Politics Magazine

The Jewish Languages of the Jewish Diaspora

Posted on the 17 April 2015 by Calvinthedog

Sam asks:

Robert I should have asked you this before but I had forgotten it. This post jogged my memory. I read once…somewhere…that all Jewish languages were bastardizations of whatever language they were using at the time. The idea being that they could converse amongst themselves without others knowing what they are saying. Seems also the way they transformed the language was supposed to be a bit tricky so as to make it even harder to understand. Does that sound as if that scenario is true or could be true?

I am not sure if they did it on purpose so as not to be understood or if their versions are bastardizations (a term we linguists do not use) of the native tongue, but in just about every nation in which Jews were living in a large number, the Jews were speaking a different language than the natives. In Europe, the Ashkenazim were speaking Yiddish in the north and the Sephardics were speaking Ladino in the South. In the Crimea, the Karaite Jews spoke Ukrainian Karaim and other Jews spoke Krypchak, both of which are closely related to but not the same language as Crimean Tatar. In other parts of Ukraine and in Lithuania and Poland, other Jews also spoke Lithuanian Karaim, a different language from Ukrainian Karaim.

In the Arab World, in each nation where the Arab Jews reside, they speak a different form of Arabic than the natives, for instance, Moroccan Jews might have spoken something called Moroccan Jewish Arabic instead of Moroccan Arabic. They also spoke their own forms of Aramaic where they were living with a lot of Arab Christians in the north of Iraq, Syria and Iran. The Jewish language often had many Hebrew loans in it and was different in other ways. In each case, Ethnologue regards the Jewish language as actually a separate language from the native tongue of the land.

In Northern Europe, Jews took Palatinian German and fashioned a new Jewish language out of it. In the South, they did the same with Spanish. In Ukraine, the Jews melded Crimean Tatar into three separate Jewish languages. In the Arab Muslim and Arab Christian worlds, the Jews took the common and Arabic or Aramaic languages of those lands and fashioned them into separate Jewish languages.

It seems as though everywhere they lived, the Jews desired to be different and set themselves apart from the rest, even in a linguistic sense.

N.B. Most of these Jewish languages are now in very bad shape and by the year 2100, most will probably be extinct with the probable exception of Yiddish and Lithuanian Karaim.


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