Jewish World Review March 4, 2014 / 2 Adar II, 5774
An innocent abroad
By Paul Greenberg
Dear Guide in
I regret I never learned your name, but your language, heard from the back of a tour bus, remains a thing of curious beauty and a joy recurrently remembered. You could call it English, though more strictly speaking it was American, and a distinct subset of American at that. Not just Midwestern but Chicagoan, and not just Chicagoan but the Chicagoan of the 1930s.
You yourself had never been out of
Yours was as perfect a copy of that distinctive patois as one of those medieval manuscripts scrupulously copied to preserve every jot and tittle of some saint's commentary on the Scriptures.
Only the text you'd devoted yourself to was
Listening to you, I could have been somewhere just off
Ours was a large, extended family by then, for that was where my grandfather had settled when he came over from the old country at the turn of another century. A Jewish neighborhood squeezed into an ethnic patchwork. Yours was a remarkable feat, comrade, to master so different a language and traverse so much time and geography.
Russian language schools are like that. They specialize. Intensely. The sweep and vision of the foreign country whose language is being taught may elude the students, but their mastery of a particular dialect of it, like Studs Lonigan's, can out-native the natives.
Who knows, our guide in
I can see our guide from
So if you ever did make it to America, Comrade, welcome, Even if Studs Lonigan no longer lives. But in you his language did that day in far
Do svidaniya. To you and the lingo of a vanished
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Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer prize-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
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