The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

In-Between the Lines: The (Covert) Hebrew Letters of Modern Jewish American Literature

Much has been written about the function of Yiddish, or "Yinglish" (a crossbreed between Yiddish and English) as the distinctive language of (Ashkenazic) Jewish-American literature. However, what about Hebrew? Carefully examining the works as well as lives of three well-known, East-European, modern Jewish-American (immigrant) writers such as Abraham Cahan, Mary Antin and Henry Roth, I would like to expose the significance of Hebrew, and not only Yiddish, in Jewish American literature written in English. More specifically, I will propose a new term: "Henglish" (fusion of the signifiers "Hebrew" and "English"). I will suggest that what makes the language of Jewish-American literature "Jewish" is what I call "Henglish:" Jewish-American writing in English within which covert Hebrew letters (constituting both Hebrew and Yiddish) emerge in-between the (English) lines. In other words, the Hebrew and Yiddish I refer to in this article are not part of the overt dimension of the texts, i.e. they are neither transcribed nor transliterated in the novels. Instead, they are "hidden" behind the English words, indexed by interlingual (mainly Hebrew-Yiddish-English) homophones (words similar in sound) and homographs (words similar in writing). Attentive to (multilingual) connections of signifiers, this essay may shed new light on the wider fields of literary bilingualism, language hybridity and the phenomenon of code switching in exile or immigrant literature. Most significantly, this article may open the door for a new research field examining (whether there are any) other appearances of "Henglish" in additional (modern) Jewish (American) works. Are the hidden inscriptions of Hebrew (letters) restricted to the texts investigated in this essay or are they also what characterizes the language of (Anglophone) Jewish (American) literature in general? And what intriguing knowledge may we derive from it regarding the multilingual dimension of Jewish (American) literature?