'Tell me what you speak and I'll tell you ...': Exploring attitudes to languages in the ultra-orthodox community in Israel

Michal Tannenbaum*, Hannah Esther Ofner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article reports on a study focusing on Israel's Haredi (ultra-Orthodox Jews) community, exploring its members' perceptions of Hebrew, Yiddish and English in terms of the language's importance, usage, holiness and related emotions. Questionnaires were distributed to 180 participants from five prominent subgroups within the community. Analysis revealed significant differences in the participants' attitudes towards the three languages, showing preference for Hebrew and Yiddish above English in all dimensions explored. Differences between subgroups correlated with their stance towards the Israeli majority and vis-à-vis one another - the greater the level of segregation, the more negative their attitudes towards English and the more positive their attitudes towards Yiddish, with Hebrew somewhere in between for most groups. These findings reflect the community's attempts to build symbolic fences to sustain and foster segregation on the one hand, and their bonding with the historical heritage on the other. Gender differences also emerged with women, who function as change agents far more often, showing more favourable attitudes towards Hebrew and English than men. In sum, attitudes towards languages emerged as an interesting lens from which to learn about broader ideological world views, reflecting the tension and conflict between the inner community world view and the surrounding world.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)499-517
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2008


  • Gender
  • Heritage languages
  • Language attitudes
  • Language choice
  • Language ideologies
  • Ultra-orthodox


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