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Two new books burrow into Yiddish and the ‘language of thieves’

As languages have lives of their own, with arcs that dwarf the lifespans of their speakers, it feels fitting for Rutgers professor Jeffrey Shandler to give Yiddish the biographer’s treatment.

In truth, “Yiddish: Biography of a Language” does not trace the course of its subject in the linear manner we expect in a biography. But it anthropomorphizes the language just enough to allow for a richly illustrated profile, with chapters such as “Residence,” “Gender,” “Appearance,” “Personality” and “Life Expectancy.”