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.

Consonants[edit]

Yiddish consonants
Labial Dental Post-al.
/Palatal
Velar/
Uvular
Glottal
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
Approximant
(lateral
)
j
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].

Vowels[edit]

The vowel phonemes of Standard Yiddish are:

Yiddish monophthongs[2]
  Front
(unrounded)
Central
(unrounded)
Back
(rounded)
Close ɪ   ʊ
Mid ɛ ə ɔ
Open   a  
Diphthongs[2]
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/ Vater, sagen = פֿאָטער. זאָגן /ˈfɔtɛr, zɔgn/
short ä [ɛ] /ɛ/ Bäcker = בעקער /ˈbɛkɛr/
long ä [ɛː] /ɛ/ ähnlich = ענלעך /ˈɛnləχ/
short e [ɛ] /ɛ/ Mensch = מענטש /mɛntʃ/
long e [] /ɛɪ̯/ Esel = אייזל /ɛɪ̯zl/
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/ schön = שיין /ʃɛɪ̯n/
short ü [ʏ] /ɪ/ Brücke, fünf = בריק, פֿינף /brik, finf/
long ü [] /ɪ/ grün = גרין /grin/
ei [aɪ̯] /ɛɪ̯/ (MHG ei ) Fleisch = פֿלייש /flɛɪ̯ʃ/
/aɪ̯/ (MHG ī ) mein = מײַן /maɪ̯n/
au [aʊ̯] /ɔɪ̯/ auch, laufen = אויך, לויפֿן /ɔɪ̯χ, lɔɪ̯fn/
eu [ɔʏ̯ , ɔɪ̯] /aɪ̯/ Deutsch = דײַטש /daɪ̯tʃ/

References[edit]

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

Bibliography[edit]

  • 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]