Yiddish Dialects

Matthew Chriswood

New Member
Danish - Denmark

My question is on Yiddish dialects. The thing is that I'm very interested in learning Yiddish but it seems like there are multiple - very different - dialects. The study material I've used so has, for instance, claimed that there are three definite articles (that might change depending on the case of the noun to which it belongs) for all three genders: der/dem/dem (m.), di/di/der (f.), dos/dos/dem (n.). However, I talked to a native Yiddish speaker online a couple of days ago and he told me that the only definite article in Yiddish is de/di (depending on the pronunciation). As a matter of fact, it seems that a lot of what I have learned using my study books is very different from how Yiddish is actually spoken.

Could anyone please tell me why it seems that my study material is so different from actual Yiddish? Is it just because the native speaker I talked to speaks a different dialect (he is a Hasidic Jew living in NYC) or is my study material archaic (I wouldn't think so since everything I've read so far has been in accordance with other resources)?

Another example: In my textbook it says that "I put the potatoes in the oven an hour ago" is "Ikh hob geshtelt di bulbes in oyvn mit a sho tsurik" in Yiddish (if I remember correctly; there might have been a definite article preceding "oyvn"), but the native speakers disagrees and says that isn't how he would say it in Yiddish. He'd say, and I'm quoting his message: "Ikh hub gelaigt de kartoffeln in de oyven a shoo tzerik".

This whole thing has gotten me quite confused and I am now insecure with regards to what dialect to study - any help clarifying this mess would be greatly appreciated - a sheynem dank in advance!

URL: Yiddish Dialects
  • duvija

    Senior Member
    Spanish - Uruguay
    Yes, dialects, dialects! some have the neutral, some don't.
    You may use the article or not.
    And then, you have to deal with the vowels (lots of differences among dialects). For consonants, it's not that bad. ([s] vs [sh]) depending on Litvak or Galitzianer.
    I don't know what to tell you. You may choose one dialect or follow 'Standard Yiddish' with its own problems (namely, that as an invented Standard, no one actually speaks it...)
    My family is from Poland (now the former shtetl is a city in the Ukraine) and we don't have or yod [y]. For me it's 'a unt', 'a ant' and [idish] (instead of [ hunt, hant, yidish]. I grew up in the total mixture of Yiddish spoken by my friends' parents and was totally oblivious of the differences, even after going to Yiddish school for many years. Only later, I discovered it was a total mess, but not a problem for young kids. You get what you get.
    (One of my father's friend was from Bessarabia. Instead of [a] he had [o]. Mome, tote, and even 'mote'!!! (for Spanish 'mate', the drink so common in Uruguay and Argentina, with a gourd and a straw, with 'yerba mate'.)


    Senior Member
    I know exactly how you feel.
    My grandmother from my mother's side (Polish, native speaker of Yiddish) practically raised us. She spoke, and still does, in Hebrew with us the grandchildren, but in Yiddish with my mother and uncle. My grandparents from my father's side are also native Yiddish speakers from Romania, but it never occurred to me they speak differently, until I enrolled in a Yiddish course during my BA.
    I learned "Standard Yiddish" and I quickly noticed my grandparents speak differently, from each other and from me.
    My grandmother's dialect is closer to "Standard Yiddish". She claims her dialect is Lithuanian but I notice she lacks the s-sh variation, and does not change u into i.
    She speaks using the case system with der/dem, di/der (I was shocked to notice she does this), and dos/dem. My Romanian grandparents only use di, and u and o are more often than not i (טאן [ton] "to do" is always [tin] for example).

    My grandparents never had problems communicating with each other, neither did my mom who speaks with her in-laws in Yiddish only, so I would suggest to just choose what's most comfortable for you (full case system, or just di). ווי דו וילסט (vi du vilst) :).
    When I speak Yiddish I try to speak with der/di/dos and their accusative and dative counterparts, but I have no problem using di when I'm not sure of the gender.

    From my experience, Yiddish speakers are astonished to meet someone under the age of 70 (let alone a young one) who speaks their language. They won't care you use only di, or pronounce u where they would pronounce i. They might speak the same way anyway.

    More power to you for learning Yiddish. It's such a cool and funny language consolidating a culture, and in some ways, a way of life long gone.

    זאל זיין מיט הצלחה Zol zayn mit hatslokhe


    Senior Member
    Spanish - Uruguay
    The example used in Yiddish to show the 'standard' is "punkt kapoyres", which in real life is either 'pinkt kapoyres' or 'punkt kapeires', so the Standard doesn't exist.
    And for your verb 'to do' /ton/ is either [tun] or [tin].

    BTW, I'm 72, was for 30 years part of the Yiddish theater in Uruguay, and taught here and there (I'm a linguist).


    Senior Member
    I know right?
    I guess the "standard" was created to ease the learning process for students (as few as they are), but no doubt it represents little, to not at all, the linguistic reality of the speakers. It's the only way of giving a language like Yiddish (which is taking its last breath) a chance to maybe survive.

    I'm a linguist too, just finished my BA in Generative Linguistics.
    Shalom from Israel!


    New Member
    English-USA, Hebrew, Yiddish
    What you are describing sounds very much like modern, Hasidic Yiddish; while some modern speakers of Yiddish retain the three genders and the numerous declensions, much of the declension, particularly with regards to the direct article, has fallen away in recent years (much like the historical progression of the article in English and Dutch). Most modern, native Yiddish speakers will say de for singular and di for plural regardless of gender.

    Regarding the word for potato, I've never heard anyone say anything other than kartofeln.


    Senior Member
    Spanish - Uruguay
    For me, it's the 'normal' one. The 'soft l' normally comes from words of Slavic origin with that sound.
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