Is Yiddish still spoken today and how did it start?

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages and Linguistics (EHL)' started by Roel~, Feb 2, 2013.

  1. Roel~ Junior Member

    Nederlands - Nederland
    There isn't any tv in Yiddish and in Israel people speak Hebrew. Is it true that Yiddish nowadays is only spoken in small communities in Israel?

    Besides I have the question how Yiddish started to exist.
     
  2. LilianaB Senior Member

    US New York
    Lithuanian
    Yes, Yiddish is still spoken, in Brooklyn. I don't know that much about other places in reference to Yiddish. Religious Jewish people, who originally came from Europe, still speak it -- even at home, on a daily basis. There are newspapers in Yiddish, books, theatres, radio -- I think. I am not sure if there is a TV station in Yiddish, but I think there must be. I don't know if their young children speak Yiddish as well -- some of them speak English and Hebrew. I am not sure about that, but many adults do speak Yiddish everywhere, except where they have to speak English, like in certain offices, although if they preferred they could get an interpreter.
     
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2013
  3. killerbee256 Senior Member

    American English
    Yiddish is on a basic level a Jewish dialect of High German; in places where Jews lived they developed their own dialect of the common language, here is a wiki article that can enlighten you http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_languages
     
  4. tFighterPilot Senior Member

    Israel - Hebrew
    Not religious people, only some ultra orthodox. The one who speak only Yiddish are a minority among them, who wish to distance themselves from the state of Israel. As for the history of Yiddish, I suggest reading the wikipedia article, it's much more throughout than anyone can tell here.
     
  5. Roel~ Junior Member

    Nederlands - Nederland
    Yes, when I read Yiddish it looks very much like a German dialect, so I already had the idea that it's a dialect, I just wondered how all those Slavic words came into the Yiddish language. I think that this could be due to the many Jews who lived in Eastern Europe, they might have brought with them this dialect and used all kinds of Slavic words which made it into a seperate language which started to look different from just a dialect.
     
  6. LilianaB Senior Member

    US New York
    Lithuanian
    The Jewish people who spoke Yiddish lived in Eastern Europe -- many of them, where Slavic languages were spoken: Polish, Belarusin, Ukrainian, Russian, perhaps Czech and Slovak as well. The Ashkenazi Jews spoke Yiddish, and some of them still do. There are many Slavic words in Yiddish. I can't tell you right off the top of my head which ones that would be, but there are many. Otherwise, Yiddish is a Germanic language written in the Hebrew Alphabet.
     
  7. rogermue Junior Member

    As to Jiddish I can recommend the following book:
    Salcia Landmann: Jiddisch. Das Abenteuer einer Sprache. Ullstein, Frankfurt am Main 1992, ISBN 3-548-34994-3 (1. Aufl. 1962).




     
  8. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    France
    USA Northeast
    There is an Jewish autonomous oblast in Russia known as Birobidjan where Yiddish is a co-official language and mandatory in education.
     
  9. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    Right and a little bit wrong at the same time: There were once were many more Yiddish dialects than today. But the Western dialects died out in the 19th (some pockets remained in the 20th century; today, I once read, a few Alsatian Yiddish speakers still live today but I can't confirm that) when the discriminatory laws against Jews were one by one repealed and Jews became better integrated. Only Eastern European Yiddish dialects survived.
     
  10. Maroseika Moderator

    Moscow
    Russian
    It's far not mandatory there. Actually there is only one secondary school and one kindergarten where they use Yiddish, in two or three schools Yiddish is learnt as separate language. Not too little actually for about 1500 Jews in this region.
     
  11. arielipi Senior Member

    Israel
    Hebrew
    Not all religious people speak yiddish, only the full orthodoxi, the zionist religious speak hebrew.
     
  12. NorwegianNYC Senior Member

    New York, NY, USA
    Norwegian
    Yes, it does indeed live on in parts of Brooklyn and Queens, but it is a dying language. Whereas the Hasidic and Orthodox population is increasing, the number of Yiddish speakers among them is decreasing. It is estimated a 15% decrease in Yiddish speakers in NYC every five years. In the U.S., Yiddish is losing out to English, and in Israel to Hebrew.
     
  13. Roel~ Junior Member

    Nederlands - Nederland
    Weird, I read that ultra-orthodox Jews don't want to speak Hebrew because it's a sacred language, so they think that it shouldn't be used in the world. This is just a certain group though.
     
  14. arielipi Senior Member

    Israel
    Hebrew
    Even they use hebrew now, as said, yiddish is a dying language.
     
  15. LilianaB Senior Member

    US New York
    Lithuanian
    Religious Jewish people, or religious Jews

    This is how people refer to some orthodox Jewish faiths here, in everyday speech. It does not mean that other people are not religious.
     
  16. arielipi Senior Member

    Israel
    Hebrew
    I understand it, I'm only saying that we do differentiate between ultra orthodox and zionist orthodox.
     
  17. Egmont Senior Member

    Massachusetts, U.S.
    English - U.S.
    It's fiction, but the book The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon (2007) is an interesting look at what might have happened if a Jewish region was set up in southern Alaska (around Sitka) in the 1940s as a haven for Jews who had been persecuted much of Europe and could not look to Israel, since (this is fiction, after all) it was crushed by the Arabs in 1948. Since Yiddish was the only language that its initial residents had in common, it became the official language of the region. The region was set up to last for 60 years, with the sense that it would no longer be needed by then. The events in the book unfold as it is about to revert to being part of the state of Alaska.
     
  18. Lugubert Senior Member

    Göteborg
    Swedish
    In Sweden, spelled jiddisch, it was granted official status as an extraterritorial minority language. It is estimated that Yiddish is spoken by some 4 000 persons in Sweden. Because of its status, the Government has commissioned the university of Lund to engage in teaching and research regarding the language. Thus, the Centre for Languages and Literature at Lund University offers several courses in Yiddish language and culture.
     
  19. yiddishcards New Member

    english
    I couldn't find much except for few books on it and promised my Bubbie that I would keep using Yiddish as much as possible in my home. The internet has sure helped me keep using it and the access to look up words and meanings easily. I created flash cards to teach with and then stumbled upon the idea of playing cards to help teach and spread it. Please do not look at this as a plug in anyway, simply a promotion of Yiddish! Please support and share the kickstarter project of making Yiddish playing cards. I am less concerned with financial backing, as I am confident the venture will be funded, as I am about getting the word out there and continuing to spread Yiddish!
     
  20. yiddishcards New Member

    english
    LilianaB thanks for such a detailed reply. Do you happen to know of any Yiddish Newspapers, publications or periodicals? Thanks!
     
  21. LilianaB Senior Member

    US New York
    Lithuanian
    Hi, not right now, but I can do some research. I will find out the exact names which are still published today. There were about 150 newspapers in Yiddish in New York about a hundred years ago. Now, there are still some.
     
  22. Yaella Junior Member

    Bruxelles
    Français - Belgique
    Yiddish is still in use by some Jewish families in Belgium, in particular in Antwerp.
    It is taught at the Martin Buber institute in Brussels and there are other, less formal, initiatives where people can learn and speak Yiddish.
    I don't believe that Belgium is an exception from that point of view.
     
  23. David S Senior Member

    Richmond, VA, USA
    English - US
    Anyone who thinks that Yiddish is a dying language should go visit Kiryas Joel or New Square in New York State. It is very much the everyday language used in Hasidic communities. It's influenced New York English a lot, you'll hear about people schmoozing with their neighbors or having a light nosh or kvetching about their in-laws.
     
  24. NorwegianNYC Senior Member

    New York, NY, USA
    Norwegian
    As fascinating as KJ and New Square are, they represent the challenges Yiddish are facing rather than its survival. Both are all-Hassidic towns where the language is kept alive in isolated enclaves. Not unlike Pennsylvania Dutch. Don't get me wrong, I do not think it will go extinct anytime soon, but it is no longer used as a means of communication among the general Jewish population in the New York area. Yiddish was once widely spoken in NYC, but it lost out to English. KJ and New Square are the last redoubt, but it will not spread from there, and it will increasingly lag behind in the communications race - except internally within the communities, where it can still be used for everyday things.
     
  25. LilianaB Senior Member

    US New York
    Lithuanian
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2013
  26. Judica Senior Member

    East Coast, US
    AE (US), Spanish (LatAm)
    Yiddish is simply German as spoken by the Jews of Europe.
     
  27. LilianaB Senior Member

    US New York
    Lithuanian
    No, it is not. It comes from German originally -- but it is not entirely the German language -- it is even written in the Hebrew alphabet. You can understand a lot of it, if you understand German. I understand German quite well and I can understand some Yiddish. It has a lot of phrases from Slavic languages as well. If you wanted to classify it as German, Catalan would have to called Spanish, and Norwegian Swedish.
     
  28. killerbee256 Senior Member

    American English
    I would say that all continental North Germanic languages are the same, the only reason they're considered languages and not dialects is politics. As for Yiddish I'm with Judica, the only reason it's considered a separate language is back lash from the holocaust, directly after the war no one wanted anything "Jewish" to have anything to do with any thing "German". Everyone acknowledges that the Jewish dialects of other languages are just dialects, for example Latino is judeo-spanish. Yes it has Greek, Hebrew, Slavic, and Turkish loan words but it is still Spanish. Like wise Yiddish has Hebrew and Slavic loan words, but is still German.
     
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2013
  29. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    Norwegian, Danish and Swedish are mutually comprehensible, but each has its own orthographic and grammatical norms. It is thus correct to regard them as separate languages, though they exist in a linguistic continuum. The same is true of Catalan and Spanish (and to a large degree also Portuguese). German (Schriftdeutsch) and Yiddish are written in different alphabets, and each was standardised on the basis of different dialects of German. They are thus legitimately counted as separate languages.
     
  30. killerbee256 Senior Member

    American English
    I'm sorry as this is off topic, but we will have to agree to disagree on that. My criteria is not what is considered "standard" but the situation on the ground. Can the speaker communicate with another? And thus "standard" & alphabet isn't a matter of importance. And politics have huge effect on what is "officially" a separate language. If for example a permanent Scandinavian Union had been formed in the 18th or 19th century there would be one Scandinavian Language today, even if the situation on the ground were the same as it is real life. The oposite example is Chinese "dialects" which while they are from the same source, old Chinese, are as different from each as romance languages, yet because of the government they are considered one language. Out of curiosity where do you stand on the Scots and Serbo-Croatian situations.
     
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2013
  31. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    It is not so simple. People on both sides of the German-Dutch border speak for all practical purposes the same dialect and can communicate without difficulty. But if they write a letter it will be in standard Dutch (Nederlands) or standard German (Deutsch). There is language continuum all across Northern India: from Punjabi to Sindhi to Gujarati to Hindi to Bengali, but each of these is definitely a different language and are in their standard forms not mutually comprehensible.

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  32. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    Also: to say that everything is about politics is not very useful either. The fact that the French speak a debased form of Latin, and not Celtic, is also about politics: they were conquered by the Romans. This does not invalidate the fact that French and Celtic are very different languages.
     
  33. killerbee256 Senior Member

    American English
    When it comes to Dutch I hold the same view, if the Netherlands hadn't gained Independence than dutch would be considered a German dialect and the Dutch people people would write in high German. I know there is some degree mutual intelligibility between Dutch and high German. But from what I understand between Dutch and low German it's much higher. The native names even show it, Nederduits Nedderdüütsch, I know that Nederduits is an out dated term but I choose to demonstrate the closeness. Of course situation in Germany is complected with some people considering various dialects to be their own languages and others consider them just dialects. Perhaps we should break this off into it's own thread?
    This I agree is a more complected situation, with many different standards. Hindi & Urdu is like the situation in Scandinavia, but I'm willing to concede that many of standards are not mutual intelligible. Thought with the popularity of Bollywood films it's likely that speakers of Punjabi, Gujarati and Bengali understand Hindi & Urdu, but speakers of Hindi & Urdu would not understand them.

    I'm not sure what you getting at here. Gaulish and Latin were not mutual intelligible, despite some of the more louco theories out there. The difference between French and Breton, for example, is huge. Between Breton, Cornish & Welsh well that's another muddy situation.

    The point I'm trying to make when I bring up politics is that some times it interferes. At some times for whatever reason one group of people want to consider themselves separate from another, despite the two groups speaking the same language so they create their own "standard"; Portuguese and Galician, Serbo-Croatian in the former Yugoslavia, Scots and English and the Scandinavian Languages as I've already said.
     
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2013
  34. Yaella Junior Member

    Bruxelles
    Français - Belgique
    Yiddish is considered as a language because it has a litterature. It has been considered as a language well before the holocaust.
    I am not sure that a German speaker can understand Yiddish and vice-versa, in the same way as a Dutch speaker cannot understand German (except recognising some words).
     
  35. Judica Senior Member

    East Coast, US
    AE (US), Spanish (LatAm)
    Well, thats because Gaul (which means Gaelic/Celt) was a Roman territory for a bit. People would be speaking regional Latin for a plethora of reasons. After Rome's fall, Franks (Germanic speaking people) came south & conquered the Celts, then the Normans (more Germanic people) came south and conquered the Franks along with the rest of Europe.

    I think you may have a bit of confusion when it comes to regional areas and the "lengua franca" of time periods.
     
  36. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    France
    USA Northeast
    Berndf compares Yiddish and German in this thread dealing more or less with the same subject. It would appear that they are very similar and mutually understandable yet nonetheless different.
     
  37. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    This is rubbish.
     
  38. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    Mutual intelligibility is a poor criterion to separate language from dialect. Languages can be mutually intelligible and dialects can be mutually unintelligible. Linguistically, there is no meaningful distinction and most linguists reject this discussion altogether.

    I agree with fdb, the only useful distinction is a socio-cultural one: The cultural identity of community of speakers and their willingness to define a standard language with its own written standard and literary tradition. In this respect, until about the mid-19th century, Yiddish would be accurately described as set of German dialects because this corresponded to the cultural identity of Eastern Jews. Less educated Jews spoke with "thicker" Yiddish dialect and more educated Jews spoke something closer to standard German. With the emergence of a literary standard (primarily based on the Lithuanian Yiddish) Yiddish speakers started to regard their language as separate from German and if speakers do so that must be respected. You probably all know Max Weinrich's (the founder of the YIVO institute of Yiddish studies) summary of the discussion, characterizing the distinction as mainly political: A language is a dialect with an army and a navy.
     
  39. killerbee256 Senior Member

    American English
    I really don't think bringing cultural identity into consideration is helpfully it just muddies the waters. Even with in German you have issues, with speakers of various dialects within Austria, Germany and Switzerland seeing themselves as different yet not differing much at all well others see themselves as part of the greater German whole yet are mutual unintelligible with standard German and if you consider the likes of Dutch, Luxembourgish and Yiddish, as I do, well it's a mess. On Yiddish itself it does seem unique among Jewish dialects/languages as speakers of Judeo-Espanol, judeo-arabic etc see their speech as only dialects, thought this while discussion is rather ironic given the dying nature of Yiddish today.
     
  40. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    If you are not interested in sociocultural aspects then we should drop the discussion. It is pretty much consensus view today that a conceptual distinction between language and dialect from a purely linguistic point of view is neither possible nor useful.
     
  41. killerbee256 Senior Member

    American English
    As you’re a European, I can see where you're coming from; given the language polity in France and Franco's Spain. Where the only valid Language is the official endorsed one, topically the language of the capital, while all other ways of speaking were considered inferior and a threat to national unity. Thus all minority languages were driven to near extinction, in North America indigenous languages were treated the same way. But in seeing Yiddish as a German dialect I'm not advocating that all (remaining) Yiddish speakers should switch to standard German rather that Yiddish represents the diversity within German the same way Swiss German or the Swabian dialect does.

    I'm willing to concede that mutual intelligibility isn't always the best way to measure as with Spanish and Portuguese it can be asymmetric and depends heavily on the speaker; still I feel it's a more scientific way. Beyond what I've ready said, using sociocultural aspects can be just as messy, because there can be a lack of consensus with 2 small groups claiming that it's a language or it's not while the majority of population doesn’t feel strongly either way or perhaps it's a government’s choice that most of the people in the country disagree with ex. Romanian in Moldova or as in China where the government sees it as threat to recognize there is more than one Chinese language. I'm willing to let the point rest; I just wanted to say my peace.
     
    Last edited: Feb 25, 2013
  42. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    I wasn't trying to kill the discussion. It is valid an on topic in this thread.
    I just wanted to warn you that linguists have pretty much given up on trying to find any scientific way to distinguish between dialect and language and regard the very distinction as utterly useless from a purely linguistic point of view, arguing that it matters only in a sociocultural context.
     
  43. k8an Senior Member

    Melbourne, Australia.
    English - Australian
    Yiddish is spoken by Jewish communities all over. It is very popular in Melbourne, Australia, and Sydney amongst older Jews. This is also true all over Europe. Sadly, I cannot speak it, though I was raised heading it almost daily from my grandmother and used to understand it.
    It is "dying" in that Jewish communities now hardly ever teach it and focus heavily in some ways but there is a strong desire to revive it. I hope my children will actually learn it because I really miss that influence in my life and they deserve to hear a part of their history first hand.
     

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