Syllable Types Historical Development

Yiddish shows the results of two similar - yet historically and structurally distinct - processes of standardization of syllable quantity. Both processes occurred - independently - in pre-Yiddish times, and are reflected in the Hebrew/Aramaic, and German components of Yiddish, respectively. Both had the effect of making all stressed syllables long. However, what constituted long in the source languages differed. In the Hebrew and Aramaic component (as part of substratal pre-Yiddish Jewish vernacular), [+long] was defined as a single branching rime. Thus, original Hebrew and Aramaic long vowels in Pre-Yiddish were kept long in open syllables (HA /pro: $ ti:m/ 'details' > Pre-Yid. */pro: $ tim/; StYid. /pr6tom/ 'details'), shortened in (singly) closed syllables (HA /proit/ > Pre-Yid. */prat/; StYid. /prat/ 'detail'). Original short vowels remained short in closed syllables, e.g. HA /mas $ qi:m/ > Pre-Yid. */mds $ kim/; StYid. /mdskom + zajn/ ('be') 'agree', and lengthened in open syllables

(HA /t* $ fiaO/ > Pre-Yid. */t6: $ xas/; StYid. /t6xos/ 'buttocks, rump').

In the German process, short vowels were likewise lengthened in stressed open syllables (before underlying voiced consonants) /ta $ ga/ > /ta: $ ge/ 'days'. However, there are two important deviations from the standardization of quantity found in the Jewish-vernacular substrate. First, long vowels were not shortened in (singly) closed syllables (Ger. /broit/ 'bread' did not shorten). Second, in German there later occurred a paradigm-based analogical vowel lengthening; thus, [talk] 'day' based on paradigm forms, e.g., [taige], [taigen], [taiges]. This analogical lengthening is not found in the Hebrew/ Aramaic component; cf. StYid. /tog/ 'day' (< *long vowel), but /prat/ vs /protom/ 'detail-s', with no analogical lengthening. As a result of these independent processes, Yiddish has a number of morphophonemic vowel alternations which are typically limited to the Hebrew/Aramaic component: (StYid.) /oj - o/, /ej - e/, /a - o/, as well as full vowel or diphthong-with schwa (see Stress shift, below, pp. 397-8). Consonant degemination (found in all components of Yiddish) blurred many of the original environments for lengthening and shortening; thus, synchronically, Yiddish has all types of stressed syllable: short, long and overlong.

Prosodic Phonology


In its dominant German component, Yiddish shows the Germanic fixed stress on initial root syllables: /16b-n/, 'to live', /16b-o-dik/ 'lively', /16b-o-dik-o/ 'lively' (inflected), /ba-16b-n/ 'to animate'. Two exceptions to initial root-syllable stress are: (a) 'Semitic-type' compounding (see below); and (b) stress on verb complements in verbs and nouns derived therefrom: /ojs/ (a perfectivizer) + /fregn/ 'to ask' - > /6jsfregn/ 'to interrogate', /er fregt 6js/ 'he interrogates'; noun: /(der) 6jsfreg/ '(the) quiz'. The case for claiming initial root-syllable stress is further weakened by data from the Hebrew/Aramaic, and Slavic components, as well as recent internationalisms. Gernerally, however - with one important exception - whether stress is 'initial', penultimate, or otherwise classified, it is almost always fixed throughout paradigms.

The exception concerns a large number of words of Hebrew/Aramaic origin which exhibit movable stress in Yiddish. These are almost exclusively nouns paired either by number (singular - plural), or gender (masculine -feminine); for example, StYid. /gdnaf/ 'thief - /gan6vom/ 'thieves', /xitok/ 'difference' - /xilfikom/ 'differences', /tdlmod/ '(male) pupil' - /talmidom/ '(male) pupils', as well as Mlmad/ 'pupil' - /talmido/ '(female) pupil'. A common claim is that Hebrew/Aramaic origin words in Yiddish reflect a shift from original ultimate stress (in Hebrew and/or Judeo-Aramaic) to penultimate stress, possibly as a partial adaptation to the Germanic pattern of (essentially) initial stress. More recently, a metrical analysis of the problem has suggested that there was a shift from the earlier Semitic stress pattern tffe ('weak-strong') to a 'Germanic-like' pattern ('strong-weak'). The movable stress in related items like /tilmod/ - /talmidam/ arose due to differences in embedded metrical structure (in pre-Yiddish times; these differences were the result of a pre-Yiddish linear retraction of stress based on vowel length). Additionally, in a number of derived adjectives and nouns consisting of a Hebrew/Aramaic origin noun plus a Germanic derivational affix the stress falls on the (original Hebrew) second syllable; thus: /gdnof/ 'thief' - /gan6vom/ 'thieves', /gan6jviJ7 'thievish'; Mlmod/ 'Talmud' -/talmudi// 'Talmudic', /k6rov/ 'relative' - /kr6jvom/ 'relatives', /kr6jvi// 'related, kindred', /kr6jvijaft/ 'kinship'; but derivations also occur which are based on singular nouns: /xdvor/ 'friend' - /xav6jrom/ 'friends', /xivori// 'friendly', /xdvorjaft/ 'comradeship'.

Synchronically, this inherited (< Pre-Yiddish, not Hebrew) movable stress shows a mild productivity in Yiddish. Under highly stipulated conditions, some non-Hebrew/Aramaic origin nouns are attracted into the paradigm with movable stress. Typically, these nouns are bisyllabic, monomorphemic, end in a consonant, and have stress on the first syllable. They thus resemble the Hebrew/Aramaic origin nouns of type /ginof/ 'thief', Mlmod/ 'pupil', etc. Thus: /d6ktor/ 'doctor' - /dokt6jrom/ 'doctors' (< source?), /kundos/ 'urchin' - /kund6jsom/ 'urchins' (< Slavic). The movable-stress paradigm is not an option if stress is not originally on the first syllable; thus, /kontdkt/ 'contact (noun)' has plural /kont4kt-n/, not /*kont4kt-am/.

Disrupting the general ┬┐fr pattern are certain suffixes which require main word stress (usually internationalisms): /-al/, /-el/, /-ant/, etc.; e.g. aspirant 'research student'.

A rhythmically determined secondary stress occurs two syllables before a main stress; thus, the unstressed /mo/ in /mojumod/ 'apostate' receives rhythmic secondary stress in the plural /moJum6dom/. In this sense, rhythmic stress is related to foot formation rules, and the basic Yiddish foot rf^r.

Generally, Yiddish is a stress-timed language. Very little work has been done on Yiddish intonation; noteworthy is Weinreich (1956) on the 'rise-fall' intonation contour used in specific functions. In this rise-fall intonation, pitch goes from low to high, followed by a sharp fall (L-H-L). The initial L- must begin on the last primary stress of a construction. The realization of the subsequent H-L appears to be based on considerations of foot structure. The functions of the rise-fall intonation include: dramatic (semantic) transition between phrases, signalling of an incredulous question, and echo questions. The rise-fall intonation possibly may be traced back to pre-Ashkenazic Talmudic chant. It is not found in an identical form in languages co-territorial with Yiddish. The rise-fall contour in the above-mentioned functions has receded during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, during the period of 'westernization'.

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