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HEIRLOOM
RECOVERING OUR JEWISH FAMILY LANGUAGES

Just as physical heirlooms connect generations of Jewish families, Jewish languages create connections across time and experience. However, most Jewish families have experienced ruptures in language transmission over the past several decades. Today, an increasing number of Jews are taking action to document and revitalize their heritage languages before it’s too late. 

 

Heirloom is a Jewish language reclamation and revitalization initiative of the Jewish Language Project and the Oxford School of Rare Jewish Languages. Through three engaging tracks, Heirloom seeks to reclaim and revitalize endangered Jewish languages so they can remain in Jewish families for generations to come.

TRACKS

Heirloom participants can choose one or more tracks depending on their interests and abilities:

TRACK 1: MENTOR-LEARNER

Commitment: 1+ hour/week for 10 months

Good for: Extremely committed speakers/learners of endangered Jewish languages who can meet regularly

Mentors (speakers of endangered languages) and learners meet at least one hour per week in person or using technology. Together, each mentor-learner pair works on learning and documenting the language through conversation and language elicitation. Learn more...

 

TRACK 2: LANGUAGE ADVOCATE

Flexible commitment: 2-8 hours/month for a minimum of 3 months

Good for: Dedicated volunteers who need flexible hours

Language advocates attend a crash course in language activism, read an article or book about language revitalization, and commit to at least two actions per month to promote the language(s) of their choice (or Jewish languages in general). Learn more...

 

TRACK 3: HERITAGE WORDS

Flexible commitment: 10 minutes per word

Good for: People who know Jewish heritage words or know speakers who know Jewish heritage words

Heritage Words participants submit Jewish heritage words to JLP’s crowdsourced dictionaries. Jewish heritage words come from minority languages once spoken by our Jewish ancestors. Even if one doesn’t fully speak a language that one’s grandparents spoke, certain words may have been passed down through the family or community via a majority language (e.g., the Yiddish words cholent, mensch, and zeidy used by English-speaking Jews). Learn more...

TRACK 1: MENTOR-LEARNER

About This Track

Setting: Virtual or in-person

Commitment: 1+ hour/week for 10 months

Good for: Extremely committed speakers/learners of endangered Jewish languages who can meet regularly

Mentors (speakers of endangered languages) and learners meet at least one hour per week in person or using technology. Together, each mentor-learner pair works on learning and documenting the language through conversation and language elicitation.

 

We provide mentors and learners with the structure and resources to facilitate intergenerational language transmission. We also match mentors and learners as needed.  

Mentor & Learner Requirements

  • Be at least 18 years old unless you have already identified a mentor (e.g., a grandparent).

  • Complete an application and interview with a Jewish Language Project team member.

  • Participate in an online orientation.

  • Read JLP’s tips for successful mentor-learner partnerships.

  • Set goals for the program with your mentor or learner.

  • For 10 months, meet at least one hour per week to speak the language, preferably in person but alternatively using Zoom, Google Meet, FaceTime, etc.

  • Receive regular motivational emails that include ideas for optional social media posts.

  • Record a 3-5-minute clip of conversation (primarily spoken by the mentor) to post on Wikitongues’ and the Jewish Language Project’s YouTube channels as language documentation assets. The mentor helps the learner transcribe and translate the clips.

  • Using the Living Dictionaries platform, add at least 100 words to the relevant dictionary. The mentor provides pronunciation recordings.

  • At the end of the program, participate with the larger cohort in a celebratory online event, saying a few words about the experience.

 

In July 2024, we are piloting an abbreviated version of this program with Judeo-Baghdadi/Iraqi Arabic. If you’d like to help us pilot this program as a mentor or a learner, please complete this application. (If you’ve already identified your own mentor or learner, that’s great! Just indicate it on the form.)

TRACK 2: LANGUAGE ADVOCATE

About This Track

Setting: Virtual

Flexible commitment: 2-8 hours/month for a minimum of 3 months

Good for: Dedicated volunteers who need flexible hours

Language advocates increase awareness about Jewish linguistic diversity and particular languages, create new resources and best practices for language advocacy, and create new documentation of endangered Jewish languages. They select a language and participate in several advocacy activities. The Jewish Language Project provides language advocates with a language activism crash course and toolkit, and our team is available to offer guidance.

Language Advocate Requirements

  • Complete an initial commitment form.

  • Attend a JLP crash course in language activism.

  • Read an article or book about language revitalization.

  • Commit to at least two actions per month to promote the language of your choice (or Jewish languages in general).

    • Examples of actions: writing, designing, or sharing social media posts; using 10 heritage words (words from an endangered language used in your everyday language); submitting 5 heritage words for inclusion in crowdsourced online dictionaries (like the Jewish English Lexicon or the Jewish Latin American Spanish Lexicon); listening to a song in the endangered language; sharing a song; attending a lecture; giving a lecture; hosting an endangered language party; wearing apparel; displaying stickers; designing JLP merchandise; making a financial contribution to a language preservation organization.

  • After completing each commitment, submit a form describing what you did.

 

We're preparing to launch this track. Stay tuned for more information about how to get involved!

TRACK 3: HERITAGE WORDS

About This Track

Setting: Virtual

Flexible commitment: 10 minutes per word

Good for: People who know Jewish heritage words or have access to speakers who know Jewish heritage words

In this track, participants submit Jewish heritage words to one of JLP’s crowdsourced dictionaries. Jewish heritage words come from languages once spoken by our Jewish ancestors. Even if one doesn’t speak an ancestral language, certain words may have been passed down through family or community and used within a majority language, especially in in-group conversations (e.g., the Yiddish words cholent, mensch, and zeidy used by English-speaking Jews).

Heritage Words Requirements & Instructions

 

Start now with the above instructions!

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