Friday, December 8, 2017 - 3:55pm
Ethnolinguistic infusion at American Jewish summer camps
Sarah Bunin Benor
Hebrew Union College
Building on research on metalinguistic communities and language as semiotic resource, this talk introduces “ethnolinguistic infusion”: the intentional incorporation of elements of a heritage language, in an environment conducted primarily in a majority language, with the goal of fostering connection to the heritage language and/or to the group. It can manifest in the context of a metalinguistic community or in broader communal settings of an immigrant, indigenous, or religious group. The metaphor of infusion involves a flavor of one item (fruit; ancestral language) within another item (drink; majority language). It entails intentionality (bartenders and communal leaders incorporate the fruit and language) and variation (one can infuse more or less of a fruit/language). This talk analyzes how American Jewish summer camps infuse Hebrew into a primarily English environment – through songs, prayers, blessings, signage, hundreds of loanwords, and fun, bivalent pedagogical practices like Hebrew word skits and games. This infusion is intended not to teach the language but to socialize campers to feel connected to Hebrew and, through Hebrew, to Jews, Judaism, and Israel. Camp leaders hold conflicting ideologies about infusion, some preferring language instruction or immersion. These findings are discussed in the context of other groups that have mostly shifted to a majority language, especially those whose ancestral languages are endangered.
A reception will be provided.