Yiddish introduction: Lesson 1


This is a course for the Yiddish language. This language has been used by a large number of Jewish people for the last 1000 years. It has a large literary history and has much beautiful poetry and music written in it. The charm of the Yiddish language is very easy to see once you start delving into it’s depths.

Yiddish is written in the Hebrew script and is modified to suit the phonology of the language.

This phonology is fundamentally Germanic plus heavy influence from the Slavic languages.

Sometimes a word with Hebrew orthography is used and this pronunciation must be learned separately, as there are in fact two separate orthographic systems running concurrently in Yiddish.

IPA will be provided along with all words and phrases for those (most) who can’t read the Hebrew script.

(I’m stealing from the Lithuanian course and a Hebrew course I own...)

אַ יִידישער גנבֿ גנבֿט נאָר ביכער

/a jɪdɪʃɛɾ ganɛv ganvɛt nɔɾ bɪχɛɾ./

A Jewish thief only steals books. :)


Lesson 1: Part A

The word for he in Yiddish is ער - /ɛɾ/

The word for has in Yiddish is האָט - /hɔt/

?he has|ער האָט

it = עס - /ɛs/

?He has it.|.ער האָט עס

The word for she is זי - /zɪ/

?she has|זי האָט

?She has it.|.זי האָט עס

The word for wants is װיל - /vɪl/

?He wants it.|.ער װיל עס

?She wants it.|.זי װיל עס

Lesson 1: Part B

Verbs have basic forms called infinitives. Sometimes these are irregular.

The basic form for the previous verbs are:

to have - האָבן - /hɔbn/

to want - װעלן - /vɛln/

Here are two new infinitives!

to be able - קענען - /kɛnɛn/ - Notice ’n’ in Yiddish has two written forms! One only belongs at the end. Several letters which behave this way.

to do - טאָן - /tɔn/

The phrase he can is ער קען - /ɛɾ kɛn/ (This verb also means knows, is acquainted with.)

The phrase he does is ער טוט - /ɛɾ tʊt/

When you have two verbs, one must come at the end. "to be able, to want" and other similar verbs are called modal verbs. These push this second verb to the end and place it in its infinitive form.

Give it a try!

?He can do it|.ער קען עס טאָן

?He wants to do it|.ער װיל עס טאָן

The infinitive to see is זענען or זען - /zɛnɛn or zɛn/

The word sees is זעט - /zɛt/

?He sees.|ער זעט

?He can see.|ער קען זען