Yiddish phonology

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There is significant phonological variation among the various dialects of the Yiddish language. The description that follows is of a modern Standard Yiddish that was devised during the early 20th century and is frequently encountered in pedagogical contexts. Its genesis is described in the article on Yiddish dialects.


Yiddish consonants
Labial Dental Post-al.
Nasal m n (ŋ)1
Stop p b t d k g
Affricate ts dz
Fricative f v s z ʃ ʒ χ ʁ2 h
l3 ʎ
^1 [ŋ] is not a separate phoneme but an allophone of /n/ when directly followed by /k/ or /ɡ/.
^2 The rhotic /r/ is realized by most speakers as a voiced uvular fricative [ʁ]; some use an alveolar trill [r] or an alveolar flap [ɾ].
^3 The "plain" lateral /l/ is generally velarized.

As in the Slavic languages with which Yiddish was long in contact (Russian, Belarusian, Polish, and Ukrainian), but unlike German, voiceless stops have little to no aspiration; unlike many such languages, voiced stops are not devoiced in final position.[1] Moreover, Yiddish has regressive voicing assimilation, so that, for example, זאָגט /zɔɡt/ ('says') is pronounced [zɔkt] and הקדמה /hakˈdɔmə/ ('foreword') is pronounced [haɡˈdɔmə].


The vowel phonemes of Standard Yiddish are:

Yiddish monophthongs[2]
Close ɪ   ʊ
Mid ɛ ə ɔ
Open   a  
Front nucleus Central nucleus Back nucleus
ɛɪ̯ aɪ̯ ɔɪ̯

In addition, the sonorant consonants /l/ and /n/ can function as syllable nuclei:

  • אײזל /ˈɛɪ̯zl̩/ 'donkey'
  • אָװנט /ˈɔvn̩t/ 'evening'

[m] and [ŋ] appear as syllable nuclei as well, but only as allophones of /n/, after bilabial consonants and dorsal consonants, respectively.

The syllabic sonorants and [ə] are always unstressed. [ə] can be analyzed as the unstressed allophone of /ɛ/.[citation needed]

Comparison with German[edit]

In vocabulary of Germanic origin, the differences between Standard German and Standard Yiddish pronunciation are mainly in the vowels and diphthongs. Examples are the German long /aː/ as in Vater ('father'), which corresponds to /o/ in Yiddish פֿאָטער /ˈfɔtɛr/, and the German long /eː/ and long /oː/, which correspond to diphthongs in Yiddish (/eɪ̯/ and /oɪ̯/). As in many Germanic languages, Yiddish lacks the German front rounded umlaut vowels /ø/ and /y/. They are replaced in Yiddish by /e/ and /i/ respectively. Diphthongs have also undergone divergent developments in German and Yiddish. Where Standard German has merged the Middle High German diphthong ei and long vowel ī to ei (pronounced /aɪ̯/), Standard Yiddish has maintained the distinction between them as /eɪ̯/ and /aɪ̯/, respectively. The German /aʊ/ (as in kaufen, 'buy') corresponds to the Yiddish /oɪ̯/ (in קױפֿן /koɪ̯fn/); lastly, the German /oʏ/, as in Deutsch 'German') corresponds to /aɪ̯/ in Yiddish (in דײַטש /daɪ̯tʃ/). Another difference is that the vowel length distinctions of German do not exist in Standard Yiddish. Consonantal differences between German and Yiddish include the deaffrication of the German affricate /pf/ to /f/ initially (as in פֿונט funt) and /p/ medially or finally (as in עפּל /ɛpl/ and קאָפּ /kɔp/) in Yiddish, and the presence of final voiced obstruents in Standard Yiddish (but not Standard German).

German Yiddish Example
(German = Yiddish)
short a [a] /a/ machen, glatt = מאַכן, גלאַט /maχn, glat/
long a [] /ɔ/ (Central Yiddish: /u/) Vater, sagen = פֿאָטער, זאָגן /ˈfɔtɛr, zɔgn/ (Central Yiddish: /ˈfutɛr, zugn/)
short ä [ɛ] /ɛ/ Bäcker = בעקער /ˈbɛkɛr/
long ä [ɛː] /ɛ/ ähnlich = ענלעך /ˈɛnləχ/
short e [ɛ] /ɛ/ Mensch = מענטש /mɛntʃ/
long e [] /ɛɪ̯/ (Central Yiddish: /aɪ̯/) Esel = אייזל /ɛɪ̯zl/ (Central Yiddish: /aɪ̯zl/)
short o [ɔ] /ɔ/ Kopf, sollen = קאָפּ, זאָלן /kɔp, zɔln/
long o [] /ɔɪ̯/ hoch, schon = הויך, שוין /hɔɪ̯χ, ʃɔɪ̯n/
short ö [œ] /ɛ/ können, Köpfe = קענען, קעפּ /ˈkɛnən, kɛp/
long ö [øː] /ɛɪ̯/ (Central Yiddish: /aɪ̯/) schön = שיין /ʃɛɪ̯n/ (Central Yiddish: /ʃaɪ̯n/)
short ü [ʏ] /ɪ/ Brücke, fünf = בריק, פֿינף /brɪk, fɪnf/
long ü [] /ɪ/ (Central Yiddish: /i/) grün = גרין /grɪn/ (Central Yiddish: /grin/)
ei [aɪ̯] /ɛɪ̯/ (Central Yiddish: /aɪ̯/) (MHG ei ) Fleisch = פֿלייש /flɛɪ̯ʃ/ (Central Yiddish: /flaɪ̯ʃ/)
/aɪ̯/ (Central Yiddish: /aː/) (MHG ī ) mein = מײַן /maɪ̯n/ (Central Yiddish: /maːn/)
au [aʊ̯] /ɔɪ̯/ (Central Yiddish: /oʊ̯/) auch, Haus = אויך, לויפֿן /ɔɪ̯χ, hɔɪ̯z/ (Central Yiddish: /oʊ̯χ, hoʊ̯z/)
eu [ɔʏ̯ , ɔɪ̯] /aɪ̯/ Deutsch = דײַטש /daɪ̯tʃ/


  1. ^ Kleine (2003:262)
  2. ^ a b Kleine (2003:263)


  • Birnbaum, Solomon A., Yiddish: A Survey and a Grammar, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 1979, ISBN 0-8020-5382-3.
  • Herzog, Marvin, et al. ed., YIVO, The Language and Culture Atlas of Ashkenazic Jewry, 3 vols., Max Niemeyer Verlag, Tübingen, 1992–2000, ISBN 3-484-73013-7.
  • Jacobs, Neil G. (2005). Yiddish: A Linguistic Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-77215-X. 
  • Kleine, Ane (2003). "Standard Yiddish". Journal of the International Phonetic Association 33 (2): 261–265. doi:10.1017/S0025100303001385. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Jacobs, Neil G. (2005). Yiddish: A Linguistic Introduction. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-77215-X. 

External links[edit]