Yiddish Basics

Basics of the language.

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alphabetThe Japanese-Chinese example is actually a close parallel to Yiddish-Hebrew, for this reason: Just as Japanese borrowed from Chinese its system of writing, along with many Chinese words, so Yiddish borrowed its system of writing from Hebrew, as well as many Hebrew words. And just as Japanese and Chinese are two totally different and unrelated languages, so too are Yiddish and Hebrew.


The few similarities between Yiddish and Hebrew can be summed up as follows:

• Both Yiddish and Hebrew are spoken and written primarily by Jews, and are the most widely spoken Jewish languages in the world.

• The two languages share the same alphabet.

• Both languages are read from right to left.

• Neither language uses capital letters.

• Words shared by both languages (Yiddish having borrowed them from Hebrew) are spelled identically--though their Romanized transcriptions may differ slightly to account for differences in pro­nunciation. Examples of such words are: Hebrew shalom, Yiddish sholem, both meaning peace; Hebrew yom tov, Yiddish yontev(hol­iday); Hebrew and Yiddish emes (true); sheker (falsehood). Yiddish has acquired hundreds of such common words from Hebrew.


The most important differences between Yiddish and Hebrew are these:

• Yiddish is a Germanic language, belonging to the Indo-European family of languages, while Hebrew is a Semitic language, belonging to the Afroasiatic family of languages.

• Yiddish is what linguists call a "fusion language," meaning that it has integrated within its Germanic structure elements from such diverse languages as Hebrew, Aramaic, Old Italian, Old French, Czech, Polish, Ukrainian, and Russian. By contrast, Hebrew con­sists almost entirely of pure Semitic stock.

• Yiddish is spoken chiefly by Jews of East European origin or descent. Hebrew is spoken chiefly by Israeli Jews or Jews of Middle Eastern origin or descent.

• In Yiddish, words of more than one syllable are generally stressed on the penultimate (or next-to-the-last) syllable. In Hebrew, words of more than one syllable are generally stressed on the last syllable. For example, Yiddish , Hebrew .

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Payson R. Stevens

Payson R. Stevens was President and Creative Director of InterNetwork Inc. and well as InterNetwork Media Inc.

Charles M. Levine

Charles M. Levine has worked as an editor and publisher for over three decades. He conducts editing workshops for undergraduates at Hofstra University.

Sol Steinmetz

Sol Steinmetz is an expert on etymologies and lexicographer. He has published over 35 dictionaries and reference books and served as an editorial director for Random House Reference.