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I am generally curious about instances of grammar and syntax from foreign languages entering standard English usage within the last century or two. This interest is specifically motivated by my curiosity about use of Yiddish grammatical structures in English, for instance:

"Already you're discouraged?"

"Smart, he isn't."

User James asked a similar question here -- Resources that discuss "Jewish" English (English influenced by Yiddish grammar) -- with some interesting resources provided by respondents. Are there other, comparable instances of a foreign language's grammatical structures/syntax entering into the English lexicon within a similar timeframe? Where can I read more about this phenomenon?

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  • You mean other foreign languages, apart from Jewish?
    – Gio
    Dec 29, 2022 at 18:43
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    Additional resources on Yiddish that are not mentioned in the other post are welcome, but I am interested in this phenomenon as it pertains to any and all foreign languages.
    – user770884
    Dec 29, 2022 at 18:45
  • The resources request part of the question belongs on ELU.meta, 770, but the first query seems valid and is certainly very interesting. Word and phrase etymologies are valid, so why not immediate (foreign → English) sources of novel grammar? Dec 29, 2022 at 20:04
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    I am happy to remove/post elsewhere the part about resources, but I assume people who are well-equipped to answer the first question are also the most well equipped to also provide additional information/resources, and it seems more efficient to combine the two so that those people have a single place to provide answers to one or both questions.
    – user770884
    Dec 29, 2022 at 20:09
  • Jewish is NOT a language. Languages spoken by some Jews include Hebrew and Yiddish. "I now will ask this question" is not an import.
    – Lambie
    Dec 29, 2022 at 21:00
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    From Russian, strong like bull. Dec 29, 2022 at 22:20
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    Let's point out a Yiddish-specific character of its people and their challenges: gallows humor. When you say "Heres' a Yiddish joke," you prepare the listener for a dark punchline. "For this, I got a Bachelors'?" "And referring to my humility, nothing?" "A dying man asks his daughter for a bite of his wife's fragrant strudel. She returns with 'Mama says it's for after.' " Dec 29, 2022 at 22:22
  • A lot of grammatical changes are quite subtle: things like use of "got", use of tenses, how negatives and questions are phrased. They also tend to be regional, occurring in some areas or groups before others, and often they originate in speech rather than in something that has a written record. It's hard to pin these things down precisely in time or point to definite sources (an exception might be Indian English where other languages' influence is more obvious).
    – Stuart F
    Dec 30, 2022 at 14:38
  • Yiddish is just the Yiddish word for Jewish. It often gets translated instead of simply borrowed. The language itself has gone through some changes similar to English (a before consonants and an before vowels is the indefinite article in both, though the usages are different -- you can't say *One a Jew a bumpkin in English the way you can say Eyner a id a yeshuvnik, as one Yiddish joke starts off). Jan 3, 2023 at 15:37
  • 'My bad' (using bad as a noun) is probably not an example since the phrase is a one-off (it is not productive/other adjectives don't do this) and it was probably a dysfluency (the speaker who coined it doesn't have that in their native language).
    – Mitch
    Jan 5, 2023 at 15:31
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    Interesting. No relation, presumably, to the separate use of bad as a noun in "public bad" (as opposed to public good).
    – user770884
    Jan 5, 2023 at 16:38
  • What, why is this once-a-month not-a-single-word-request question moved to meta? Jan 11, 2023 at 17:03

3 Answers 3

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The obvious example would be the influence of AAVE (Black English) on American English, and whence on English more globally through the influence of Hollywood, popular music, etc. There are many idioms and expressions which have seeped into general English which are widely recognized, understood, and occasionally used by non-AAVE speakers like "who da man", "I'ma gonna go", "he be like".

To what extent this can be called "foreign" is obviously debatable; certainly, to the traditional English language police, these constructs are alien, grammatically and otherwise.

Maybe as a starting point, see Wikipedia.

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  • I think this is reasonable, and could be extended to grammatical borrowings for any substrate or dialect, eg Scots phrasings that have become mainstream in the UK. AAE has a huge impact on vocabulary, it's good to open up about other influences like this. But yeah 'foreign' seems like a weird word to use here.
    – Mitch
    Jan 5, 2023 at 15:36
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    Very interesting. Though I agree with the point about foreign being inappropriate here, this fits in the scope of what I was looking for.
    – user770884
    Jan 5, 2023 at 16:40
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For instance, the inversion of verb-adverb ordering in some writing, which seems to originate from Yiddish (e.g., "I now will ask this question" vs "I will now ask this question").

The ordering of adverbs from Old English to the present day has always been somewhat fluid.

"Now, I will ask this question"

"I now will ask this question"

"I will now ask this question"

"I will ask, now, this question"

are all acceptable in both Old English and Modern English. The basic guidance is that the adverb should be "near" the verb, although this guidance is rather loose.

I suspect that all germanic languages have this feature and it would be exceptionally difficult to prise out the Yiddish influence from the general English influence.

Google Ngrams does not seem to support your hypothesis: Using the search terms I now will,I will now,now I will we see that I now will has never been popular, probably as it is a more formal structure.

The same search from 1990 to 2019 shows an equal rise in both I will now and Now I will, but the "I now will" flatlines.

Are there other, comparable instances of a foreign language's grammatical structures/syntax entering into the English lexicon within a similar timeframe?

I cannot agree that there has been a significant influence on English by Yiddish in the way you describe, and what do you mean by "similar timeframe"?

Or are you considering the high Jewish immigration rate of the late 19th/early 20th century and the USA?

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  • "I now will" is one example which came to mind. However, there are other examples which are more easily identifiable as Yiddish-origin grammar. One that is provided in the linked question: "I should be so lucky." In any event, my question was not asking if this phenomenon exists -- I don't think there is any doubt that it does. Rather, I am looking for other examples. This answer, which is just a claim that my specific example is not reflective of the phenomenon, would likely be better placed as a comment.
    – user770884
    Dec 29, 2022 at 20:28
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    Thanks. How would we show it is Yiddish, and not, for example German? "I should be so lucky." is a subjunctive construction common to German and Yiddish, and also earlier forms of English.
    – Greybeard
    Dec 29, 2022 at 20:30
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    That is a fair point. Similarly, another post on the origins of "You want I should" also notes that that phrase may have originated from either German and Yiddish (english.stackexchange.com/questions/478895/…), but argues in favor of Yiddish given the influence of Yiddish on American popular culture. I believe a similar point could be made here.
    – user770884
    Dec 29, 2022 at 20:38
  • What about "I will ask this question now"? That is probably the most common usage, and yet it is impossible to work into your NGrams scheme.
    – Robusto
    Dec 30, 2022 at 2:42
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    One version of Topicalization, which involves fronting of objects for emphasis, is sometimes called "Y-Movement" because it was common in Yiddish-influenced Englishes. An example is Egg creams you want, bananas you'll get. Jan 5, 2023 at 20:44
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Slightly earlier than that, Native American languages such as Cherokee influenced American English because although English became the lingua franca for trade very early on, the entire trade and cultural system west of the Appalachians remained that of the American tribes for another 200 years - right up to the civil war. English spent 200 years learning how to express the social etiquette of these cultures.

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    What grammar did we take of theirs?
    – tchrist Mod
    Dec 29, 2022 at 23:35
  • @tchrist Grammatical aspect marking came from somewhere, I presume from native Americans. We also mark kin relations in Southern English in ways which are quite distinct, but I can't say exactly where it came from.
    – Phil Sweet
    Dec 29, 2022 at 23:43
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    Could you please show an example of this "grammatical aspect marking" you're referring to here?
    – tchrist Mod
    Dec 29, 2022 at 23:52
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    Repurposing strong verbs to use as aspect markers, and stacking modals. She done been gone for ages, etc.
    – Phil Sweet
    Dec 29, 2022 at 23:56
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    The point being that aspect marking is not optional in Southern English. It is often mandatory, and that has some funny consequences when it conflicts with Standard English protocols.
    – Phil Sweet
    Dec 30, 2022 at 0:02
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    I thought "aspect marking" such as "perfective done" was generally believed to derive from AAVE and certain similar approaches seen in West African tongues they will have brought with them, and that stacked modals were thought to come from Scottish and Scots-Irish settlers. The former properties are common to many creoles, including those in the Caribbean. You might want to check out this thesis, as it mentions such things (although I've barely glanced at it yet myself).
    – tchrist Mod
    Dec 30, 2022 at 0:24
  • I had originally written in my answer that Appalachian English is what happens when Scots adapt English to the Cherokee way of speaking. But I deleted it. It is my belief that these adaptations were motivated, not merely the happenstance of immigrant demographics. The Scots immigrants in Appalachia lived in a culture dominated by the Cherokee and others for more than 200 years. The Cherokee didn't learn to speak English. The local version of English learned to talk like the Cherokee. It had to in order to trade, deal in land, and resolve legal disputes according to the Native traditions
    – Phil Sweet
    Dec 30, 2022 at 1:11
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    Is this a speculation if your own or a speculation from somewhere else? Do you have a reference for Cherokee-influenced English? Is that English spoken by native Cherokee speakers or English spoken by colonists with Cherokee influences?
    – Mitch
    Jan 1, 2023 at 0:36

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