Why is Yiddish so Similar to German in Certain Respects

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages and Linguistics (EHL)' started by LilianaB, Dec 15, 2011.

  1. LilianaB Senior Member

    US New York
    Lithuanian
    I was just wondering why is Yiddish so similar to German in certain respects? Would it be considered a Germanic language? As far as I know it is also based on Hebrew. Which language did the Jewish people speak when they lived in Eastern Europe in the 8-9th centuries. Apparently they lived In Lithuania that early. I always thought that they came to Europe in the 13th-15th century. When did they start speaking Yiddish?
     
  2. tFighterPilot Senior Member

    Israel - Hebrew
    Well, it is classified as a Germanic language. It evolved from middle German. You can read all about it in Wikipedia.

    When did the Jews come to Europe isn't a very simple question to answer. There is evidence of Jews living in Europe since antiquity (mostly in Greece at first). The major movement to Europe happened when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70AD. For the next 1000 years or so, there is very little known about the Jews in Europe, but apparently they've been in Germany for quite some time, enough time to start speaking German instead of Aramaic. When the Jews moved to the east, they continued to speak the language, but it stopped evolving along side with German, which is why Yiddish isn't identical to German. The Jews who stayed in Germany, like my most of grandparents' ancestors, continued to speak the same German that was spoken by Germans and not Yiddish.
     
  3. LilianaB Senior Member

    US New York
    Lithuanian
    Thank you. Would most Jewish people speak Yiddish in Europe, let's say in the Middle Ages? Did some still speak Hebrew or Aramaic?
     
  4. tFighterPilot Senior Member

    Israel - Hebrew
    Not in every day life, but Hebrew was needed to read the bible and Aramaic was needed to read the Talmud and Mishna.
     
  5. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    This is not 100% accurate. When you compare medieval and modern Yiddish you see some co-evolution with German. Obviously, German and Yiddish retained some form of a Sprachbund probably caused by overlapping speaker groups (in Poland, e.g., more educated Jews spoke German and not Yiddish at home) and by influence of German literature on Yiddish. There was also some Yiddish influence on German manifest in loan words like Schlamassel (originally bad luck but now meaning difficult situation) or Ganove (thief, gangster).

    Linguistically, the classifications of Yiddish as a German dialect or as a separate languages would be equally justifiable. It is more a question of cultural identity. Until about 150 years ago, Yiddish speakers generally identified there own language as "Teytsch" ("German"); the Yiddish word for "translating into Yiddish" still is "farteytshen", literally "to germanify". With the introduction of a literary standard in the second half of the 19th century, Yiddish speakers started to view what they spoke as a language in its own right and not as a German dialect, or rather a group of dialects as there substantial variation between regional dialects within Yiddish.
     
    Last edited: Dec 16, 2011
  6. LilianaB Senior Member

    US New York
    Lithuanian
    Is Yiddish written in the Hebrew alphabet?
     
  7. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    Yes.
     
  8. LilianaB Senior Member

    US New York
    Lithuanian
    Thank you.
     
  9. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    Here is a sample for illustration: It is the first sentence of the article on Yiddish in the Yiddish edition of Wikipedia:
    יידיש אדער אידיש (...) גערופֿן ביי אידן אלס מאַמע לשון, איז אַ שפּראַך װאָס װערט הײַנט גערעדט ביי 1.5 מיליאָן יידן

    Transliteration (using German phonetic values of letters):
    Jiddisch oder Iddisch (...) gerufn bej Iddn als Mamme Loschn is a Sprach wos wert hejnt geredt bej 1.5 milljon Jiddn.

    Word-by-word transformation into Standard German:
    Jiddish oder Iddisch (...) gerufen bei Juden als Mutter Sprache ist eine Sprache was wird heute geredet bei 1.5 Millionen Juden.

    This is perfectly understandable to a German but not idiomatic. Transformation into idiomatic Standard German:
    Jiddisch oder Iddisch, von Juden Muttersprache genannt, ist eine Sprache, die heute von 1.5 Millionen Juden gesprochen wird.

    The only Hebrew loan is לשון, Modern Hebrew pronunciation lashon, Yiddisch (Ashkenazi) pronunciation loshn meaning language. All other words are of German origin.
     
    Last edited: Dec 18, 2011
  10. LilianaB Senior Member

    US New York
    Lithuanian
    Thank you. Now I have a clear idea about the language. I had some confused notions that it was a language from a different group just with similarities to German, probably because of the way it is written.
     
  11. Ben Jamin Senior Member

    Norway
    Polish
    Some linguists express the opinion that Yiddish shows similarity in grammar and phonetic development similar to Dutch and Afrikaans. Actually, many Yiddish words sound more like Low German or Dutch than like High German (but maybe this is a feature inherited from High German before the later sound shifts).
     

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