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 One-way thoughts

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regmelocco



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1PostSubject: One-way thoughts   Tue Mar 07, 2017 1:05 pm

I recently heard a good linguistic expression on a radio talk show from two of the most renowned linguists of Hungary, Prof. Nádasdy, General and English linguistics, translator of Shakespeare and Dante, whose classes I attended in the eighties, and Prof. László Kálmán.
The words are exonym and endonym definitions of groups in language by outsiders or insiders of the group. The show centered upon Gypsies, or the Roma - strictly speaking, there are several types of these people in Hungary with some
- speaking only Hungarian
- speaking their ancient IE langauge of Romani or Lovari
- speaking and archaic form of Romanian which sounds really nice to my ear (beás cigány, who are officially Rom but never use this appellation to themselves).
In all three groups you find extremes, educated and rich people even social activism - though recent trends in government and politics do not support their organizations - and of course, masses of ghetto poor - curiously more in the countryside and villages though there are some city Roma as well, ranging from respected intellectuals and artists to criminals and prostitutes.

As soon as I was thinking of our Jewish population, it was posing an interesting intellectual problem. European Jews frequently do not see themselves as an ethnic group - and as far as I know, neither do American Jews. Over here, Hungarian self-identified Jews voted a few years ago (with some 90% majority as I recall) that they do not think they would be an official ethnic group in Hungary. Yet I had the impression that most Israelis do, and this was confirmed by an article today form a Hungarian Israeli who was battling a real Nazi commenter after the article. My mother-in-law wrote once a very good definition to me - she was an atheist Jew at the time - that being Jewish in this wider meaning of the word basically referred to a culture which has ties to Mosaic religion or the Hebrew language.
The hostile commenter after the Israeli article wrote one good argument though, namely that there were no useful everyday definition of who is Jewish in Central Europe except the Nazi definition - if any of your four grandparents were Jews then you are supposed to be one too.
I know rabbis write volumes on this and I am glad they do. Why should it be a simple question?

The question is especially important here as there is a grey zone immediately and in public discourse. By Jewish custom, if your mother is Jewish you can claim a Jewish identity on religious grounds. Urban, mostly liberal Hungarian Jewish people of the not-too religious (or not at all) sort have been indispensable in culture - and typically, most of our non-Jewish members of the urban, liberal intelligentsia have good relationships with Hungarian intellectuals of Jewish origin, while many simpler Jewish people in other places than the capital were annihilated in the Holocaust, many of our Hungarian Jews survived in the capital.

The odd thing is that at the time of the Holocaust (I just read two history books on that), many people in the early 20th century who would not want a Jewish identity mainly due to the persecutions have converted to Christianity, and sometimes changed their names. Some even became very devout Christians, and some were even nationalists here until some enemy discovered they had Jewish roots. Some chose a scientific world view or became leftist radicals with no religion.

Neo-Nazis now proclaim on official web lists about many prominent figures of the opposition that they are Jewish when it is public knowledge that the said people do not have a Jewish identity or do not even satisfy Nazi definitions of that. Essentially, in the eyes of the fringe right, it is a stigma - a traitor of the nation etc. because they really believe that "the Jewish people" (whatever that means) are alien to Hungary. Which is mostly a historical nonsense. By the same token, the word Christian is used in the racist thirties to mean someone is not Jewish - by the above racist definition. And, to complete the circle, the Holocaust created the effect on some Hungarian Jewish people abroad that they no longer say they are Hungarian, only that they were living in Hungary.

So essentially, I think being Jewish here (zsidó) must be used as a one-way endonym of the group if you want to be progressive: if a person wants to affirm their Jewish identity it is their business, and other non-Jewish people can say it as well, but the same thought does not work the other way around. Oddly enough, that is the way people use it... They would say "He's half Jewish" which would make sense about an ethnic group but not the complex attempts of definition cited above.

Exonym and endonym strictly means what a group calls themselves in linguistics. but I am using it here in as a social metaphor.
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2PostSubject: Re: One-way thoughts   Tue Mar 07, 2017 4:57 pm

I like the idea of using the linguistic terms "exonym" and "endonym" to refer to religious, ethnic, or political groups within a particular mainstream culture. And IMO, it applies equally well to defining the "minority"groups within ANY culture. I don't know enough about the Hungarian culture to fully understand your analyses of how the Rom and Jews fit into it, but it seems very useful when trying to understand the much more complex interactions between cultural sub-groups here in the USA.

Here's an over-simplied example that refers to Jews in this country. The simplist "endonym" is the group of people who actually attend Jewish religious services reasonably regularly. However, there is a looser "endonym" of people who have what are considered "Jewish" names and tend to socialize (and often marry) similar people. Most of these have little interest in the Judaic religion itself, but believe there is a "Jewish subculture" within Western ciilization that can be called a maor ethnic group in its own right. People in both of these endonymic groups tend to support the Zionist State of Israel on the political and economic level and are reasonably fearful about "antisemitism" in a relatively abstract way. However there's also an exonymic element among Americans of Jewish family background: people who have surnames that might or might not be Jewish in origin but don't care, and who believe that "so many elements of the mainstream American culture been influenced by ancient, medieval, and modern Jewish influences that it's useless to even try and identify them."
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