Linguistics Colloquium: Netta Abugov

27/06/2017 - 14:00 - 15:30

Netta Abugov, Bar Ilan University

Title: Variation in the acquisition of Antwerp Hasidic Yiddish noun plurals
Abstract: Hasidic Yiddish is a living language spoken by adults and children in segregated communities around the world. The largest European native Yiddish-speaking center today is the Hasidic community in Antwerp. Members of this community are mostly bilingual, speaking Yiddish and Dutch, and praying in Loshn Koydesh. Our window onto native Yiddish development is the system of noun plurals that involves suffixation (bal-n ‘ball-s’), stem modification (top-tep ‘pot-s’) or a combination of the two (boim-baimer ‘tree-s’), clearly reflecting the Germanic and the Hebrew origins.

Previous research (Abugov & Gillis, 2016) revealed that the plural system in adult Antwerp Hasidic Yiddish is fraught with variation, since many nouns have more than one plural marker (e.g., tats ‘tray’ yielded tétser, tets, tats(e)n and zero tats). The aim of this study was to investigate how Yiddish-speaking children across age groups deal with such a chaotic system in acquisition. In order to measure variation, we computed entropy (Shannon & Weaver, 1949) of plural markers for each singular noun. Our hypothesis was that the higher entropy of plural forms is among adults, the lower predictability is among children and vise versa.

Participants were 80 Hasidic Yiddish-speaking children in five age groups (5, 7, 9, 11) who were administered a noun plural naming test using pictures. Confirming our expectations, results show that entropy of adults is a significant predictor in the production of plural markers among children across age groups; thus, a higher number of plural possibilities among adults resulted in less agreement among children.


Abugov, N. & Gillis S. (2016) Nominal plurals in Antwerp Hasidic Yiddish: An empirical study. Linguistics 54(6).

Shannon, C.E & Weaver, W. W. (1949) The Mathematical Theory of Communication. University of Illinois Press, Urbana, IL.