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Yiddish

Yiddish theater

In the early thirteenth century Ashkenazic Jews living in Germany, Austria, Bohemia and other Germanic lands began to speak a dialect of low German that soon turned itself into a jargon of German and Hebrew with some old French and Slavic words also thrown into the mix.     In earlier centuries during the lifetime of Rashi (Rabbi Isaac Yitzchaki, 1040-1105, Troyes, France) the Ashkenazic Jews of France spoke the vernacular tongue of the area – old French. The small Jewish community in England then spoke Chaucerian English interspersed with old French as well. Since the time of the Norman conquest of England much old French had already seeped into the English of the time. However, after the expulsion of the Jews from both England and France in the thirteenth century the Ashkenazim trekked eastward into Germany, Central Europe, Lithuania and Poland and eventually Russia. There they fully developed their own unique language, which soon became known as Yiddish – literally, Jewish. Based on German, Yiddish absorbed within its vocabulary many Hebrew words, biblical, midrashic and Talmudic phrases, Slavic and Polish words and a semi-sing-song intonation reminiscent of Jewish prayer and study melody. As a living language it constantly developed and expanded over the centuries.

Even though there were strong differences in dialect and pronunciation between Ashkenazic Jews living in these different countries, Yiddish became the universal language of Ashkenazic Jewry wherever these Jews were living or travelling. It achieved its own status as being “mamaloshen” – the beloved mother tongue of Ashkenazic Jewry. Yiddish also developed colloquialisms, sayings and wry comments on life and   people   – all almost untranslatable into any other language – that became its identifying hallmark. It is a language of nuance more than vocabulary. As a folk language possessing few rules of grammar and syntax Yiddish has an earthiness, sometimes even a touch of vulgarity to it, a true reflection of everyday Jewish life. There is also a certain melancholy in its phrases but paradoxically it contains much wry humor and bemused comments about human foibles and life generally. And its sayings and metaphors many times also remained as the only safe way to mock and ridicule the oppressors and enemies of the Jews and the difficulties of Jews living under foreign and hostile rule. click here to read more

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