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.
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. 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:
|Front nucleus||Central nucleus||Back nucleus|
- אײזל /ˈɛɪzl̩/ '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.
Comparison with German
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 foter, and the German long /eː/ and long /oː/, which correspond to diphthongs in Yiddish (/ei/ and /oi/). 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 /aɪ/), Standard Yiddish has maintained the distinction between them as /ei/ and /ai/, respectively. The German /aʊ/ (as in kaufen, 'buy') corresponds to the Yiddish /oi/ (in קױפֿן koyfn); lastly, the German /oʏ/, as in Deutsch 'German') corresponds to /ai/ in Yiddish (in דײַטש daytsh). 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 epl and קאָפ kop) in Yiddish, and the presence of final voiced obstruents in Standard Yiddish (but not Standard German).
(German = Yiddish)
|short a [a]||a||machen, glatt = makhn, glat|
|long a [aː]||o||Vater, sagen = foter, zogn|
|short ä [ɛ]||e||Bäcker = beker|
|long ä [ɛː]||e||ähnlich = enlekh|
|short e [ɛ]||e||Mensch = mentsh|
|long e [eː]||ey||Esel = eyzl|
|short o [ɔ]||o||Kopf, sollen = kop, zoln|
|long o [oː]||oy||hoch, schon = hoykh, shoyn|
|short ö [œ]||e||können, Köpfe = kenen, kep|
|long ö [øː]||ey||schön = sheyn|
|short ü [ʏ]||i||Brücke, fünf = brik, finf|
|long ü [yː]||i||grün = grin|
|ei [aɪ̯]||ey (MHG ei )||Fleisch = fleysh|
|ay (MHG ī )||mein = mayn|
|au [aʊ̯]||oy||auch, laufen = oykh, loyfn|
|eu [ɔʏ̯ , ɔɪ̯]||ay||Deutsch = daytsh|
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.
- Jacobs, Neil G. (2005). Yiddish: A Linguistic Introduction. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-77215-X.