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Pages from Mayn alefbeys (My Alphabet),
Text: I. Kaminski, New York, 1945.
Illustrations: N. Kozlowski. (YIVO Library)

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.

The basic grammar and vocabulary of Yiddish, which is written in the Hebrew alphabet, is 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 (but not the only) 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.

Click here to learn the Yiddish alphabet, or alef-beys.

Click here to read "Basic Facts About Yiddish."

YIVO & Yiddish

The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research was founded as the Yiddish Scientific Institute in Vilna, Poland in 1925, by scholars, teachers, and other communal activists who saw the Yiddish language as the best medium for educating the Jewish population, and of giving the Jewish people access to their history and culture. The institution they developed produced ground-breaking scholarship in Yiddish and published scholarly journals, but also organized popular lectures, exhibitions, cultural evenings, and training seminars for teachers in Yiddish primary schools and high schools.

YIVO became the acknowledged authority on the Yiddish language and pioneered important linguistic research on Yiddish. The standards YIVO developed for Yiddish orthography, or spelling, and for the transliteration of Yiddish into English are the most commonly used by publishers and scholars. YIVO's Modern English-Yiddish Yiddish-English Dictionary, first published in 1968, has now appeared in several editions.

YIVO continues to serve as the "world headquarters" of the Yiddish language. Hundreds of students have attended its weekly Yiddish language courses or graduated from its intensive summer Yiddish program.

Links to Other Yiddish-related Web Sites

Der Bay: The Golden Gate to the World-Wide Yiddish Community
Online newsletter with lists of Yiddish-related events and resources.

The Dora Teitelboim Center for Yiddish Culture
Home page of a Yiddish culture organization based in Florida that offers online Yiddish courses and other cultural programming.

Eydes: Evidence of Yiddish Documented in European Societies
Digital archive of materials collected for The Language and Culture Atlas of Ashkenazic Jewry.

Friends of The Secular Yiddish Schools in America Collection
Web site about the collection on Yiddish secular schools at the Department of Special Collections at Stanford University Library.

Honey and Arsenic
The poetry of Alter Esselin.

Online Yiddish-language course created by the Fordverein fur Jiddische Sprache und Kultur in Dusseldorf, Germany.

LCAAJ Collection of Spoken Yiddish
Language and Culture Archive of Ashkenazic Jewry at Columbia University.

Living Traditions
Living Traditions runs the annual Yiddish Folk Arts Program, Klezkamp.

Mendele: Forum for Yiddish Literature and Yiddish Language
Home page of a newsgroup devoted to Yiddish scholarship.

The National Yiddish Book Center
Book repository, cultural center, and museum in Amherst, MA.

Online Yiddish Resources

Refoyl's yidish veb-bletl
Yiddish texts, a Yiddish song database, and resources for Yiddish computing.

Web page devoted to East European Jewish culture.

Yiddish (Jewish Language Research Web Site)
Comprehensive description of Yiddish and resources for further research.

The Yiddish Forward
Yiddish edition of the Forward, the American Jewish newspaper.

Cultural organization based in Los Angeles.

Yiddish-Language Playscripts in the Library of Congress
Facsimiles of manuscripts and printed plays from the Library's collections.

The Yiddish Radio Project: On the Air
Award-winning NPR radio documentary about the history of Yiddish radio.

The Yiddish Voice Links Page
A list of Yiddish resources compiled by The Yiddish Voice, a radio program in Boston, MA.

Yiddish Wit
Illustrated Yiddish Proverbs, Aphorisms, Insults, Curses, and Other Folk Sayings

Yugntruf - Youth for Yiddish
Yiddish-speakers' organization and journal based in New York.