Skip to content
Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton February 28, 2014

Unity of the German component of Yiddish: myth or reality?

Alexander Beider EMAIL logo


The article deals with the question of the unity of the German component of Yiddish. Before the 16th century, the languages used in works compiled by various Jewish authors from western German-speaking provinces show close similarities to dialects spoken by local Christians and do not represent texts written in a single specifically Jewish language. Texts dating from the 16th to 17th centuries demonstrate the existence of two separate Jewish idioms: western and eastern. The former covers western Germany and northern Italy and is mainly based on East Franconian and Swabian. The latter characterizes works written in Bohemia and Poland. It is closely related to Bohemian colonial dialect of German. It is inappropriate to consider all varieties of modern Yiddish to be dialects of one single language. Indeed, the analysis shows that in many aspects, Southwestern Yiddish inherits features of East Franconian, while Eastern Yiddish is primary based on Bohemian. Its consonantal system was later adapted to the Silesian dialect spoken by German Christian urban population in Polish towns. These two Yiddish idioms inherit numerous features from the two languages, western and eastern, respectively, that existed during the 16th to 17th centuries. As a result, as a whole, Yiddish is not descending from any hypothetical Proto-Yiddish.

Published Online: 2014-2-28
Published in Print: 2014-3-1

©2014 by Walter de Gruyter Berlin/Boston

Downloaded on 27.1.2023 from
Scroll Up Arrow