Welcome to Columbia University’s Yiddish website at the Language Resource Center. We invite you to explore the website as we continue to grow its contents.
What is Yiddish?
Yiddish was the vernacular language of most Jews in Eastern and Central Europe before World War II. Today, it is spoken by descendants of those Jews living in the United States, Israel, and other parts of the world.
Yiddish is written in the Hebrew alphabet and its basic grammar and vocabulary are Germanic. Yiddish, however, is not a dialect of German but a complete language‚ one of a family of Western Germanic languages, that includes English, Dutch, and Afrikaans. Yiddish words often have meanings that are different from similar words in German.
The term "Yiddish" is derived from the German word for "Jewish." The most accepted theory of the origin of Yiddish is that it began to take shape by the 10th century as Jews from France and Italy migrated to the German Rhine Valley. They developed a language that included elements of Hebrew, Jewish-French, Jewish-Italian, and various German dialects. In the late Middle Ages, when Jews settled in Eastern Europe, Slavic elements were incorporated into Yiddish.
(Poster Artist: Tamara Londner)