By focusing on what Michael Silverstein calls nonreferential indexicality—those “features of speech independent of any referential speech event” that point to the “sociological relations of personae in the speech situation” and “accomplish socially constituted ends”—this essay challenges received understandings of the linguistic purchase of modernist innovation. The author examines Hebrew and Yiddish modernist literary texts by Devorah Baron and Dovid Bergelson that employ nonreferential indexicality in order to chart the ruptures in two textual communities, in two particular historical and literary moments when gender norms, alongside racial and ethnic identities, underwent abrupt and vexed change. In these stories, scenes of domestic drama are transformed into modernist narratives of social and cultural transformation. The article contends that a pragmatic linguistic approach to literary texts illuminates how minor language modernist writing contains a self-awareness that not only addresses a cosmopolitan audience but also preserves the contingent and shifting parameters of local linguistic communities.

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