The Conference began on Sunday, August 30, 1908, and lasted for a little under a week.
But of course a great deal was said substantively as well. The linguistic issues were “covered” by Ayznshtat, Sotek, and Mizes. Whereas the first two were roundly ignored, the third caused a storm, of protests when, in the midst of a paper on fusion languages and their hybrid-like strength, creativity, and vigor, he also attacked loshnl koydesh for being dead, stultifying, and decaying. Only Perets’s intervention saved Mizes’ paper for the record as “the first scientific paper in Yiddish on Yiddish” (Anon. 1931). Obviously, the tenth agenda item stubbornly refused to wait its place in line and constantly came to the fore in the form of an increasingly growing antagonism between those (primarily Bundists) who wanted to declare Yiddish as the ethnonational Jewish language (Hebrew/loshn koydesh - being a classical tongue rather than a mother tongue - could not, in their view, qualify as such) and those (primarily Zionists and traditionalists) who, at best, would go no further than to declare Yiddish as an ethnonational Jewish language, so that the role of Hebrew/loshn koydesh - past, present and future - would remain unsullied. In the midst of this fundamental argument, more primitive views still surfaced as a result of the presence of so many ideologically unmodernized guests. One of the delegates recounts the following tale:
Very little time was devoted to organizational or implementational issues such as whether the Conference itself should sponsor "cultural work," convene a second conference within a reasonable time, or even establish a permanent office (secretariat) and membership organization. Although the last two recommendations were adopted (the first was rejected due to unified left-wing and right-wing disenchantment with the Conference’s stance regarding the "the or an" ethnonational language issue), and although Birnbaum and two young assistants were elected to be the executive officers and to establish a central office, very little was actually done along these lines. At any rate, the tasks entrusted to the secretariat were minimal and innocuous ones indeed. In addition, Birnbaum soon moved ever-closer to unreconstructed Orthodoxy and to its stress on matters "above and beyond language". At any rate, he was not an administrator/executive but an ideologue. He was, as always, penniless, and the funds that were required for an office and for his salary never materialized. Zhitlovski returned to America and threw himself into efforts there to start Yiddish supplementary schools and to restrain Jewish socialists from sacrificing their own Jewishness and the Jewish people as a whole on the altar of Americanization disguised as proletarian brotherhood. Perets did undertake one fund-raising trip to St. Petersburg where Shimen Dubnov (1860 - 1941), the distinguished historian and ideologist of cultural autonomy in the diaspora and himself a recent convert to the value of Yiddish, had convened a small group of wealthy but Russified potential donors. The latter greeted Perets with such cold cynicism that he "told them off" ("our salvation will come from the poor but warm-hearted Jews of the Pale rather than from the rich but cold-hearted Jews of St. Petersburg") and "slammed the door". Thus, for various reasons, no office was ever really established in Tshernovits and even the minutes of the Conference remained unpublished. Although S. A. Birnbaum helped prepare them for publication by editing out as many Germanisms as possible, they were subsequently misplaced or lost and had to be reconstructed more than two decades later from press clippings and memoirs (Anon. 1931).
Intellectuals (and even an intelligentsia) alone can rarely establish a movement. Intellectuals can reify language and react to it as a powerful symbol, as the bearer and actualizer of cultural values, behaviors, traditions, goals. However, for an L to spread into H functions, more concrete considerations (jobs, funds, influence, status, control, power) are involved. Only the Yiddishist left wing had in mind an economic, political, and cultural revolution that would have placed Yiddish on top. But that left did not even control the Tshernovits Conference, to say nothing of the hard, cruel world that surrounded it.
Reprinted from: Joshua A. Fishman, Ideology, society & language : the odyssey of Nathan Birnbaum / Ann Arbor, Mich. : Karoma, 1987.