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Why Aramaic in the Yerushalmi? Code-switching in Early Rabbinic Literature—by Willem Smelik

By uclhwis, on 4 January 2016

Please join us Wednesday 13 January 2016 at 4pm

for this lecture in the Institute of Advance Studies; Wilkins Building, seminar room 11


Abstract: To what extent the Jewish population of Roman Palestine in the first few centuries CE still spoke Hebrew in the context of contemporary multilingualism is an on-going debate. The attested existence of multiple dialects of any of the three main languages involved—Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew—and the diverse ways in which the Aramaic and Hebrew languages relate to one another in the extant literature and documents have so far been incompletely developed and understood. This presentation of research–in–progress is concerned with the linguistic reality of knowledge transfer as presented in the Talmud Yerushalmi, with particular attention to written code-switching between Hebrew and Aramaic. The results are significant for the way we understand vernacular language in the early rabbinic period and its written deposit, the textual unity of bilingual communication, the non-diachronic aspects of rabbinic code-switching, and the rabbinic perception of languages.

Bio: Willem Smelik works on Hebrew and Aramaic literature in Late Antiquity with special attention to the Jewish Aramaic translations of Scripture, Aramaic dialects, and multilingualism. Recent publications include Rabbis, Language and Translation in Late Antiquity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), Targum Studies in Munich, IOTS 2013 (edited with Robert Hayward in Aramaic Studies 11.2 [2013] and 12.1 [2014]), and ‘Justinian’s Novella 146 and Contemporary Judaism’, in Greek Scripture and the Rabbis (edited T.M. Law; Leuven: Peeters Press, 2012), pp. 141-163.

Further reading: The research to be presented here has not yet been published in any form, but some background information can be found in Rabbis, Language and Translation in Late Antiquity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), pp. 100-138 and ‘The Languages of Roman Palestine’, in The Oxford Handbook of Roman Palestine (edited C. Hezser; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), pp. 122-141.