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Yiddish  

Lea Schäfer

The Yiddish language is directly linked to the culture and destiny of the Jewish population of Central and Eastern Europe. It originated as the everyday language of the Jewish population in the German-speaking lands around the Middle Ages and underwent a series of developments until the Shoah, which took a particularly large toll on the Yiddish-speaking Eastern European Jewish population. Today, Yiddish is spoken as a mother tongue almost exclusively in ultra-Orthodox communities, where it is now exposed to entirely new influences and is, thus, far from being a dead language. After an introductory sketch, information on the geographical distribution and number of speakers as well as key historical developments are briefly summarized. Particularly important are the descriptions of the various sociolinguistic situations and the source situation. This is followed by a description of various (failed) attempts at standardization, as well as the geographical distribution and surveys of the dialects. The following section describes the status of Yiddish in the early 21st century, which overlaps with the sociolinguistic situation of Orthodox Yiddish. Finally, the linguistic features of modern Eastern Yiddish (dialects, standard, and Orthodox) are presented. In this context, linguistic levels and structures in which Yiddish differs from other (standard) Germanic languages are also discussed. Since Yiddish, as a language derived from Middle High German, is particularly close to German varieties, the differences and similarities between the two languages are particularly emphasized.

Article

Judeo-Romance in Italy and France (Judeo-Italian, Judeo-French, Judeo-Occitan)  

Laura Minervini

The linguistic history of the Italian, French, and Occitan Jewish communities may be reconstructed thanks to the survival of both written records and modern dialects. The situation of the three groups, however, sharply diverges in terms of quality and quantity of the available sources and retention of their linguistic identity after the medieval period. For the Jewish communities of the Italo-Romance area, there is a corpus of medieval and modern texts, mostly in Hebrew script, and with several dialectological inquiries for modern and contemporary dialects. As for the Jewish communities of Northern France, only a limited corpus of medieval written sources exists, because the French-speaking Jews were linguistically assimilated to their respective environments after the 1394 expulsion from the kingdom of France. On the other hand, the records of the Occitan-speaking Jews are scanty for both the medieval and the modern periods, when they apparently maintained a certain amount of linguistic distinctiveness.

Article

Judeo-Spanish (Judezmo, Ladino)  

David M. Bunis

The Ibero-Romance-speaking Jews of medieval Christian Iberia were linguistically distinct from their non-Jewish neighbors primarily as a result of their language’s unique Hebrew-Aramaic component; preservations from older Jewish Greek, Latin, and Arabic; a tradition of translating sacred Hebrew and Aramaic texts into their language using archaisms and Hebrew-Aramaic rather than Hispanic syntax; and their Hebrew-letter writing system. With the expulsions from Iberia in the late 15th century, most of the Sephardim who continued to maintain their Iberian-origin language resettled in the Ottoman Empire, with smaller numbers in North Africa and Italy. Their forced migration, and perhaps a conscious choice, essentially disconnected the Sephardim from the Spanish language as it developed in Iberia and Latin America, causing their language—which they came to call laðino ‘Romance’, ʤuðezmo or ʤuðjó ‘Jewish, Judezmo’, and more recently (ʤudeo)espaɲol ‘Judeo-Spanish’—to appear archaic when compared with modern Spanish. In their new locales the Sephardim developed the Hispanic component of their language along independent lines, resulting in further differentiation from Spanish. Divergence was intensified through borrowing from contact languages of the Ottoman Empire such as Turkish, Greek, and South Slavic. Especially from the late 18th century, factors such as the colonializing interests of France, Italy, and Austro-Hungary in the region led to considerable influence of their languages on Judezmo. In the 19th century, the dismemberment of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires and their replacement by highly nationalistic states resulted in a massive language shift to the local languages; that factor, followed by large speech-population losses during World War II and immigration to countries stressing linguistic homogeneity, have in recent years made Judezmo an endangered language.