Alternative name(s): Jew German (en), Jodenduits (nl), Jiddisch (nl), Jiddish (sv)
Language family: Indo-European
Language group: Germanic
Geographical use: Israel, but also worldwide by Jews
Information: Yiddish (the name means Jewish) arose between the 9th and 12th centuries in the southwest of Germany and was an adaptation of the Middle High German dialects to the needs of the Jews. The vocabulary of present-day Yiddish in Eastern Europe consists for 85% of German words , 10% Hebrew words, and 5% various words from Slavic and Romance languages. In the English-speaking countries a lot of English words were borrowed.
Yiddish consists of two groups of dialects of which one group can be further broken down. The western dialect knows little speakers and is spoken in the German-speaking areas in Europe. The more widely spread eastern group consists of a northeastern and a southern branch. The northeastern branch consists of Yiddish spoken in the Baltic States and in the northwestern areas of Russia. The southern branch consists of Yiddish dialects spoken in Poland, Romania and Ukraine.
Because Yiddish is mainly spoken by ordinary people and not by high-skilled people, the language is filled with proverbs and sayings. It is a plastic language with many expressions and few abstract descriptions.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Yiddish was spoken by 11 million people, especially in eastern Europe and the United States of America. During the Second World War half of these were killed. Currently about four million people speak the language. Another important cause of the decline of the amount of speakers, is that people tended to adopt the language of the country they were living in (English and Russian). In 1984 a Russian-Yiddish dictionary was published, that explained the etymology and grammar of Yiddish. Since then various Yiddish novels have been published in Russia.
After the Second World War Paris became a flourishing centre of Yiddish press. Every major political movement had its own newspaper, but all of these have now disappeared. Naye Presse, the newspaper of the Jewish communists, quit the scene in 1993. Shortly thereafter also the Unzer Shtime of the Bund, a left Jewish organisation, stopped its activities. The zionist Unzer Wort remained with difficulty. After the closure of the Yiddisher Kampfer from New York, Unzer Wort became the only remaining Yiddish newspaper of the world. In 1996 the newspaper was only published three days per week and closed down end of June 1996. The reason these newspapers disappeared is that the readers literally became extinct.
In Israel Yiddish is a minority language that is especially used by older people with an eastern European background. There are only a few Israeli writers who write in Yiddish. In order to keep the language alive, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has adopted Yiddish in its courses.