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Yiddish stands in relation to German somewhat as Haitian Créole stands in relation to French. It is a language, or dialect, that originally arose among a community of immigrants out of the necessity of communicating with a dominant host population but which over time became the principal or even the sole means of communication within the immigrant community itself. In the case of Yiddish, the immigrant community’s principal shared linguistic heritage – Hebrew-Aramaic – was preserved alongside the adopted dialect, whereas in the case of Créole a fundamental diversity of linguistic heritage (multiple, mutually unintelligible African tribal languages) led to the complete displacement of the home tongues by the immigrant dialect.
It is significant that the Hebrew-speaking immigrants who were to become Yiddish speakers arrived in the Rhine valley in the 900’s A.D. either from Italy, over the Alps, or from eastern France -- in both cases already as speakers of Romance tongues in addition to Hebrew-Aramaic. The grammatical habits of Romance languages are reflected in the sentence structure of Yiddish insofar as the latter diverges significantly from German sentence structure – most notably from the latter’s sometimes lengthy delay in the completion of compound verb forms, whereby the participle and/or secondary auxiliary is made the last word in the sentence, fulfilling the expectation aroused by the much earlier appearance of the primary auxiliary (for example: “Ich habe sie, trotz weitgehenden Untersuchungen, seit Jahren nicht mehr wiederfinden können”).
Another significant divergence from German grammatical practice is the elimination of many inflections and the alteration of noun genders.
Although Yiddish fist evolved in the Rhineland and constituted a simplified dialect of German into which many vocabulary items of Hebrew-Aramaic origin were incorporated, the language was later carried far into Eastern Europe by the migration of Jews into Poland, Lithuania, and the Ukraine, as well as into the East Central and South Central regions of Europe comprised within the Habsburg empire.
Chronic contact with Slavic languages resulted in new imports of vocabulary as well as changes in pronunciation, such that dialects of Yiddish are distinguished as between Western Yiddish, Northeastern Yiddish, Central Yiddish, and Southeastern Yiddish, the geographical modifiers referencing the entire Yiddish-speaking area.
Yiddish is a written and well as a spoken language. It employs the Hebrew alphabet in spite of its essentially German constitution. It is a literary language that has been used for translation of and commentary on the Bible as well as for the recording of religious legal proceedings. There is also a secular Yiddish literature based on the Eastern dialects.
Yiddish Quick Facts
Alternate Names & Spellings: Yiddish, Yidish, Judeo-German
Language Family: Indo-European, Germanic, West, High German
Spoken by Approximately 3,000,000 people
Spoken In: United States
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