For over a thousand years, the Yiddish language has been a central part of the identity of Jewish people throughout the world. Though this fascinating language has sometimes been derided by would-be oppressors as a “mongrel” tongue, in truth it is an amazing synthesis reflecting the rich cultural history and diversity of the Jewish people and has an especially deep connection to literature and theater. This article discusses the history of the Yiddish language, its use today, and its literary and theatrical works – there are even some sayings with common Yiddish words you can use yourself!
History of the Yiddish Language
Yiddish is a language traditionally spoken by the community of Ashkenazi Jews. Today, this generally refers to Jewish people in eastern European countries. However, both the Ashkenazi Jewish community and the Yiddish language have a common origin along the banks of the Rhine River in Germany. Yiddish first developed among Jewish immigrants from France and Italy who settled on the Rhine. Their common language had Germanic, Latin, Hebrew, and other elements. In the 1200s, Jewish families began to migrate eastward and the Yiddish language was exposed to Slavic influence. With time, the eastern forms of Yiddish spoken in Poland rose in importance and overtook the Yiddish of western Europe. Sadly, the horrific purges of Jews in Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia led to a decline in the use of Yiddish, claiming the lives of many millions of its speakers.
What is Yiddish?: Brief overview of Yiddish along with a great number of further Internet resources related to the Yiddish language.
Facts about Yiddish
Yiddish is still spoken in Jewish communities. It has remained important in providing common identity for Jewish people as it is considered appropriate for conversational and artistic use – in contrast to Hebrew, which was traditionally used mainly for religious and scholarly purposes. Today there are few who speak Yiddish as their main or only language, but it is still found in its ancestral homes in eastern Europe, such as Poland, Lithuania, and the former Soviet Union.
Some of the nicer Yiddish expressions. Do your best to pronounce: