Depending on your position in the world, mention of the Yiddish language could conjure up a range of different associations. Maybe the Laverne & Shirley theme song starts playing in your head, maybe it takes you on a journey deep into your own family history. Either way, Yiddish occupies an internationally relevant, deeply historical role – and its status as an endangered language is sounding an alarm worldwide that it’s time to take action to protect this important, culturally rich language.
Lately, Mango’s linguists and language lovers have been working overtime to promote and protect some of the world’s most endangered languages. From Scottish Gaelic to Dzongkha, we’ve been hard at work developing courses to shine a spotlight on these important languages and ensuring that anyone who wants to learn an endangered language has full access to them. From informative blog posts to brand new courses, we’re all about creating excitement around these awesome languages that just need a little extra love. Ready to get your Yiddish on? Here’s all you need to know to kickstart your ייִדיש (Yiddish) learning.
What you should know about Yiddish
- Yiddish is a fusion language. That means that as the language developed, bits and pieces of existing languages influenced and were incorporated into the Yiddish that we know today. Because Yiddish is so intertwined with its surrounding history, you can trace its linguistic origins by following the geography and culture of its speakers throughout time. In fact, it is largely accepted that Yiddish began to take form in the 10th century, when Ashkenazi Jews migrated from France and Italy to Germany and began to develop their own language. Similarly, as Jewish populations moved from Germany to Poland and other eastern European territories, Yiddish experienced influences from Slavic languages and began to move into its identity as a stand-alone, unique language. Today, Yiddish has echoes of Hebrew, Aramaic, German, Slavic, and Romance languages laced into its grammar and vocabulary. A little something for everybody.
- Yiddish is incredibly reflective of its historical context. You could argue that there is no Yiddish without the influences – for better or worse – of the historical experiences of its speakers. Importantly, the development and prevalence of Yiddish reflects the migration, persecution, and even genocide of its people. Throughout time, the Yiddish language has been affected by the languages, culture, and experiences that surround it, defining its linguistic existence and global identity. At times known as an exclusionary language and eventually duking it out with the demands of assimilation, Yiddish is a language that has fought for its place in the world and brings with it an important and complex cultural blueprint.
- Yiddish faced its defining tragedy during the Holocaust, when a staggering 5 million Yiddish speakers – 85 percent of the Jewish people killed during the persecutions – were lost. In the aftermath of these horrific acts, the surviving Yiddish speakers faced pressure in their new communities to abandon their language and adopt the local dialects. Today, there are only about 1.3 million Yiddish speakers remaining, spread throughout the globe in their respective communities.
- The first evidence of Yiddish as a written language dates back to 1272. Yiddish began as a spoken language, dating as far back as the 9th century. The earliest literary artifact of Yiddish appeared in a Hebrew prayer book, reading “May a good day come to him who carries this prayer book into the synagogue.” This connection between the Hebrew and Yiddish languages is a strong one, as the two continuously inform one another throughout history. Written Yiddish actually uses the Hebrew alphabet, although it often puts its own spin on the use of its letters and pronunciation. But if you’re already a Hebrew speaker, you’ll have a head start in learning Yiddish.
Why we should save Yiddish
We hope it goes without saying at this point, but Yiddish is much more than a language. The Yiddish language is inseparable from the culture and history of the Jewish people, and to lose it would equate to losing access to the subtleties of the Jewish experience, perspective, and culture that are intertwined into the language. Beyond the language itself exists a cultural renaissance of Yiddish arts, music, and literature that are pivotal to Jewish culture and beyond. From Sholem Aleichem’s stories about Tevye the Dairyman (the origins of Fiddler on the Roof!) to the klezmer music signature to Yiddish and Jewish culture, there’s a whole world of arts and culture just waiting for you when you choose to learn Yiddish.
Learn Yiddish with Mango
With Yiddish speakers scattered about the international community in dwindling numbers, there’s never been a better time to try your hand (האַנט) at learning Yiddish – you’ll be in good company. There’s been a recent surge in Yiddish learning, and some of the academic world’s most prestigious colleges are devoting entire departments to Yiddish studies. Here at Mango, we’re right there with them.
We’re providing unlimited public access to our endangered language courses – if you’ve got an interest, we’ve got a course. Simply log on and and create your free account to start learning. Interested in exploring other endangered languages? Stay tuned – we’ll be featuring more languages on the Mango Languages blog throughout the month. Start a course, save a language!