Yiddish for Yeshivah Bachurim/Reading Yiddish

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Though a typical yeshiva bachur doesn’t need to read Yiddish too often, this lesson is essential so that you’ll be able to read the Yiddish words found in the remaining lessons.

Yiddish is written with the Hebrew alphabet. However, its rules of spelling are quite different. Unlike Hebrew, all vowels are written as full letters. Nekudos aren’t written, with a few exceptions, which are always written. Also, consonant blends are allowed. In other words, two consonants in a row are pronounced together, unlike in Hebrew where there must be a vowel or shva in between. For example, בּענטש is pronounced bentsh.

Words which come from Hebrew are spelled as they are in Hebrew, though they are pronounced the way Ashkenazim would pronounce them in everyday conversation (as opposed to the more correct pronunciation used for davening and layning). For example, יום טובֿ is pronounced yontiff; שלש סעודות is pronounced shalashudes; תּוספֿות is pronounced toysfis; ײשר כּח is pronounced shkoyach.

Pronunciation cannot always be determined exactly from the way it is spelled. For example, ער is sometimes pronounced like the English word air (such as in the word ער which means he) and sometime like the er in the English word her (such as the word שטאַרקער, stronger).

There are several different pronunciation systems for Yiddish; for convenience the Litvish and Polish systems are given here.

Following is a list of letters in the Yiddish alphabet, and how they differ from their Hebrew equivalents.

Vowels[edit]

Some vowels are preceded by a silent א when they appear at the beginning of a word.

  • אָ, אַ – pronounced the same as in Ashkenazi Hebrew (Polish: אָ is often oo as in too)
  • ו – Litvish: oo as in too (Polish: usually pronounce ea as in read)
  • ױ – This represents two distinct vowels. 1 Litvish: ay as in say (Polish: oy); 2 Litvish: oy as in boy (Polish: sometimes oy and sometimes ow as in bowl);
  • י – i as in him (Polish: also ee as in green)
  • ײ – Litvish: ay as in say (Polish: y as in by)
  • ײַ – Litvish: y as in by (Polish: a as in car)
  • ע – e as in bed (Polish: also ey as in prey)

Consonants[edit]

  • א, ע – never used as a consonant in Yiddish, except for words that originate from Hebrew
  • ב – always pronounced as a b, except in words originating from Hebrew. In these words, it may be pronounced with a v, in which case a line may be added on top (בֿ).
  • ג, ד, ה, ז, ט, ל, מ, נ, ס, צ, ק, ר – same as Hebrew
  • װ – when used as a v sound, a vov is always doubled
  • ח, ת, כּ – used mostly in words originating from Hebrew
  • י – same as in Hebrew, when used as a consonant. If a yud sound comes at the beginning of a word, it may be changed into an א (as in the word אידיש).
  • כֿ – generally pronounced like a chof. In Hebrew words with a כּ, a dot is written.
  • פֿ, פּ – f when written with a line, and p when not. If a p appears at the end of a word, it does not change into a ף (as in כֿאַפּ, catch).
  • ש – when written without a dot (which is usually), it is pronounced sh. It has a dot for Hebrew words with a sin.