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date: 28 May 2024


The Oxford Companion to the English Language
Tom McArthurTom McArthur, Jacqueline Lam-McArthurJacqueline Lam-McArthur, Lise FontaineLise Fontaine

The language used by Jews of Eastern and Central Europe and their descendants, spoken for nearly a thousand years and until World War II the most widely used Jewish language of modern times, with over 11m speakers. Currently, there are about 2m speakers worldwide, mostly in North and South America, Israel, and the Soviet Union, although this figure is very difficult to confirm with any accuracy, given how widespread the speakers are geographically. Yiddish is a Germanic language akin to English, but with a distinctive lexical component of about 18% HEBREW–Aramaic and 16% Slavic (Czech, Polish, Russian, Ukrainian) as well as Romance elements from Old French and Old Italian. It is the only Germanic language to be written in a non-Roman alphabet: like other Jewish languages, Yiddish is written in the Hebrew alphabet, and words of Hebrew or Aramaic origin retain their original spellings, while those of Germanic or other origin are spelled according to phonetic rules. Scholars divide Yiddish historically into four phases: ... ...

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