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Origins of Yiddish Dialects$

Alexander Beider

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780198739319

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198739319.001.0001

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(p.520) Appendix A Yiddish dialect of PhilogLottus 1733

(p.520) Appendix A Yiddish dialect of PhilogLottus 1733

Origins of Yiddish Dialects

Alexander Beider

Oxford University Press

In 1733, a book entitled Kurtze unde gründliche Anweisung zur Teutsch-Jüdischen Sprache was published in Freiberg (Saxony). The author used the pen name PhilogLottus.1 Several characteristics imply that he describes a WY variety.

In the book in question, we regularly find /f/ for veth. Among examples are: chafrusse ‘society’ (חַבְרוּתָא‎) and afnet ‘girdle’ (אַבְנֵט‎) (pp. 18, 29). Of all the Yiddish varieties known in the twentieth century, the reflex /f/ for veth is known only in AlsY and SwY. During the first half of the nineteenth century, this reflex was also specific to FrY, another subdialect of SWY, and a reference is found in a work written by Gilardone (1835), a Christian author from Speyer.2 Yet, sources from certain other regions do not have /f/ even during the eighteenth century. Among them are: Selig 1792, Friedrich 1784, and Tirsch 1780 who describe Yiddish in Saxony, East Prussia, and Prague, respectively. All of them, exactly like Philog Lottus 1733, address a Christian audience. As a result, it is appropriate to consider that the variety described by PhilogLottus was different from that covered by the three books in question.

PhilogLottus uses the spelling ou not only for ḥolem but for qameṣ also. Among the examples are: chous’n ‘bridegroom’ (חָתָן‎) and kousch’r (כָּשֵׁר‎) ‘kosher.’3 In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the merging of phonemes corresponding to these Hebrew vowels (proto-vowels O2 and A2, respectively) again represents an idiosyncrasy of SWY only. However, indirect data indicate the possibility of the same phenomenon being valid in the past in the middle Rhine area too.4

Initial /si/ in sikes ‘Sukkoth (Jewish holiday)’ (p. 32) is specific to SWY and the middle Rhine area. However, it is unknown in WY of northern Germany, EGY, and CzY.5 The same geographical area applies in the case of the GERMAN NEUTRALIZATION OF CONSONANTS for which a number of examples are found in the book in question: beire ‘fruit’ (p. 24, פְּרִי‎) and moute sey ‘to admit’ (p. 15, מוֹדֶה‎; compare StY moyde zayn).6 The presence of /e/ instead of /a/ before /š/ in the spelling wäschn ‘to wash’ (p. 55) connects the idiom covered by PhilogLottus only to Yiddish varieties known in Western Europe. In Central and Eastern Europe, the cognate form has /a/; compare StY vashn.7 Among other typical WY particularities are:

  • /a:/ in raaf ‘rabbi’ (p. 41) known in all of WY; see feature {v20} in section 3.7.4;

  • /o/ in doleth ‘daleth’ (p. 1) specific to SWY, WphY, and DuY; see feature {v21} in section 3.7.4 (Table 3.30);

  • Elision of final /n/ in sey ‘to be’ (pp. 10, 11, etc.) known in WY and CzY; see feature {C40} in section 2.2.5;

  • Romanisms ohr’n ‘to pray’ and praijn ‘to invite’ (pp. 16, 20) found mainly in WY and DuY and rarely in CzY; see section 4.7.2.

The form bsulchen (p. 32), a diminutive of ‘virgin’ (בְּתוּלָה‎), is the only element that contradicts SWY. Indeed, it includes the suffix that appears in Jewish sources only in the area of Central German (to which it is limited in dialects spoken by German Christians), as well as in northern German provinces and the Netherlands where (p.521) Jewish communities were created by migrants from Central Germany.8 We cannot be totally sure that this suffix was indeed used in the dialect described by PhilogLottus. In principle, he could have taken this form from the vernacular speech of some Saxonian Jews (note the form bssulche in Selig 1792:43), or even some written sources. However, if his book does not represent a compilation from other authors and he really does describe just one specific variety of Yiddish, then the variety in question most likely corresponds to the Frankfurt-Mainz-Worms area. Only this region may (in theory) be compatible with all the features enumerated above.


(1) Usually in Yiddish studies, it is considered that his real name was (most likely) J. Ph. Lütke; see, for example, Weinreich 1957:48, 1993:170, Birnbaum 1979:354, and Katz 1983:1038. This idea was suggested in Avé-Lallemant 1862:233.

(2) See feature {c14} in section 3.4.5.

(3) In numerous other words, qameṣ is expressed via o: compare bosor (בָּשָׂר‎) ‘meat,’ chosid (חָסִיד‎) ‘pious man,’ zohof (זָהָב‎) ‘gold,’ rosch haschono (הַשָּׁנָה‎ רֹאשׁ‎) ‘Jewish New Year,’ meschores (מְשָׁרֵת‎) ‘servant,’ and brocho (בְּרָכָה‎) ‘benediction.’

(4) See sections 6.2.3 and 2.3.1 (feature {V5}).

(5) See footnote for Table 3.20 (section 3.7.1). The form sikes is also valid for PolY and UkrY. However, these forms are irrelevant to our context: PhilogLottus is certainly not describing a dialect of EY.

(6) See feature {C20} in section 2.2.2). These examples are due to Weinreich (1957:48).

(7) See feature {V20} in section 2.3.2.

(8) See feature {M1} in section 2.5.