Zarphatic language

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
צרפתית Tzarfatit
Native toFrance, Germany and England
EthnicityAshkenazi Jews
Extinct14th century[1]
Early forms
Language codes
ISO 639-3zrp

Zarphatic, or Judeo-French (Zarphatic: Tzarfatit), is an extinct Jewish language that was spoken by the French Jews of northern France and in parts of west-central Germany, such as Mainz, Frankfurt am Main and Aix-la-Chapelle. It was also spoken by French Jews who moved to Norman England.[3] Some have conjectured that the language influenced the development of Yiddish.[4]


The term Zarphatic, coined by Solomon Birnbaum,[5] comes from the Hebrew name for France, Tzarfat (צרפת), which was originally used in the Hebrew Bible as a name for the city of Sarepta, in Phoenicia.


Zarphatic was written using a variation of the Hebrew alphabet. It first appeared in this form in the 11th century in glosses of the Torah and Talmud written by the rabbis Moshe HaDarshan and Rashi. The language became secularised during the 13th century, becoming used in varied domains such as poetry, medicine, astronomy, and commerce.

Most linguists agree that Zarphatic was not fundamentally different from Old French, and that it was more of a writing system, literary tradition, and specific vocabulary that reflected the Jewish culture of the day. According to some researchers,[6] it was different from the Christian majority dialect, and thus a specific Judeo-Romance language.

It seems that Zarphatic was probably never a vernacular language, and that the Jews of the area did not speak a differing language or dialect, at least not one distinguished by phonology or lexicon beyond that specific to a community.[7] Rather, it acted more as a liturgical language, for exegesis and literature. Its primary use was for explanation and vulgarisation of biblical and rabbinical literature.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kiwitt, Marc; Zwink, Julia. "Judeo-French". Jewish Languages. Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion. Archived from the original on 2022-10-13. Retrieved 2022-10-13.
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian (2022-05-24). "Oil". Glottolog. Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. Archived from the original on 2022-10-08. Retrieved 2022-10-07.
  3. ^ Hillaby (2013), pp. 1, 112, 194-5.
  4. ^ Katznelson, Itzhak (2008). "Yiddish Language". Encyclopaedia iudaica.
  5. ^ S. A. Birnbaum, Yiddish: A Survey and a Grammar, Second Edition (University of Toronto Press, 2016), p. 33.
  6. ^ M. Weinreich et S. A. Birnbaum, cited by Marc Kiwitt, cf sources
  7. ^ Jean Baumgarten in La question du judéo-français vue par les philologues allemands et français, citing M. Bannitt; cf bibliographie
  • Information for this article draws heavily on the information presented on the Jewish Languages project Judeo-French page Archived 2009-05-01 at the Wayback Machine
  • Hillaby, Joe (2013). The Palgrave Dictionary of Medieval Anglo-Jewish History. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-0230278165.
  • Philippe Bobichon, Controverse judéo-chrétienne en Ashkenaz (XIIIe s.). Florilèges polémiques : hébreu, latin, ancien français, Bibliothèque de l’EPHE-SR, Paris, 2015 online

External links[edit]