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Yiddish Research: Yiddish Spelling and Orthography

Yiddish research guide covering general resources, article and books, folklore, genealogy, linguistics, literature, music and dance, oral history, theater, film, radio, translation and student resources.

About Yiddish Spelling and Orthography

About Yiddish spelling:

  • Yiddish is written in the Hebrew alphabet. Learn how to read/write in Yiddish.
  • Yiddish orthography (spelling system) varies, historically and today.
  • Most academic researchers today are trained in YIVO standard orthography. Learn more about standardization here.
  • Most Yiddish texts are not in YIVO standard orthography - this includes historical texts as well as modern Hasidic texts. See the tips below for shortcuts.
  • The rendering of Yiddish into the Latin alphabet is called transliteration, or romanization.

 

Suggestions on searching for Yiddish texts:

  • Search for Yiddish texts using the Hebrew alphabet. Need a Hebrew keyboard? Get help here.
  • Learn the most common Yiddish transliteration systems in the U.S.: Library of Congress and YIVO. Many other countries use a transliteration scheme based on spelling of local languages. 
  • Vary your spelling. Remember, most Yiddish texts do not use YIVO standard orthography, and errors and consistencies abound in library catalogs. 

 

Learn more about:

Typical Spelling Variations

 

These are some of the most common spelling variations in Yiddish. Try them when searching for Yiddish texts.

 

1) The spelling of the word Yidish (Yiddish)

transliterated/romanized as Yidish         ייִדיש 

transliterated/romanized as Yudish        יודיש 

transliterated/romanized as Idish           אידיש

 

2) The spelling of the word arbeter (worker)

transliterated/romanized as Arbeter       אַרבעטער 

transliterated/romanized as Arbayter or Arbeyter    אַרבייטער

 

3) Use of the letter "ayin" ע between consonants ending a word (in many words, the ayin is not included in standard orthography).

transliterated/romanized as morgn מאָרגן   

transliterated/romanized as morgen מאַרגען

 

4) Use of ג (giml) versus ק (kuf) at the end of words

 

transliterated/romanized as lebedig לעבעדיג

transliterated/ romanized as lebedik לעבעדיק

 

Suggested reading

 

Krogh, Steffen. "Dos iz eyne vahre geshikhte … On the Germanization of Eastern Yiddish in the Nineteenth Century". In Jews and Germans in Eastern Europe: Shared and Comparative Histories. DeGruyter, 2018, pp. 88-114. Accessible through JSTOR with a Library card.

 

 

Nekudes נקודות

  • Nekudes (nekudot in Hebrew) are the vowels, dipthongs and diacritical marks used in Yiddish.
  • Yiddish nekudes overlap somewhat in appearance with Hebrew nekudot, with some important differences.
  • In Yiddish, words of Hebrew and Aramaic origin are generally spelled without vowels, as in Hebrew, with a few exceptions, while Yiddish words of other origin (Germanic, Slavic, Romance, etc.) are spelled phonetically.
  • Yiddish words of Hebrew and Aramaic origin are pronounced differently in Yiddish than in Hebrew.
  • Check a dictionary to learn how to pronounce a Hebrew or Aramaic-derived word in Yiddish. The most comprehensive source is Ṿerṭerbukh fun loshn-ḳoydesh-shṭamiḳe ṿerṭer in Yidish. Most modern dictionaries include a phonetic spelling of these words in Yiddish or in the Latin alphabet.
  • Dialectical variations in pronunciation occur as well.

 

Nekudes in Yiddish Texts

  • The use (or non-use) of nekudes in Yiddish varies due to different printing and spelling systems.
  • It's best to use Hebrew script without nekudes when searching for Yiddish texts on a computer, because most computer search functions (Google, library catalog, database searches) do not work with nekudes.

Soviet Yiddish Orthography

 

Soviet Yiddish orthography is a spelling standard developed in the 1920's and 30's. This system spells all Yiddish words phonetically, in opposition to traditional Yiddish spelling, which renders Hebrew and Aramaic-derived words without vowels, and words of other origin (Germanic, Slavic, Romance, etc.) phonetically. Ideologically, Soviet Yiddish orthography sought not only to simplify spelling but also to obscure the religious origins of some words. In addition, it also later eliminated the use of the final forms of some letters (mem, nun, kof/khof, fey, tsadik). When searching for Soviet Yiddish texts, keep this spelling in mind, especially when looking for proper names and other words of Hebrew or Aramaic origin.

 

Recommended reading:

 

Language: Planning and Standardization of Yiddish (YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe)

 

Estraikh, Gennady. Soviet Yiddish : language planning and linguistic development. Oxford [England] : Clarendon Press ; New York : Oxford University Press, 1999.