Jews refer to Yiddish as the "Mama-Loshin" or mother tongue. Unlike other languages which are shared by all people of a specific geographic location, Yiddish has always been the language exclusive to the Jewish people. Many of the Yiddish idioms, phrases and expressions are a reflection of the Jews history and traditions. The Yiddish phrase "one should even burn and roast him . . ." is a description of a firm will to resist all pressures which is an allusion to the practices of the Inquisition. The adjective "vuchendig" from the root word weekday refers to anything common as contrasted with the holiness of the Shabbos. Similes and metaphors are also reflections of the Jewish way of life. "As rich as korach" refers to the Biblical reference of the wealthy Levite Korach.
Although Traditional Hebrew or The Holy Language is used for prayers and legal documents, Yiddish has always been recognized for its spiritual side. Many prayers and songs with religious themes have been composed in Yiddish and are valued as much as their Hebrew counterparts. Particularly by the Chassidim where the Nigun (song) and joy where used to elevate the simple, the Yiddish language has been held in great esteem. Yiddish in its most simple forms, with its proverbs and stories, has always been viewed as a great spiritual gift of immense value.
Yiddish is strongly encouraged in the Chassidic community and use of any other language is to be limited. Children learn English only in grade school and Yiddish is maintained as the social language. Yiddish books and music tapes are widely available on a variety of topics and levels. Speaking Yiddish is what will help us retain our culture.
Ever since the Enlightenment called for the cultivation of German language and literature, great interest was placed on Yiddish literature. In the late 1800's, modern Yiddish literature was ushered in by secular Jewish authors. The study of Yiddish as a language, its syntax and rules also interested them greatly and became a forum in their advancement of Yiddish as an assimilated culture. As there literature was as secular as the people who created it, the Orthodox Jew naturally seeked to disassociate himself with it completely. To this day, most Chassidic/ultra-Orthodox schools do not teach the rules of Yiddish grammar.
Language Use Yiddish as a social language is usually spoken with a simple vocabulary by all speakers regardless of their education level. Consequently, it is understood by all who speak the language which greatly facilitates in communication. A Jew who finds another Yiddish speaking Jew will instantly feel at home. Yiddish is usually peppered with sayings, expressions and other poetic forms. Yiddish is unique in that it contains certain pronouns which are in third person. These terms are used when addressing individuals in a more respectful manner. To most Yiddish-speakers, the sounds of the Mama-loshen evoke thoughts of the "alte shtetel" (the old town, referring to pre-war Europe) and home-made cookies.
Narratives Narratives play a crucial role in our culture. It is the means by which our minhagim, teachings, and philosophies are passed on generation to generation. Moral values are instilled from an early age in the form of stories. These stories usually begin with the time honored "Once upon a time . . ." and are continued in a time sequence. As is typical of the Yiddish language, narratives have their share of proverbs, expressions and humor. These descriptions tend to be elaborately cloaked in adjectives and usually boast dramatic interjections. Intonations may change dramatically and quickly to lend authenticity to the narrative.
Narratives, though, are not exclusive to reporting and sharing of events. They play an important role in religious and spiritual lectures as well. These may be talks of encouragement, behavior modification or parenting skills. In either case, a narrator is not considered an orator and a speech is never complete without a good "masah and a mashal" (story and parable.)
Yiddish Influenced English
English that is spoken as a second language by a Yiddish speaker will often have tell-tale signs. Often the pronunciation of the English phoneme /t/ will be strongly aspirated as in the Yiddish pronunciation. Phonemes not present in the Yiddish language such as the /ð/ and /θ/ will often be pronounced as a /t/ instead. The content of the English conversation may be liberally sprinkled with Yiddish expressions and words. Speakers will often literally translate Yiddish words into English, resulting in incorrect form. Going down the bus instead of getting off, fasting out verses breaking ones fast and yesterday night referring to last night's events are commonplace translations. A typical "Yinglish" conversation may be as unintelligible to the exclusively English speaker as it is to the exclusively Yiddish speaker. This may just be another attribution to the uniqueness of the Yiddish language- and to its speakers, perhaps, too.