By Philip Witriol
October 20, 2008
Over thirty five years ago my father, Joseph Witriol (1912 - 2002), typed up the 200 page manuscript of his work which he called Mumme Loohshen, An Anatomy of Yiddish.
In the preface he wrote: "This is the first linguistically oriented book on the Yiddish language as a whole, as opposed to monographs on specific aspects of Yiddish linguistics, to be written in English."
This was researched and written in the pre-internet era and typed on an electric typewriter, with its limitations. Six and a half years after his death and I have still not managed to completely retype it on computer. But I am nearly there.
I still have to decide whether to 'publish' it directly onto the net or first try traditional publishing.
I also want to use this blog to give some sort of background and context to the work. I have changed as little as possible in the text as I do not want to alter a work that reflects my dad's style and personality as well as recognising that it was written in the 1970s.
There are technical, specific aspects - for instance some references will be dated, e.g. referring to the Ukrainian SSR. Some - at that time - unpublished works may have now been published and so on.
My dad sometimes used complex and lengthy sentences which need careful reading. This is particularly true - and harder to avoid - when one is discussing the interplay between three or more languages.
He also uses 'difficult' words and - usually difficult by definition - foreign words and tags. This was not an affectation, but a natural aspect of his impressive vocabulary and literary knowledge. And they can be great, useful words like borborygmus.
In today's world of beyond-parody PC gold standards, some references will fall short. So sue.
Punctuation, spelling and other stylistic conventions have sometimes been kept - again, this means deviating from today's norms.
In part intentionally, partly for practical reasons, the work was written only in English so neither Yiddish or Hebrew words are in Hebrew characters.
There are references to other pages in the text, but I have just indicated the relevant chapter and will let the 'find' tool do the rest of the work for computer readers.
I'm still mulling over whether to include the comprehensive word lists and index that must have entailed many hours of tedious toil on my dad's part.
My editing and typing up has been somewhat haphazard. For example, I usually ignored stress marks for the first hundred or so pages before deciding I should keep them. I may tighten that up eventually.
Some passages baffled me but as I have no knowledge of German and very little Hebrew, I have not changed anything as it's as likely to be my misreading as it is my father's miswriting. Again, I may well go back to these, once I have published.
I also hope to 'blog' about the background to the book, the research, the writing etc. And from that to my dad's other articles and translations from Hebrew, Yiddish, German and French.
And then to his life (including his also unpublished 'autobiography' and journals which he regularly wrote for over 20 years) which, inter alia, provide fascinating insights into both the domestic mundane as well as the wider and tragic events he directly witnessed or lived through.