Is it Judeo-German or Yiddish

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Judeo-German Checklist

(D. Lovins, rev. Sept.1, 2005; minor editorial rev. June 1, 2016)

Below is a checklist of criteria, based on Zachary Baker’s helpful suggestions, designed to help catalogers distinguish Yiddish texts from those that are German-in-Hebrew letters. His words are in quotation marks; additional thoughts from me are added in brackets. Attributes marked with an asterisk are criteria I believe would be most easily applied.

(1) Typography.  “There are subtle differences between the vayber-taytsh typeface [Or “Yiddish type”, per Herbert Zafren, 1983] that is normally used for Yiddish texts into the 19th century, and the very similar typeface that is normally used for German-in-Hebrew-characters.” 

(2) Label.  E.g., statements on the chief source: "bi-leshon Ivri-Taitsh" sounds like Yiddish, while "bi-leshon Ashkenaz" is more ambiguous.

(3) Syntax.  “In Yiddish the verb usually is the second element in a phrase or a sentence, while in German it is more commonly placed toward the end of either phrase or sentence.  I believe (but am not certain) that this is true for both Western and Eastern Yiddish.”

* (4) Grammar.  Yiddish lacks a simple past tense, but German does not. Verbs used in the past tense suggest that the text is in German.  E.g., the phrase 'he was' in Yiddish is 'er iz geve(ze)n' and in German-in-Hebrew-characters is 'er var.'"

* (5) Hebraisms and other elements of the vocabulary. “Hebraisms are generally not found in German-in-Hebrew-character texts, except for proper nouns (e.g., Biblical names), and these are usually put in parentheses or brackets.  In older Yiddish texts parentheses may also be used for Hebraisms, but these are not restricted to proper nouns.  Among non-Hebraisms, look for ‘iz’ (Yiddish) versus ‘izt’ (probably German) = ‘ist’ (German), ‘is’ (English)’ … Also: 'mir' (Yiddish, first-person plural pronoun) vs. 'vir/wir' (German)."

(6) Western versus Eastern Yiddish.  “This is where it can be tricky.  Western Yiddish vocabulary is closer to German in its vocabulary, than is Eastern Yiddish.  Slavisms will be encountered in Eastern Yiddish texts, but very seldom in Western Yiddish.  'Davenen' (to pray) is Eastern Yiddish, 'oren' is Western Yiddish.  It is the 'resemblance' of Western Yiddish and German that is likely to cause the greatest challenge in determining whether a text is Yiddish or German-in-Hebrew characters.”

* (7) Worldview, historical setting of author. Works emanating from the Haskalah, including those printed in Hebrew characters, are infrequently going to be Yiddish, given the antipathy of maskilim toward the Yiddish language. Authors in this category would include some who were native Yiddish speakers, e.g. Moses Mendelssohn, Yoel Brill, and Wolf Heidenheim.

(8) Alphabet. Just as German doesn’t stop being German when represented in the Hebrew alphabet, Yiddish continues to be Yiddish even when printed in Latin characters. “Quite a sizable chunk of the Yiddish press published by Holocaust survivors in postwar Germany is printed in the Latin alphabet, including one of the main newspapers, the Landsberger Lager-Cajtung.” Much of what is published in  Mendele: Forum for Yiddish Literature and Yiddish Language (www.mendele.net) would also fall into this category.



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