Why Study Yiddish with the KU Slavic Department?
Languages in the Slavic Department
Why Study Yiddish?
Yiddish is the language of European Jews and has been spoken since the Middle Ages in Western, Central, and Eastern Europe. It thrived most recently as the language of Jewish communities in the Austro-Hungarian and Russian Empires and vast numbers of its speakers emigrated at the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to the United States. A rich writing tradition in Yiddish, much of it still non-translated, remains even as the number of speakers dwindled in the second half of the twentieth century as a result of both the Holocaust and assimilation. Writers such as Sholem Aleikhem—the “Jewish Mark Twain”—wrote works in Yiddish that are part of the world literary treasures of the modern age. Yiddish is still spoken in Orthodox Jewish communities in Israel, Europe, and the United States and the language has undergone a revival among secular Jews on U.S. college campuses since the 1960s.
Linguists find Yiddish a particularly interesting language to study because of its blended nature: its lexicon is made up primarily of German, Hebrew, and Aramaic components, but it also has structural characteristics that reveal commonalities with Romance and Slavic languages.
Learning Yiddish is fun because it is the language of an ethnic group whose humor and musical sensibilities are inseparable from the language itself. Any course in Yiddish inevitably includes songs, jokes, riddles, and insults that reflect the essential elements of everyday discourse and life in Yiddishkeit.