Yiddish is spoken by more than 3.000.000 people. The majority of the speakers (above two thirds) lives in Israel, the rest is spread all over the world (less than one third).
Genetically Yiddish belongs to the western branch of the Germanic language and is very closely related to German. The Germanic languages form a top-level constituent of the Indo-European language family.
The Yiddish language mainly developed as a result of the emigration of Jewish communities from Germany to Eastern Europe from the 12th century onwards. The language of these communities was a variety of Middle High German or Early New High German. The speakers became isolated from the German language area amdist an environment of Slavic and Baltic languages.
Yiddish is written with the Hebrew (quadrat) script. A Number of letters used for consonants in Hebrew are used for vowels in Yiddish.
Yiddish is mainly spoken by the older generation of Jews whose origin is in Europe and by orthodox communities hostile to assimilation.
Yiddish developed two major varieties: a) Western Yiddish spoken by the Jews that had stayed in Germany, which became assimilated to the German majority since the end of the 18th century, b) Eastern Yiddish, spoken by the Jews in Eastern Europe and influenced by Slavic languages.
The main dialects of Eastern Yiddish are: a) Central Yiddish ('Polish Yiddish'), b) Northeastern Yiddish ('Lithuanian Yiddish') and c) Southeastern Yiddish ('Ukrainian Yiddish').
A supra-regional variety of today is Modern Standard Yiddish, controlled by the YIVO (Yidisher Visnshaftleker Institut).
Yiddish developed from southeastern Early High German dialects.
The vowel systems of the various Yiddish dialects differ considerably: Western and Central Yiddish dialects distinguish vowel length, whereas teh dialects further in the west lack this feature.
The Yiddish consonant system is rather uniform in the various dialects and more complex than teh High German system. In Standard Yiddish coronal consonants have palatalized variants (tj, dj, sj, zj, nj, lj; only nj and lj have phoneme status).
Voiceless oral stops are not aspirated in Standard Yiddish.
The position of stress is mainly on the first syllable. An exception to this pattern are the Hebrew-Aramaic words, which generally have non-initial stress. This pattern is spreading somewhat to non-Hebrew-Aramaic words.
Yiddish nouns are inflected for case, number and gender. The Yiddish noun has four cases (nominative, accusative, dative and geninitive), two numbers (singular and plural) and three genders (male, female and neuter). There are two types of plural formation: a) the Germanic plural with the suffix -er and alternation of the stem vowel (umlaut), and b) the Yiddish plural with the suffixes -im and -es.
New words are formed by compounding and derivation. Many derivational siffixes have been borrowed from Slavic.
Yiddish has preposed definite and indefinite articles. The definite article is inflected in case, number and gender and agrees with the head noun phrase. However, in the plural it has only one invariable form di. The definite article is unstressed, wheras the homonymous demonstrative pronouns are stressed.
First and second pronouns have suppletive stems and are inflected for case and number. Third person pronouns also feature stem suppletion and are inflected for case, number and gender. Case syncrectism occurs in the plural forms.
Yiddish has like German a 'pronominal declension' different from the declension of the nouns: The endings for determiners, pronouns and adjectives are basically the same.
In the adjective the German strong inflection has been generalized except in the nominatives, where strong and weak inflection are still distinguished.
Yiddish has only one synthetic tense form: the present tense. The past tense is formed with the auxilliaries "be" or "have" and the past participle. The future is formed with the auxiliary "will" and the inifinitive.
The Yiddish verb has three non-finite forms: infinitive, present participle and past participle.
Due to Slavic influence the Yiddish verb uses prefixes to indicate aspect.
Adjectives usually precede the head. When adjectives follow the head noun both are preceded by a determiner.
Yiddish is a pro-drop language: Subject pronouns and object pronouns can be ommitted aunder certain circumstances.
Light verb constructions are quite common in Yiddish.
The unmarked word order in simple transitive sentences is SVO. However, there are various exceptions to this pattern.
The word stock of Yiddish is predominantly Germanic, although with a good deal of Semitic and Slavic words.