Yiddish language


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Yiddish language

(yĭd`ĭsh), a member of the West Germanic group of the Germanic subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages (see Germanic languagesGermanic languages,
subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages, spoken by about 470 million people in many parts of the world, but chiefly in Europe and the Western Hemisphere.
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; German languageGerman language,
member of the West Germanic group of the Germanic subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages (see Germanic languages). It is the official language of Germany and Austria and is one of the official languages of Switzerland.
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).

Although it is not a national language, Yiddish is spoken as a first language by approximately 5 million Jews all over the world, especially in Argentina, Canada, France, Israel, Mexico, Romania, the United States, and the republics of the former USSR. Before the annihilation of 6 million Jews by the Nazis, it was the tongue of more than 11 million people. Growing out of a blend of a number of medieval German dialects, Yiddish arose c.1100 in the ghettos of Central Europe. From there it was taken to Eastern Europe by Jews who began to leave German-speaking areas in the 14th cent. as a result of persecution. By the 18th cent. Yiddish was almost universal among the Jews of Eastern Europe. It has generally accompanied Eastern European Jews in their migrations to other parts of the world.

Phonetically, Yiddish is closer to Middle High German than is modern German. Although the vocabulary of Yiddish is basically Germanic, it has been enlarged by borrowings from Hebrew, Aramaic, some Slavic and Romance languages, and English. Written from right to left like Hebrew, Yiddish also uses the Hebrew alphabet with certain modifications. In 1925 the Yiddish Scientific Institute (YIVO) was established in Vilnius, Lithuania. It served as an academy to oversee the development of the language. Later its headquarters were transferred to New York City, where in time it became the Yivo Institute for Jewish Research. Coping with the problem of dialects, this institute has done much to bring about the standardization of Yiddish.

In the eyes of many, Yiddish has significance both as the language of an important literature as well as a unique expression of the Jewish people. It is widely thought that modern Yiddish literature began in 1864 with the publication of Das Kleyne Mentshele (The Little Man) by Mendele mocher sforimMendele mocher sforim
[Yid.,= Mendele the book peddler] , pseud. of Sholem Yakov Abramovich
, 1836–1917, Yiddish novelist. Born in Minsk, and orphaned at 14, he traveled with beggars through Ukraine.
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. Among the best-known writers in Yiddish literature are Sholem AleichemAleichem, Sholem
[Heb.,=Peace be upon you!], pseud. of Sholem Rabinowitz
, 1859–1916, Yiddish author, b. Russia. One of the great Yiddish writers, he is best known for his humorous tales of life among the poverty-ridden and oppressed Russian Jews of the late 19th
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, I. L. PeretzPeretz or Perez, Isaac Loeb
, 1852–1915, Jewish poet, novelist, playwright, and lawyer, b. Zamosc, Poland.
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, Isaac Meier Dik, and Isaac Bashevis SingerSinger, Isaac Bashevis
, 1904–91, American novelist and short-story writer in the Yiddish language, younger brother of I. J. Singer, b. Leoncin, Poland (then in Russia).
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, the first writer in the language to be awarded (1978) the Nobel Prize in Literature. Thousands of Yiddish works are housed at the Yiddish Book Center at Hampshire College, Amherst, Mass.

Bibliography

See M. I. Herzog et al., ed., The Field of Yiddish: Studies in Language, Folklore, and Literature (1969); M. Weinreich, History of the Yiddish Language (1980); D. Katz, Grammar of the Yiddish Language (1987); D. G. Roskies, A Bridge of Longing: The Lost Art of Yiddish Storytelling (1995).

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References in periodicals archive ?
The Workmen's Circle offers Yiddish language classes, online.
When she's not teaching, Kamoshida, 38, runs adult education Yiddish language and culture programs.
Yehoash's translation of the Bible in a popular Yiddish signifies more for the Yiddish language and culture than one can express.
Glatstein's paradoxical sense of self-worth is stunning, especially since he was a writer who was buried in the Yiddish language, often declaiming his preference to live the "gheno-life" (ghetto-lebn), rather than translate himself for other audiences.
Wood highlights the deepening schisms growing between the most religiously orthodox Jewish participants, for whom the Yiddish language is still a vernacular, and secular Yiddishists, for whom Yiddish language and culture align with progressive ethics and radical politics.
Synopsis: After the Holocaust's near complete destruction of European Yiddish cultural centers, the Yiddish language was largely viewed as a remnant of the past, tragically eradicated in its prime.
It offers a fresh interpretation of how political mobilization influenced the Yiddish language, but it has less to say about how these developments shaped social practices and individual identities.
Located in the centre of Bucharest, in a district that was home to more than 300,000 Jews before the Holocaust and the Communist dictatorship, it features plays in the Yiddish language. The theatre opened in 1940 and was allowed to continue its activities during the .World War II, sheltering Jewish actors and playwrights banned from other cultural institutions.
Nathan Birnbaum (1864-1937) is a perplexing (and oft-ignored) figure because of his transitioning roles as a founding figure of Zionism, a promoter of the Yiddish language (generally looked down upon by Hebrew-promoting Zionists), and a major presence in the early years of Agudath Israel (an international Orthodox political organization at least initially opposed to Zionism).
The very existence of these recordings, especially the locally produced ones, in the AAJM can be regarded as physical evidence of the vitality of Yiddish language and culture in a substantial portion of Melbourne's Jewish community during the immediate post-Holocaust era.
"The Oy Way: Following the Path of Most Resistance" is a humorous delve into the Yiddish language as author Harvey Gotliffe writes how to use the language's unique expressions to spice up one's languages, with a touch of meditative exercise in the process.
Opportunities for Jews to participate in the dominant culture in countries that emancipated their Jewish populations, such as France or Germany, entailed abandoning their distinctiveness, notably their Yiddish language. Conversely, in the Russian Empire, where Jews remained unemancipated and marginalized even after generations of residence, the 1897 census indicated that 97% of Jews had Yiddish as mother tongue while only a quarter claimed Russian literacy (Fishman 2005, 6).