is a language of European Jews and their descendants. Yiddish has been the language of the
Ashkenazim for about 1,000 years. The Ashkenazim are Jews primarily of central and eastern
European origin. Yiddish is generally classified as a Germanic language, like English,
German, Dutch, and the Scandinavian tongues--Icelandic, Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish.
However, Yiddish is written in Hebrew characters from right to left like Hebrew and
Aramaic, two Semitic languages used by the Jews.
Yiddish developed among Jews who spoke Judeo-Old-French and Judeo-Old-Italian, Jewish
dialects of the medieval French and Italian languages. These Jews migrated to
German-speaking regions and later eastward to Slavic lands, including Poland and Russia.
Yiddish developed from the resulting blend of medieval German city dialects with French,
Italian, Slavic, and Hebrew-Aramaic elements. Yiddish became the most widely spoken of all
Jewish languages. It is estimated that almost 90 percent of the Jews in Europe spoke
Yiddish during the late 1800's and early 1900's.
A highly developed Yiddish culture emerged over the centuries. This culture was expressed
in folklore and folk songs, religious and political publications, educational
institutions, theater, and motion pictures. Most important, Yiddish culture gave birth to
a rich and important literature. The Nazis, during their rule in Germany from 1933 to
1945, effectively destroyed European Yiddish civilization.
Millions of Yiddish-speaking European Jews immigrated to the United States and Canada
during the late 1800's and the early 1900's. Their language was influenced by English and,
in turn, Yiddish contributed many words to the American language. Words taken from Yiddish
include bagel, kibitz, and klutz.