Yiddish (ײִדיש / מאַמע לשון)
Yiddish is a Germanic language with about three million speakers, mainly
Ashkenazic Jews, in the USA, Israel, Russia, Ukraine and many other countries.
The name Yiddish is probably an abbreviated version of
(yidish-taytsh), which means “Jewish German”.
There have been Jews in area that is now Germany since Roman times. A
distinct Jewish culture known as Ashkenazi, or Germanic Jewry, appeared
by the 10th century. Ashkenaz was the medieval Hebrew name for Germany,
though the Ashkenaz area also included parts of northern France and later
spread to Eastern Europe.
The every-day language of the Ashkenazic Jews was Middle High German. They
also used Hebrew and their German included Hebrew words and phrases. From the
13th century they started to use the Hebrew script to write their language,
which linguists refer to as Judeo-German or occasionally Proto-Yiddish. The
earliest known fragment of Judeo-German is a rhyming couplet in a Hebrew prayer
book dating from 1272 or 1273.
During subsequent centuries, Judeo-German gradually developed into a distinct
language, Yiddish, with two main dialects: Western Yiddish, which was widely
spoken in Central Europe until the 18th century, and Eastern Yiddish, which
was spoken throughout Eastern Europe and Russia/USSR until World War II. As
a result of the Holocaust, Jewish communities throughout Europe were destroyed
and the use of Yiddish as an every-day language went into sudden decline.
Yiddish alphabet and pronunciation
The letters veys, kof, tov, sov, khes, and sin are only used in words of Hebraic
or Aramaic origin.
Words of Hebrew or Aramaic origin are spelled in Yiddish as they would be in
Hebrew or Aramaic.
Sample text in Yiddish
Yeder mentsh vert geboyrn fray un glaykh in koved un rekht. Yeder
vert bashonkn mit farshtand un gevisn; yeder zol zikh firn mit a
tsveytn in a gemit fun brudershaft.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They
are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another
in a spirit of brotherhood.
(Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)
Longer sample text (Tower of Babel)
Information about the Yiddish language
The Dora Teitelboim Center for Yiddish Culture
The Yiddish Voice – Yiddish radio station
Jewish Language Research Website