Rotwelsch: The Language of Thieves, with Martin Puchner
ENGLISH CORNER, CON LINDA JIMÉNEZ – This week’s trivia question: What was Martin Luther’s connection to Rotwelsch?
Since the year 2000 UNESCO has celebrated International Mother Language Day on February 21. As the organization states:
UNESCO believes in the importance of cultural and linguistic diversity for sustainable societies. It is within its mandate for peace that it works to preserve the differences in cultures and languages that foster tolerance and respect for others. Multilingual and multicultural societies exist through their languages which transmit and preserve traditional knowledge and cultures in a sustainable way.
In this program you will learn about a language that most of you have probably never even heard of. Rotwelsch is an ancient language of the road, spoken by vagrants, refugees, merchants and thieves since the European Middle Ages.
Martin Puchner was born in Nuremberg, Germany and received a B.A. from Konstanz University in 1992 before relocating to the United States, where he received a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1998. Puchner is currently the Byron and Anita Wien Professor of Drama and of English and Comparative Literature at Harvard. He is a literary critic and philosopher and has always been interested in languages and the people who speak them. He is the general editor of the Norton Anthology of World Literature and his 2017 book The Written World: The Power of Stories to Shape People, History, Civilization is a sweeping account of literature from the invention of writing to the Internet, and how it has created the world we have today.
Puchner’s most recent book is The Language of Thieves, in which he traces the history of Rotwelsch from its beginnings to the present day. Subtitled My Family’s Obsession with a Secret Code the Nazis Tried to Eliminate, the book describes the fascinating and unusual relationship that the language has to himself and his own family.