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GIVEN NAMES, JUDAISM, AND JEWISH HISTORY
4. DEVELOPMENT OF YIDDISH OVER THE AGES
4.3. YIDDISH DIALECTS
Today's modern Yiddish has four basic components: German, Hebrew/Aramaic, Slavic tongues, & Laaz (Romance language remnants of old French and Italian). The German language has made the largest contribution to the Yiddish language and to Yiddish given names, yet Yiddish is quite different from German even though classified with it as a High German language. Under the influence of Slavic languages, Yiddish has grown far away from its German language beginnings. Hebrew and Aramaic together contributed to the learned tradition of Yiddish due to the Five Books of Moshe, the daily prayers, and technical discourse in the yeshivah; both Hebrew and Aramaic were widely used in daily prayers and yeshivah discourse. The Slavic languages have contributed not only thousands of lexical items but also numerous productive patterns for the formation of new words. The Yiddish words of Romance Language origin are today few in number, though still prominent in the language.
The territorial wings of Yiddish in Europe divide into Western and Eastern Europe, with a transition region occupied by countries south of the Carpathian Mountains.
WESTERN European Yiddish was formerly spoken westward of the German-Polish frontier of 1939 and roughly covered Holland, Alsace-Lorraine, Switzerland, and most of Germany. This region is also associated with unusual Hebrew pronunciations in synagogual rituals unknown in the east. Western Yiddish was not homogeneous within its boundaries.
TRANSITION Yiddish is spoken in two different regions, a western part and an eastern part. The western part (Bohemia, Moravia, west Slovakia, and west Hungary) are characterized by a Yiddish dialect which was lexically east European but phonologically west European. The Yiddish of the eastern part (the Hungarian lowlands, Transylvania, and Carpathorussia) is a fusion of the west-Transcarpathian dialect with dialects brought by chasidic immigrants from Galicia. Transition Yiddish countries are sometimes lumped together with Eastern Yiddish countries.
EASTERN European Yiddish contains three main dialects of spoken Yiddish as it developed in 19th century Eastern Europe: Northeastern (Lithuanian), Central (Polish), and Southeastern (Ukrainian):
1. "LITHUANIAN" or Northeastern Yiddish, spoken in Lithuania, Belarus, Latvia, northeastern Ukraine, and northeastern Poland (Suwalki Gubernia). People speaking this dialect are called "Litvaks" and speak "Litvish."
2. "POLISH/GALICIAN" or Central Yiddish, spoken in the area between the German-Polish frontier of 1939 and the Vistula and San Rivers, including Poland, and Central and Western Galicia. People speaking the dialect of Poland and Galicia are called "Poylish" and "Galitsyaner."
3. "UKRAINIAN" or Southeastern Yiddish, spoken in most of the Ukraine, parts of Eastern Galicia, Romania, and southeastern Poland. This dialect is called "volinyer/podolyer/besaraber" Yiddish.
In terms of pronunciation, Ukrainian or Southeastern Yiddish can be considered to occupy an intermediate position between Northeastern and Central Yiddish.
Not everyone within each of the three broad dialect areas speaks Yiddish in the same way -- there are sub-dialects, but they are mutually intelligible. The greatest difference between the dialects is in the sound of the vowels (a, e, i, o, u, ay, ey, oy), although there are also some differences in vocabulary and grammar.
"Standard" Yiddish is slightly different from all of these dialects. A Litvak says "Klug un greys," the Galitsyaner say "Klig in groys," and Standard Yiddish says "Klug un groys." The vowel sounds of Standard Yiddish are closest to those of the Northeastern dialect (Litvish), but the grammar is closest to Southern Yiddish, which includes the Central and Southeastern Yiddish.
Table 9 shows some of the more usual dialectical differences between Lithuanian, Polish, and Ukrainian/Galician Yiddish. There are numerous exceptions and special cases of dialectical differences.
Table 9. Lithuanian, Polish, and Ukrainian Yiddish Pronunciations