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Oy Vey! Differentiating Hebrew and Yiddish

For those of us who aren’t too familiar with Hebrew and Yiddish, one language may be associated easily with the other when discussing either. However, the languages are very dissimilar, and it’s a more-common-that-not mistake to confuse them or believe that if a person speaks one of the languages then they must also speak the other. Hebrew is a Semitic language (think Amharic), while Yiddish makes use of German (among other languages) words with a very peculiar pronunciation (traced to the Ashkenazi Jews). Hebrew is spoken by around 10 million people around the world and is Israel’s official language, while Yiddish is only spoken by 3 million people. Despite the much lower number of speakers, though, Yiddish is spoken in many more countries than Hebrew (USA, France, UK, Russia, Germany, Poland, Belgium, etc).
Basically, Yiddish mixes biblical Hebrew with German, Aramaic, and other languages to create a language that is appropriate for everyday use. The Ashkenazi Jewish people developed Yiddish in order to only use Hebrew for religious texts, prayers and ceremonies. Modern Hebrew also developed as a result of biblical Hebrew. Despite having a similar origin, Yiddish is a bit more complicated grammatically than Hebrew due to the fact that it is a fusion language. Thus, the grammar rules from several languages are present in Yiddish, making things a bit more difficult.
It’s also interesting to note that Yiddish is present in everyday conversation in ways we may not be aware of. For example, did you know that the word “klutz” is a Yiddish term? It literally means “a block of wood” in Yiddish, making categorization appropriate for that awkward or clumsy person you’re describing.

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