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Each summer tens of thousands of American Jewish youth attend residential (sleepaway) camps throughout the United States where they see, hear, and use varieties of Hebrew, despite the fact that most of these campers do not speak Modern Hebrew and have minimal decoding skills with liturgical Hebrew. To better understand this hybridized multilingual phenomenon and its meaning for American Jews, this presentation identifies summer camp as a translanguaging thirdspace. Based on ethnographic and interview data collected at over 30 summer camps between 2012 and 2015, this talk argues that translanguaging practices at American Jewish overnight summer camps reveal a richness of linguistic creativity that disrupt the asymmetries of power associated with nationalistic language ideologies. At the same time, these practices remain tethered to existing language hierarchies rooted in these ideologies. Seen in this way, multilingual practices at American Jewish summer camps offer an innovative perspective into the potential reach and limits of local language practices as a site of disruption and transformation.

Sharon Avni is Professor of Academic Literacy and Linguistics at BMCC at the City University of New York (CUNY). Her work uses ethnographic and discourse analytic approaches to address the discursive, ideological, historical, and policy perspectives of Hebrew learning and usage in the United States. She is the co-author of Hebrew Infusion: Language and Community and American Jewish Summer Camps (Rutgers 2020). Her current project funded by a Mellon/ACLS fellowship examines contemporary Modern Hebrew culture in the United States.

CONTACT: cyril.wealer at