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Jewish World Review
Feb. 10, 2004
/ 18 Shevat, 5764
Google Goes Yiddish
How do you say "search engine" in Yiddish?
If you're a traditionalist, you probably don't. "In the shtetl," where
Eastern European Jews' language of preference developed, "there
weren't such things," says Miriam Hoffman, professor of Yiddish and
Yiddish literature at Columbia University. No computers, no Internet,
no on-line features that perused databases.
But we're not in the shtetl anymore, and Yiddish has taken another
high-tech step on the information highway Google, which bills
itself as the most popular English-language search engine in the
world, just introduced a Yiddish version, www.google.com/intl/yi,
complete with Yiddish menus and messages. Users need, of course,
the software for the Hebrew/Yiddish alphabet on their computers.
For Hoffman, who says she is "not a computer person," that's no
problem. "I do have the Yiddish lettering on my computer."
"I think it's wonderful. Why shouldn't they have Yiddish?" says
Hoffman, who writes plays in Yiddish and introduces the language to
"I'm surprised," she says, "that this wasn't done before."
Google isn't saying why it added Yiddish to its roster of common and
more-obscure language sites, which includes Afrikaans, Latvian and
Punjabi. It didn't make a formal announcement, and a Google
spokesman did not return a call for comment from this paper.
Presumably, there is enough interest in cyberspace with growing
nostalgic interest in Yiddish, academic courses at prestigious
universities, and an increase in its speakers in the Orthodox
community to warrant the step. In May, Google posted an
announcement asking for volunteers to translate its home page,
toolbar, wireless and other programs into Yiddish.
Coincidentally, Hoffman gave a class a Google assignment this week
on the day she found out about the new search engine. Actually, her
assignment was about google-moogle, a medicinal delicacy in her
native Russia it consists of raw eggs, melted butter, hot milk and
As for the modern version, "you have to find an equivalent" in the
Yiddish lexicon for the term "search engine," Hoffman says. She
combined the terms for "to look for" and "engine," and came up with
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© 2004, New York Jewish Week