Relation to orthography

Yiddish is written in a modified form of the Aramaic alphabet used in the writing of all Jewish languages (including Hebrew) since approximately the middle of the first millennium BCE. It is written from right to left. Yiddish orthography is often called 'phonetic' - except for words of Hebrew and Aramaic origin, which are written in their traditional (Hebrew or Aramaic) spelling. The development of modern Yiddish orthography has entailed a number of innovations in the use of an alphabet used for writing Semitic languages (based on consonantal roots) for writing a Germanic language where vowels are part of the root. Thus, vowels (and diphthongs) are represented as an integral part of the line of the written word (rather than with diacritics, in Semitic fashion). The modern Yiddish independent vowel symbols are innovations based on the Hebrew symbols for glides [j] and [w], and two consonants which were lost (as consonants) in the pronunciation of Ashkenazic Hebrew: V (ayin; historically, *pharyngeal fricative /?/) and 8 (alef; historically, *glottal stop /?/). By orthographic convention (reflecting earlier Semitic orthography), Yiddish words which begin with a vowel are written with initial silent alef, or by a vowel letter based on alef: K /a/, and K /o/ - except for initial /e/, written with JJ. (Jf is also used to represent the

Table 123 The Yiddish alphabet

Letter

IPA

Romanization

Letter

IPA

Romanization

k

[aj]

ay

H

[a]

a

3

[k]

k

k

[o]

0

?n>

W

kh

[b]

b

b

[1]

1

M

V

»(0)

[m]

m

[9]

g

3(P

[n]

n

[d]

d

d

[s]

s

[h]

h

V

[e],M

e

[u]

u

£

[Pi

P

n

[v]

V

[f]

f

[qj]

oy

20»)

[ts]

ts

T

[z]

z

¡5

[k]

k

BN

[3]

zh

1

[r]

r

n

fx]

kh

V

tn

sh

d

[t]

t

t?

W

s

[i].[j]

i.y

n

[t]

t

[ej]

ey

n

[s]

s

Note: Word-final forms given in parentheses.

Note: Word-final forms given in parentheses.

unstressed vowel, [>]. The Yiddish alphabet is given in Table 12.3.

The current century has seen the emergence of two main standardized orthographic systems: that of the YIVO (and the CYSHO (Central Jewish School Organization) of Poland), presented in 1936, and the Soviet orthography, developed after the Russian Revolution of 1917. The two systems are similar; the main difference is that Soviet orthography eliminated etymological spelling for words of Hebrew and Aramaic origin as part of a de-hebraization movement. Thus, Yid. /Jojmor/ 'guard' is spelled traditionally in the YTVO orthography: HDlfi?, and phonetically in the Soviet orthography: HJJD^tP. (Less successful was the Soviet attempt to do away with the traditional convention of using the word-final variants of five consonants: t - (/f/); 3 - f (/ts/>; 2 - T (/x/); D-D (/m/); 3 - J (/n/). These have been largely reintroduced in recent decades.) In the case of /xojzok/ 'fun, mocking', false etymology has led to 'Hebrew' spelling: pTlH, based on the common model in, e.g. /Jojmor/: HDW. Conversely, Hebrew/Aramaic origin words no longer identified as such are spelled phonetically: |pi?D /mekn/ 'to erase' (cf. Hebrew root pHD Vmhq). The rest of this discussion will be based on the YIVO orthography.

Six letters of the Hebrew alphabet are only used with Hebrew and Aramaic origin words: 2 H 3 t? fl n In each case, there has been phonetic merger with other sounds: 11 2 p D B. (The latter are used generally, as the basic representations in Yiddish.) Thus, Yiddish /sojno/ 'enemy' is written in the YTVO system: fcOltP, while in the Soviet system it is written: priCl

Yiddish consonant phonemes lacking an adequate corresponding single Hebrew letter are created through innovative combinations. Thus, the Yiddish affricate Id is represented by a single letter: X, which was an affricate in Ashkenazic Hebrew (though fricative /s/ in earlier Hebrew); Yid. /tj/ by IPCS C/t/ + /J/), III by Bn (/z + //), /cfe/ by ®H (/d/ + /3I).

In the YIVO system, the syllabicness of * when adjacent to another vowel is indicated by a dot underneath; thus: /ru $ ik/ 'peaceful' vs /rojx/ 'smoke'. Sequences of 11 (/v/) and 1 (/u/) are disambiguated by a dot mid-level to the left of the vowel 1; thus 111 /vu/ 'where', Jlinfi /pruvn/ 'to attempt'.

The marginal phonemes palatalized /lj/ and /nj/ are not systematically indicated in Standard Yiddish orthography (though they are sometimes represented by *J); thus: PpTEE? /JpiPka/ 'pin', JJp3K3 /banjka/ 'cupping glass'.

The so-called 'phoneticness' of Standard Yiddish orthography is more a mixed (phonemic and morphophonemic) system. Morphophonemic voicing assimilations are not indicated: in /zog/ + Ixl 'say-s', /g/ - > [k] /_t, but is written BJ^tT; similarly, /red/ + It/ 'speak-s' is written B1JH. Consonant degemination (innon-compounds) is indicated: /hejs/ + /st/ - > BD^H '[you] are called' (= /hejs/ + Ixl - > BD^TI 's/he is called'); thus also: /loz/ + /st/ -> '[you] let', /zic/ + /st/- > B5PT '[you] sit'.

In what follows, Yiddish forms will be referred to by means of the romanizations of Table 12.3.

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