romanian citizenship and a professorship, he was blocked by powerful figures who thought Jews could not be Romanians and who fancied the origins of Romanian culture to be wholly Latin. Faced with anti-Semitism, some of his friends turned to Zionism. Instead he tried baptism, which brought him only mockery and shame.

Hoping to find a polity to which he could belong, Șăineanu moved with his family to Paris in 1900 and became Lazare Sainéan. There he made innovative studies of French popular speech and slang, culminating in his great work on the language of Rabelais. Once again, he was contributing to the development of a national tongue. Even then, while welcomed by literary scholars, Sainéan was unable to get a permanent university post. Though a naturalized citizen of France, he felt himself a foreigner, an “intruder,” into his old age.

Note on Transliteration
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
INTRODUCTION

PART ONE: ROMANIA
Early Years: Studies and Friendships
The Field of Linguistics

1. FIRST PUBLICATIONS
The Science of Judaism: Advancing Emancipation
Semasiology
Paris, Gaston Paris, and the Jours d’Emprunt
Leipzig and the Neogrammarians

2. RESEARCH ON YIDDISH
The Dialectological Study of Judeo-German
Spreading The Word on Yiddish
B.P. Hasdeu, Anti-Semitism and Jewish Relations

3. UNIVERSITY LECTURES AND NEW BOOKS
V. A. Urechiǎ and the First Rejection of Naturalization
Favorable Reviews and Marriage

4. BASMELE ROMANE
The Basmele Wins a Prize
Second Defeat of Request for Naturalization
Self-Defense and Studies in Folklore

5. THE DICŤIONAR UNIVERSAL
Non-Zionist Jew and His Circle of Friends
Paris, London: Gaster and Zionism
Paris: Nordau and Zionism
The Rejection of Zionism, The Dreyfus Affair
Baptism And Its Consequences

6. THE ORIENTAL INFLUENCE ON THE ROMANIAN LANGUAGE AND CULTURE
Șǎineanu and Other Jews
The Last Months: Publication and Defeat
Repairing and Describing His Life: the Philological Career

PART TWO: FRANCE
The New Emigré

7. LIVING AND MAKING A LIVING; SOME TRANSLATIONS
Judeo-German for the French Scholar

8. THE POPULAR LANGUAGES OF FRANCE
Rabelais
Les Sources Indigènes and Disappointment

9. SUMMING UP
Languages and “the People” in the 1920s and 1930s
Two Jewish Critics on Sainéan’s Life

Abbreviations
Bibliography

Romania has been on the fringes of Yiddish research until now. A new book by Natalie Zemon Davis shows that one of the very first studies of Jewish dialects was published in Romania at the end of the 19th century. Her book "Listening to the languages of the people: Lazar Sainean on Romanian, Yiddish, and French" tells the dramatic life story of an important Romanian philologist of Jewish origin, who made an important contribution to Jewish linguistics. Zemon Davis is world-renowned for her studies of French culture from the early modern era. The name of the philologist Lazar Seignanu (Sainéan, in French) was well known to her because of his thorough research of the language of François Rabelais, the great French writer of the 16th century. But it was a surprise to her that Seinian also wrote about Yiddish, and she began to research his biography. Her new book is a research work that combines an individual's life with his era's cultural and political history... more