Jewish Languages -- Middle Eastern

By William Brinner



Hebrew is. without question, the Jewish language -- the source of all the 'Jewish' vocabulary of the other Jewish languages. Close behind it in significance is Aramaic.

Examples of this are the borrowing of the alephbeit from Aramaic, books of Ezra and Daniel; Talmud; Kaddish -- other parts of the prayer books; _ Ha-lachma anya, _ Chad gadya; Zohar.

All of us have heard of Yiddish, some have heard of Ladino. Are there other Jewish languages?

Are there other "religious languages"? Islamic languages: Arabic (plays the role Hebrew does in Jewish languages), Persian, Turkish, Urdu, Swahili. Christian languages: (no comparable central language) Greek, Latin, Armenian, Syriac, Coptic, Ge'ez, Church Slavonic.

What do we mean by Jewish languages?
Yiddish and Judezmo are independent traditional languages of the Ashkenazic and the eastern Sephardic subculture groups of the Jewish people with Judaism as their focal point. They are products of the group-forming factor of religion

    They contain an element of Hebrew and Aramaic
    They are (were, in the case of Judezmo) written in the Hebrew alephbeit
    Talmudic orthography is the origin of their respective spelling systems

Jewish languages are NOT

Stages of Hebrew: modern Hebrew was not created by Eliezer ben Yehudah, he tried to systematize it and determine 'proper' sources for word borrowing and creation: first -- Biblical Hebrew, then Mishnah, then medieval poetry and translations, then Aramaic, then Arabic, only then European languages. Hebrew is now a living language with over 5 million speakers world wide. Here is an example of a a poem by Abraham Abulafia who lived in the 13th century Spain.

Aramaic I
Aramaic II
Aramaic III


Aramaic: pagan, Christian (Syriac) and Jewish -- Syriac developed it own form of scripts -- probably source of Arabic script. Few speakers left of Western Aramaic (Ma'lula -- near Damascus), possibly half a million speakers of Eastern Aramaic -- mostly in Kurdistan (Kurdish Jews in Israel still speak their Aramaic).

Jewish languages page | Jewish languages - European page
S. Toulmin's Cosmopolis
Reproduction of cover of S. Toulmin's Cosmopolis.

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Copyright © 1996-today Ovid C. Jacob and William Brinner