Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 62.djvu/340

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FROM a stretch of territory of irregular breadth, and extending from the Baltic Sea to the Levant, there are now coming here in considerable numbers as immigrants a people of unmistakable identity of origin and differentiated from the other inhabitants of the districts whence they come not only by physical appearance, but by the possession of distinctive customs, traits of character and a language of their own. Even though the purity of their blood may be questioned, they stand as the modern representatives of one branch of the ancient Hebrew race. Their language is composite like English, and also like English it has a Germanic basis whose old inflections have been largely lost and to which words and suffixes of other origin, mainly Hebrew and Polish, have been added. This language is invariably expressed in Hebrew characters and read from right to left. Although occasionally efforts are made in certain quarters to disparage its claims to independent recognition, it is to be noted that it has served since ancient times as the medium of a literature, both meritorious and extensive, and is spoken whether in Riga or Constantinople with as little variation as may be found in the case of spoken English within the limits of the United States. In this language, solely by their own efforts, those who use it have lowered the illiteracy among the immigrant class to twenty per cent, while their Slavic neighbors, in spite of some public provision for instruction, show an illiteracy of about forty per cent.

All the people of whom Yiddish is the mother tongue are given special recognition in our Immigration Bureau's classification of arriving immigrants under the term 'Hebrews.' The people thus designated do not constitute the only branch of the Hebrew race in the region above mentioned, nor is Yiddish the mother-tongue of them all, but where the modern Hebrew fails to show this distinctive tongue and has become so merged with the nation in which he lives as to be indistinguishable except by pedigree or religious creed, he is classified with the immigrants of the nationality he has assumed.

By thus removing this one element of so distinctly a national character, not only is a means furnished for differentiating the other