Yiddish is not in any way a dead language. Millions still speak it, although the language does need a boost in terms of daily usage. The popular notion is that for the past half a century, Yiddish has been disappearing and on the verge of extinction. It is one of the most valuable legacies of the Jews to the world. Thankfully, there is no doubt anymore that Yiddish is not at risk of being lost. Revival efforts are helping significantly in ensuring the survival of this ancestral language of the Jews.
For many years Yiddish is the language that only grandparents and parents speak when they do not want their children to listen in on sensitive topics. Most of the people who still speak Yiddish are from very Orthodox families who learned the language from the cradle. It has been long believed that Yiddish is limited to Haredi and Hasidic families, but evidently, the interest in Yiddish has increased in the Jewish mainstream. This is the opinion of a bibliographer from The National Yiddish Book Center in Massachusetts.
The recent Yiddish revival is happening in more than one avenue. It is probably too much to hope that more people will be fluent in the language, but it is still encouraging for Yiddish scholars that the interest on Jewish heritage is renewed in the new generation. Modern American Jewish writers pay homage to masters of Yiddish fiction.
Klezmer music has found an unlikely audience in the young. Film and music festivals are being held to promote Yiddish on both sides of the Atlantic. Hundreds of students are currently studying Yiddish at the university level in North America and Europe in the context of a centuries-old culture. Language classes are being offered at a smaller scale by cultural centers in various cities in the United States. Forverts (since 1897), a world-famous Yiddish newspaper is helping revive their ancestral language with the re-launching of its website. If you want to have a Yiddish pen-pal, just search the web and you’d be directed to a handful of potential platforms.
Yiddish and Jewish history
The evolution of the language reflects the fate of the European Jews in the past 1,000 years. Yiddish is considered a language of fusion. Its formation is in sync with the events that occurred affected the Jewish people throughout their history, including the migrations and persecutions they faced. Yiddish was born in the 9th to10th centuries as a mixture of Aramaic and Hebrew. Through the centuries, it assimilated the languages of the territories the Jews settled in. Yiddish evolved, inculcating elements of the Germanic languages, Romance languages, and even Slavic influences. The 19th century saw North and South American elements seeping into the language.
After the last world war, only 6 million people remained who spoke Yiddish as their mother tongue. Yiddish used to be the vernacular of the Jews living in Europe. Hebrew was reserved for rituals and ceremonies. The Holocaust almost annihilated Yiddish. When Israel was formed, Hebrew was the language of choice. Surviving immigrants in various countries switched to the languages spoken there and Yiddish started “disappearing.”
There are still no definite figures with regard to the exact number of people who speak Yiddish today. According to a student of Jewish languages in the French National Center for Scientific Research, it is known that the communities in Antwerp, Paris, New York, and Israel of ultra-Orthodox Jews speak Yiddish.