The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Yiddish Language
YIDDISH LANGUAGE. Yiddish, the Englishized form of German Jüdisch (Jewish), of the names applied to the various German dialects spoken by the Jews of German origin in the diaspora, in Russia, Rumania, Poland and Austria-Hungary, and in England, America, and South Africa, whither Russian and Rumanian Jews have been emigrating in the last 30 years. In Russia it is known under the of Jargon, while philologically it is generally spoken of as Judeo-German.
No literary documents of any consequence bear upon the condition of this group of dialects previous to the 16th century, and even in the printed works up to a hundred years ago the literary norm seems to have attempted an approach to the literary German, though even then the deviation was considerable and fairly uniform. In the last century the spoken dialects have been asserting themselves in the literary productions, so that the uniformity no longer exists, each author writing in the variation familiar to him from childhood,
It seems that at first, in the Middle Ages, the German Jews employed the language of their Christian neighborhood without any change whatever; in their intercommunication with their coreligionists they transcribed this German with Hebrew characters and introduced, Germanizing them, such Hebrew words as were necessitated by the observances of the Mosaic faith. When the German Jews, in the 14th and 15th centuries, settled in Poland, they were cut off from the rest of the German nation, and so their native dialects perpetuated themselves in the form in which they were brought from their homes. They were subjected, however, to the double influence of their Slavic neighborhood and the language of the Bible and the Talmud, to which the Jews devoted themselves with unwonted zeal. In vocabulary, the Yiddish is predominantly German, less than one-third having been derived from Slavic, Rumanian and Hebrew sources. In pronunciation, the influence of Russian and Polish is doubtful or less transparent, while Hebrew, instead of affecting it, was itself affected by the current pronunciation of Yiddish. In syntax and idiom, both the Slavic and the Hebrew have considerably modified the native German, without, however, obliterating the original German basis. At present, three chief varieties may be distinguished in the Yiddish of Russia, the Lithuanian, the Polish, and the Southern; the dialects in Austria and Hungary are more nearly related to the two latter, while the Rumanian is more akin to the Polish variety. In America all three varieties may be heard, but they are strongly influenced in vocabulary by the English, and in the periodic press the Lithuanian variety, affected by literary German, seems to supersede all other dialects. The three varieties correspond to their places of origin in Germany, the Lithuanian issuing from a Middle-German home, the other two from various Upper-German localities. The precise provenience has not yet been ascertained, as the linguistic study of Yiddish has heretofore been greatly neglected.
The chief differences between Yiddish and the modern German are these: Phonetically, Yiddish represents a mediæval stage of German when, for example, i and ei were still carefully distinguished, while u before a nasal had not yet changed into o; on the other hand, the consonantism, especially the treatment of pf, seems to correspond to a later stage. The vocabulary of Yiddish is rich in words only sporadically found in German dialects and common to the Middle-High-German literary language. The words from the Hebrew are phonetically treated as Yiddish words, while those from Russian and Polish, to some extent, underwent the changes due to the peculiarity of Yiddish, and present some interesting data to the Slavic scholar. In grammar, Yiddish has developed certain peculiarities which are common to various German dialects. Most prominent are the disappearance of final unaccented e, of the genitive case in the declension of the noun, of the imperfect tense in the verb. In syntactic structure, Yiddish resembles English, rather than German, and in English-speaking countries naturally adopts some of the English idioms. But, on the whole, Yiddish is an important group of German dialects, well worthy of a thorough study by the Germanic philologist
Bibliography.— There are no good grammars of Yiddish; for dictionaries one may use the Russo-Yiddish ones by Litschiz and Dreisin, and the Yiddish-English and English-Yiddish ones by A. Harkavy. To the student of philology the following works and articles will prove of value: Landau, A., ‘Bibliographie des Judisch-deutschen,’ in Deutsche Mundarten, Zeitschrift für Bearbeitung des mundartlichen Materials (herausgegeben von Dr. Johann Willibald Nagl, Vienna 1896, Heft II, pp. 126-132); Landau, A., ‘Das Deminutivum der galizisch-judischen Mundart, Ein Kapitel aus der judischen Grammatik’ (ib., Vol. I, pp. 46-58); Cerzon, Jak, ‘Die judisch-deutsche Sprache, Eine grammatisch-lexikalische Untersuchung ihres deutschen Grundbestandes’ (Frankfurt a. M. 1902); Loewe, Richard, review of Gerzon's work, in Anzeiger für indogermanische Sprach- und Altertums-Kunde (Vol. XVI. 1904, pp. 43-50); Sainéan, L., ‘Essai sur le judéo-allemand et spécialement sur le dialecte parlé en Valachie’ (‘Extraits des Mémoires de la Société de Linguistique de Paris’), (Vol. XII, première partie, Paris 1902); Landau, A., review of Gerzon's and Sainéan's works, in Zeitschrift für deutsche Philologie (Vol. XXXVI, 1904); and a valuable bibliography of scattered articles by Fränkel, L., in Litteraturblatt für germanische und romanische Philologie (Vol. XXII, pp. 386-391).