Question: What is Yiddish?
Answer: Yiddish (meaning "Jewish") is a Jewish hybrid language that has been spoken by Ashkenazi Jews (Jews from eastern and central Europe) since the Middle Ages.
Yiddish is mostly German in its linguistic structure and vocabulary, but it is written in Hebrew characters. Originally, Hebrew words pertaining to Jewish religious life were added to German. Later, when the bulk of European Jewry moved eastward, Slavic words were added. Yiddish today is about 85 percent German, 10 percent Hebrew, 5 percent Slavic, with traces of Romanian, French, and other elements.
Yiddish originated in the Rhineland cities of Germany in the early Middle Ages (c.1000-1250). The first recognizable Yiddish texts date from the 14th century. Yiddish spread all over Europe over the next few centuries. More Jews have spoken Yiddish than any other language. Prior to the Holocaust, Yiddish-speakers accounted for 75 percent of world Jewry, or about 11 million people. During the Holocaust, about 75 percent of the world's Yiddish speakers were killed.
Today Yiddish is spoken by about 4 million Jews, located primarily in Argentina, Canada, France, Israel, Mexico, Romania, and the United States. In the late 20th century, a Russian-Yiddish dictionary and a few novels in Yiddish were published by Russian Jews. In Israel, Yiddish is a second language to Hebrew and is cultivated mostly by older Israelis who have an eastern European background. In America, the study of Yiddish language and literature is enjoying a revival on some college campuses. Some common Yiddish words found in English today include shlamazel (unlucky person), mishugana (crazy person), shlep (drag), kvetsh (complainer), goyim (non-Jews), nosh (snack), and mentsh (gentleman). SPECIAL CHARACTER: Since Yiddish was spoken by ordinary people rather than by scholars, its vocabulary is simple. Since European Jews had little contact with nature, Yiddish has few words descriptive of nature. In contrast, Yiddish has a wealth of words and expressions descriptive of character and of relations among people. Terms of endearment and proverbial expressions are considerable. Thus, Yiddish has a uniquely warm and personal flavor.