High German-derived language used by Ashkenazi Jews

Yiddish is the historical language of the Ashkenazi Jews. Prior to the Holocaust, there were over 10 million speakers of Yiddish; Holocaust led to a massive decline in the use of the language. Assimilation following World War II further decreased the use of Yiddish both among survivors and Yiddish-speakers from other countries.


  • [Yiddish is] a treasure trove for the study of language and culture in general: cultural interaction, semiotics of cultural history, and languages in contact.
    • Benjamin Harshav. The Meaning of Yiddish (1990), page xvexternal link
  • Yiddish was a rich, living language, the chattering tongue of an urban population. It had the limitations of its origins. There were few Yiddish words for animals and birds. It had virtually no military vocabulary. Such voids were filled by borrowing from German, Polish and Russian. Yiddish was particularly good at borrowing: from Arabic, from Hebrew, from Aramaic and from anything with which it intersected. On the other hand, it contributed: English - American. Its chief virtue lay in its internal subtlety, particularly in its characterization of human types and emotions. It was the language of street wisdom, of the clever underdog, of pathos, resignation and suffering, all of which it palliated by humor, intense irony and superstition. It has been said the Yiddish is the only language never spoken by anyone in power.
    • Paul Johnson, A History of the Jews (1988)
  • Yiddish, the language which will ever bear witness to the violence and murder inflicted on us, bear the marks of our expulsions from land to land, the language which absorbed the wails of the fathers, the laments of the generations, the poison and bitterness of history, the language whose precious jewels are the undried, uncongealed Jewish tears.
  • To me the Yiddish language and the conduct of those who spoke it are identical. One can find in the Yiddish tongue and in the Yiddish spirit expressions of pious joy, lust for life, longing for the Messiah, patience and deep appreciation of human individuality. There is a quiet humor in Yiddish and a gratitude for every day of life, every crumb of success, each encounter of love. The Yiddish mentality is not haughty. It does not take victory for granted. It does not demand and command but it muddles through, sneaks by, smuggles itself amidst the powers of destruction, knowing somewhere that God's plan for Creation is still at the very beginning. [...] Yiddish has not yet said its last word. It contains treasures that have not been revealed to the eyes of the world. It was the tongue of martyrs and saints, of dreamers and Cabalists - rich in humor and in memories that mankind may never forget. In a figurative way, Yiddish is the wise and humble language of us all, the idiom of frightened and hopeful Humanity.
    • Isaac Bashevis Singer, Nobel Lecture. external link originally from Nobel Lectures, Literature 1968-1980, Editor-in-Charge Tore Frängsmyr, Editor Sture Allén, World Scientific Publishing Co., Singapore, 1993
  • People ask me often, 'Why do you write in a dying language?' [...] I like to write ghost stories and nothing fits a ghost better than a dying language. The deader the language the more alive is the ghost. Ghosts love Yiddish and as far as I know, they all speak it.

    Secondly, not only do I believe in ghosts, but also in resurrection. I am sure that millions of Yiddish speaking corpses will rise from their graves one day and their first question will be: "Is there any new Yiddish book to read?" For them Yiddish will not be dead. [...] Yiddish may be a dying language but it is the only language I know well. Yiddish is my mother language and a mother is never really dead.

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