How Henry Roth Used Ornate English to Imitate Yiddish

A controversy has broken out in the German state of Baden-Württemberg over what many high-school students see as the disproportionate difficulty of the English portion of an important standardized test. Among the questions that provoked exasperation was a sentence from the American Jewish novelist Henry Roth’s Call It Sleep. Paul Berman comments on the irony of the situation:

Call It Sleep is a novel about a little boy growing up on Avenue D and a few other addresses on the Lower East Side a century ago. But it is also a novel about language, the crude and the elegant. When the characters speak crudely, they are speaking an English that, being immigrants, they have not entirely mastered. When they speak with spectacular elegance, we are meant to hear the language that is theirs, which is Yiddish, the language of poetry. And hints of this appear in the narrator’s tone. The passage [from the exam] is not supposed to sound like modern English, or even like archaic English. It is Yiddish poetry, rendered into English.

How could the Germans be expected to know that? How could anyone be expected to know? That kind of double-English—an ostensible English, which is really a Yiddish—scarcely exists anymore. Henry Roth was a master of it; and so was Saul Bellow. But it is gone. And here are the German students being asked to parse a supremely ornate evocation, in English, of the language that, in 1934, was already under a death sentence. And the students are complaining, and their complaint looks reasonable.

Who will understand that, even so, something in their complaint, or perhaps in the exam, is grotesque? Who will understand that, if Henry Roth has become incomprehensible, it is not because his English is sometimes difficult?

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More about: American Jewish literature, Arts & Culture, Germany, Henry Roth, Saul Bellow, Yiddish

Nikki Haley Succeeded at the UN Because She Saw It for What It Is

Oct. 15 2018

Last week, Nikki Haley announced that she will be stepping down as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations at the end of the year. When President Trump appointed her to the position, she had behind her a successful tenure as governor of South Carolina, but no prior experience in foreign policy. This, writes Seth Lispky, turned out to have been her greatest asset:

What a contrast [Haley provided] to the string of ambassadors who fell on their faces in the swamp of Turtle Bay. That’s particularly true of the two envoys under President Barack Obama. [The] “experienced” hands who came before her proceeded to fail. Their key misconception was the notion that the United Nations is part of the solution to the world’s thorniest problems. Its charter was a vast treaty designed by diplomats to achieve “peace,” “security,” and “harmony.”

What hogwash.

Haley, by contrast, may have come in without experience—but that meant she also lacked for illusions. What a difference when someone knows that they’re in a viper pit—that the UN is itself the problem. And has the gumption to say so.

This became apparent the instant Haley opened her first press conference, [in which she said of the UN’s obsessive fixation on condemning the Jewish state]: “I am here to say the United States will not turn a blind eye to this anymore. I am here to underscore the ironclad support of the United States for Israel. . . . I am here to emphasize that the United States is determined to stand up to the UN’s anti-Israel bias.”

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More about: Nikki Haley, U.S. Foreign policy, United Nations, US-Israel relations