Spelling bee controversy: Did the National Spelling Bee misspell winning word? Credits:   Wikimedia Commons, Tina Burgess

Spelling bee controversy: Did the National Spelling Bee misspell winning word?
Credits: Wikimedia Commons, Tina Burgess

Yiddish Scholars Prompt Spelling Bee Controversy

The third year of competing in the National Spelling Bee competition proved to be the charm for previous second place winner Arvind Mahankali.

The 13-year old took top honors recently when asked to spell the word “knaidel“, meaning a small cluster of dough that is leavened, reports the Telegraph.

But now a group of Yiddish scholars is bringing Mahankali’s victory into question by saying that the correct historical spelling of the Jewish word is “kneydl”. Officials at the spelling competition use Merriam-Webster’s Third New International Dictionary as their primary resource on correct word spellings.

Sources at the dictionary publisher are rejecting the language experts’ claims that the winner did not spell the word correctly, explaining that the spelling “knaidel” is the most common spelling used for the term which traces its history to the Hebrew language.

The dictionary notes that the currently accepted spelling of “knaidel” is the English version of the Yiddish word “kneydel.”

AllGov explains the differences:

The Yiddish language, which developed starting in the 10th Century among Central European Jews as a fusion of several German dialects with copious amounts of Hebrew, Aramaic and Slavic vocabulary mixed in, is written not in the Latin alphabet but using Hebrew letters. Thus in Yiddish, knaidel looks like this: קנאַידעל.

Transliteration—the systematic substitution of one alphabet’s letters for another’s—is a notoriously uncertain practice because the sounds used in different languages, especially languages from different language families, often differ substantially. There are consonant sounds in Hebrew and Yiddish—the initial sound in the Yiddish word “chutzpah,” for example—that do not exist in English and most other Indo-European languages. Such sounds can only be approximated, and deciding what letter to use is a common source of controversy. The preferred YIVO transliteration of chutzpah is “khutspe,” which rarely appears in print.

With his victory safe from being overturned, winner Mahankali reports he considers himself retired from spelling bee competitions. Instead of steady practicing in mock spelling bee tournaments, the youngster says he is planning to devote more of his time during his summer vacation this year to studying physics.

And here’s a tip for aspiring spelling champions: the plural of knaidel is knaidlach. Or is it knaidelach?


Spelling bee controversy as Yiddish experts dispute 13-year-old’s winning ‘knaidel’

Controversy Hits National Spelling Bee