Thursday, February 28, 2008

Verb oyfn tsveytn ort

Once again in response to Becca's insightful question:

There is a concept in Yiddish, and by extension, I assume, in several Germanic languages, of verb oyfn tsveytn ort, the verb takes the second syntactical position in a sentence, no matter what. Take the Yiddish sentence ikh bin gegangen in shul, where ikh is "I," bin is the verb literally meaning "am," gegangen is a particle meaning "gone," and in shul means "to school." These words come together to form the English sentence "I went to school" (although, by the way, in older English, you will observe the construction "I am gone to school," meaning the same thing but nearly identical in structure to the Yiddish).
1 | 2 | 3 | 4
Ikh | bin | gegangen | in shul|
In shul | bin | ikh | gegangen|
Gegangen | bin | ikh | in shul|

As you can see, bin (the verb) is always in the second syntactical position in the sentence, no matter how the sentence is laid out. Now in English this does not have to be the case.
I ate food yesterday
Food I ate yesterday
Yesterday I ate food.
As you can see, the position of "ate" is constantly changing.

You can still see vestiges of this grammatical feature in the English language. The example given by Becca works: "Never have I seen such audacity." Here, "have" is the verb in the second position. Other examples of this are, "Then did I say to him" (that's a bit more archaic) and "Only when I came home did I realize the truth." What caused this construction to become less common in the English language?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


Yiddish is big on contractions, especially in spoken speak. Dos and es become s', ikh becomes kh', and so on. So why is it that Yiddish does contract tsu and dem to form tsum, but not tsu and der to form tsur? German does it, right? (zu+dem=zum, zu+der=zur) Was there some cultural reason, or did the form just become obsolete? Or is it a recent addition in German?

Neuter Noun Endings

It didn't occur to me till today (I haven't read any Yiddish textbooks, so I feel like it says this in all of them) that common neuter noun in Yiddish that are not diminutives have common plural endings:


and the list goes on... is that a commonly known thing? Has anyone seen this pattern before?


Yiddish is infamous for its vocabulary that draws on both European and Middle-Eastern languages. It is therefore no surprise that there are in Yiddish, one from Hebrew and the other from German.

For example:
In my dialect (Southern/Galician Yiddish): דורך is pronounced "derekh." But wait: so is דרך (literally meaning "way"), such as in דרך־ארץ, loosely translated as "respect." Of course, this couldn't cause that much ambiguity, considering that the first is a preposition and the second is a noun. But how about this one (it's very witty, actually): ‫.עמלק and אַמאָליק
Don't be fooled by the disparity in appearance. They are pronounced almost exactly the same. One is amolek, the sworn enemies of the Jews who attacked them from the back in the desert. Haman from the Purim story, and, more recently, Adolf Hitler, are said to be spiritual or physical descendants of amolek. The second word is amolik, the adjective meaning once-upon-a-time. Can anyone think of a sentence where the meaning would be ambiguous?

Monday, February 18, 2008

National Vocabulary Championship

I have mentioned in previous posts that I was studying for a vocabulary contest. I hadn't expected anything to come of it, but one night I came home to discover that I was one of 50 to-be-contestant nationwide on the National Vocabulary Championship on the Game Show Network. I'm going to be flying out to L.A. on March 9th and competing the following day. It should air sometime in April. Any tips on studying vocab besides memorizing lists of words and spending indefinite amounts of time on

Wish me luck!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Sorry about that...

Discúlpenme que no he escrito nada el mes pasado - estaba bastante ocupado. Esperen una cascada de posts en un futuro inmediato!

Sunday, January 20, 2008


On a recent trip to the Poconos, our family went horseback riding (we found out later that they were really mules). Two of the three guides were actually German and spoke a dialect called Schwäbisch (sounds like shvedish, which is what I originally thought it was; that means "Swedish" in Yiddish), a thick countryside version of German in the family of Alemannic dialects. It has a sing-songy quality to it and is pleasing to the ear. Anyhow, when they heard us singing horse songs (inappropriate to the animal, but effective in spurring them on to go faster) in Yiddish, we got into a discussion about the connection between the two languages. Sabina, the woman (the other guy was her son), explained that there are many words in Schwäbisch which appear in Yiddish but not in standard German. For example, she said, the word for "to haul" in Schwäbisch is schleppen, akin to the Yiddish shlepn ‫שלעפּן ‬, whereas standard German uses the more common schleifen. When I looked it up on Wikipedia, I found some more interesting similarities.
The diminutive ending "-le" (spoken very quickly, e.g. Haus may become Häusle, Bisschen may become Bissle) and "-la" for plurals (e.g. Spätzle becomes Spätzla). Wow. This is exactly like Yiddish (at least, the first part)! Hoyz הױז in the diminutive becomes hayzl הײַזל, and bisl ביסל is the Yiddish equivalent of standard German's Bisschen.

They always say that Swiss German is the closest form of German to Yiddish. What I didn't realize is that, as Wikipedia put it, "occasionally, the Alemannic dialects spoken in other countries are called Swiss German." Hmmm.