Hebrew and Yiddish may seem like similar languages since they share the same alphabet. However, the similarities end there as various socio-political happenings drew a very clear line between the two.

Hebrew is a Semitic language while Yiddish is a Germanic Dialect that uses Hebrew words pronounced in a distinct Ashkenazic way.

The Yiddish language

Since Roman times, Jews have been living in an area called Ashkenaz that includes Germany, parts of Northern France, and Eastern Europe. They have created their distinctive culture that deviates from the original Jewish norm and are now called Ashkenazi Jews. They have their own language which is called Yiddish.

Yiddish is an abbreviated version of yidish-taytsh meaning Jewish German. It is considered by oppressors as the language of ‘Half-Jews’, a notion rooted since the Jewish Diaspora.

There were an estimated 13 million speakers of Yiddish before the Holocaust, according to Yiddish, a book by Yiddish scholar Dovid Katz. Today, that number has dropped down to 3 million. (Hebrew vs. Yiddish)

There are two Yiddish dialects: one is Western which was widely used in Central Europe until the 1800s and the other is Eastern which was used throughout Eastern Europe and Russia until the 2nd World War.

The language is preferred for everyday conversation as well as for literature and theatre.

The Hebrew language

Hebrew is a part of the Semitic language from the Canaanite group and is one of the oldest languages of the world. It was used by the early Jews until it was replaced by Aramaic in 586 BC. The term ‘Hebrew’ is derived from Eber, the son of Shem, which means to pass over.

Over the years, the Hebrew language has undergone different forms. The Biblical or Classical Hebrew is the earliest form of the language, and is the one used by Jesus. The second period would be during AD 200 known as Mishnaic or Rabbinic Hebrew and is very different from the original form. The third is Medieval wherein Arabic written works were translated to Hebrew; and the last which is used to this day is referred to as Modern Hebrew. Revived by Eliezar Ben Yehuda, this form is mostly used for religious purposes.

Today, Hebrew is the liturgical language of Judaism and is regulated by the Academy of the Hebrew Language. It currently has around 10 Million users.

Differences in phonology and writing system

Hebrew phonology is characterised by two kinds of stresses:

  • milra’ – the stress is found on the last syllable.
  • mil’el – the stress is found in the penultimate or the one preceding the last syllable

There are specific guidelines that connect the location of the stress with the length of the vowels in this last syllable. This is not very evident in everyday speech or in writing. For example, okhel may mean ‘food’ or ‘eats’ depending on the location of the stress, similar to the English word ‘conduct’.

Their writing system is from right to left using 22 letters, all consonants. It originated from the Aramaic script.

Yiddish phonology takes its cues from German, Russian, Belarusian, Polish and Ukrainian, in that they are not allowed voiced stops that will be devoiced in final position. There are differences in Standard German and Standard Yiddish pronunciation primarily in the diphthongs and vowels.

The writing system uses the Hebrew script, where the silent Hebrew letters become the vowels in Yiddish text. Letters can be used as both consonants and vowels depending on context.

There are huge differences in literary practice, even though both languages use the same script.

We can help you with Hebrew translation services from and into any language. Read more about our services here.

The Alphabet

The Hebrew Alphabet, which is also known as Jewish or Square scripts, is both used by the Hebrew and Yiddish languages. The earliest form is known as the Paleo-Hebrew script, while the present ‘Square’ form is the stylised Aramaic script. (Old Hebrew)

Although these two languages have roots that date back to thousands of years ago, Hebrew and Yiddish remain relevant today. And thanks to their rich history and culture, these languages will be used for years to come.

Get a free quote for Hebrew translations at Asian Absolute today!