Yiddish dialects

Yiddish dialects are variants of the Yiddish language and are divided according to the region in Europe where each developed its distinctiveness. Linguistically, Yiddish should be divided in distinct Eastern and Western dialects. From Eastern Yiddish, Northeastern dialects were dominant in 20th-century Yiddish culture and academia, while Southern dialects of Yiddish are now the most commonly spoken, preserved by many Hasidic communities.


Yiddish dialects (late 19th-early 20th century):
  Western dialects   Eastern dialects

Yiddish dialects are generally grouped into either Western Yiddish and Eastern Yiddish.[1][2] Western Yiddish developed from the 9th century in Western Europe, in the region which was called Ashkenaz by Jews, while Eastern Yiddish developed its distinctive features in Eastern Europe after the movement of large numbers of Jews from western to central and eastern Europe.

General references to the "Yiddish language" without qualification are normally taken to apply to Eastern Yiddish, unless the subject under consideration is Yiddish literature prior to the 19th century, in which case the focus is more likely to be on Western Yiddish.

Western Yiddish

While most Jews in the Rhineland who escaped persecution in the 14th century fled to the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, some continued to survive in the countryside of Switzerland, southern Germany and Alsace. They maintained Jewish customs and spoke Western Yiddish.[3]

Western Yiddish included three dialects: Northwestern (spoken in Northern Germany and the Netherlands), Midwestern (spoken in central Germany), and Southwestern (spoken in southern Germany, France, and neighboring regions extending into Northern Italy). These have a number of clearly distinguished regional varieties, such as Judeo-Alsatian, plus many local subvarieties.

The language traditionally spoken by the Jews of Alsace is Yédisch-Daïtsch or Judeo-Alsatian,[4] originally a mixture of German, Hebrew and Aramaic idioms and virtually indistinguishable from mainstream Yiddish. From the 12th century onwards, due among other things to the influence of the nearby Rashi school, French linguistic elements aggregated as well, and from the 18th century onwards, some Polish elements due to immigrants blended into Yédisch-Daïtsch too.[5]

According to C. J. Hutterer (1969), "In western and central Europe the WY dialects must have died out within a short time during the period of reforms [i.e. the movements toward Jewish emancipation] following the Enlightenment."[6] In the 18th century, Yiddish was declining in German-speaking regions, as Jews were acculturating, the Haskalah opposed the use of Yiddish, and preference for German grew. By the end of the 18th century, Western Yiddish was mostly out of use, though some speakers were discovered in these regions as late as the mid-20th century.[7]

Eastern Yiddish

Eastern Yiddish is split into Northern and Southern dialects.[7] Northeastern Yiddish, also known as Litvish or Lithuanian Yiddish, was spoken in modern-day Lithuania, Belarus, Latvia, and portions of northeastern Poland, northern and eastern Ukraine, and western Russia.[7] The Southern dialects are again subdivided: Mideastern or Polish Yiddish was spoken in Poland, western Galicia and much of Hungary, while Southeastern or Ukrainian Yiddish was spoken in Volhynia, Podolia, and Bessarabia (Romania).[7][nb 1]

Ukrainian Yiddish was the basis for standard theater Yiddish, while Lithuanian Yiddish was the basis of standard literary and academic Yiddish.[7][nb 2]

About three-quarters of contemporary Yiddish speakers speak Southern Yiddish varieties, the majority speaking Polish Yiddish.[7] Most Hasidic communities use southern dialects, with the exception of Chabad which uses Litvish; many Haredim in Jerusalem also preserve Litvish Yiddish.[7]

Udmurtish Dialect

Jews in Udmurtia and Tatarstan (the Yiddish appellation is "dos udmurtishe yidntum") formed the local dialect until the 1930s and features of Yiddish of migrants "joined" into it (in the 1930s and 1940s);[8] as a result up to the 1970s and 1980s the Udmurt dialect (Udmurtish) was divided into two linguistic subgroups: the central subgroup (with centers Izhevsk, Sarapul and Votkinsk) and the southern subgroup (with centers Kambarka, Alnashi (see the rural Jewish community of Alnashsky District), Agryz and Naberezhnye Chelny).[8]

One of the characteristic features of the Udmurt dialect is a noticeable number of Udmurt and Tatar loan words.[9][10][11]

Differences Between Dialects

The primary differences between the contemporary dialects are in the quality of stressed vowels, though there are also differences in morphology, lexicon, and grammar.[7][12]

Northern dialects are more conservative in vowel quality, while southern dialects have preserved vowel quantity distinctions.[7]