Yiddish at the University of Chicago

Yiddish a language originating in Europe in the Middle Ages that is spoken by Jews from Europe and by immigrants and their descendants around the world. It thrived as the language of Jewish communities in the Austro-Hungarian and Russian Empires and at its height in the twentieth century, there were roughly 13 million speakers of Yiddish. A rich writing tradition in Yiddish, much of it still non-translated, remains even as the number of speakers dwindled in the second half of the twentieth century as a result of both the Holocaust and integration into non-Yiddish speaking cultures. Yiddish is still spoken in Orthodox Jewish communities in Israel, Europe, and the United States and the language and its literature has risen in significance as an object of scholarly inquiry since the 1960s.

The University of Chicago's Department of Germanic Studies regularly offers Yiddish at the beginner and intermediate level. In addition to Yiddish language courses, the Department of Germanic Studies hosts a regular Yiddish Tish where students can practice their speaking skills.

Who should study it?

  • Linguists find Yiddish a particularly interesting language to study because of its blended nature: its lexicon is made up primarily of German, Hebrew, and Aramaic components, but it also has structural characteristics that reveal commonalities with Romance and Slavic languages.
  • Historians of German, East European, Soviet, and American history find it a critical language for archival and other historical research.
  • Musicians who wish to perform klezmer music will enhance their repertoire with the language
  • Religious Studies Scholars will access ways of discussing vernacular religious practices and will find the language a window into contemporary Orthodox religious life as well as historical everyday and non-elite Jewish religious expression
  • Literature Scholars will appreciate the variety and flavor of modern Yiddish literature, its humor, pathos, and poetry

Yiddish Tish

The Yiddish tish meets on Fridays at noon and is open to the public to Yiddish readers/speakers of all levels.  We are currently reading Chaver Paver's Labzik, a middle-grade children's novel about a leftist dog in New York during the Great Depression, which can be found here. In the tish we read the text out loud in Yiddish and translate into English, as well as discussing the text in Yiddish. It's an informal and welcoming group. For the Zoom link contact Jessica Kirzane here.  

For those interested in delving more into the text, you can find a blog post here by Miriam Udel, who is currently translating Labzik, and an English language audio recording here by the actor and composer Chance Bone.

To learn more about Yiddish happenings on campus and beyond, join the yiddish listserv here, follow the Yiddish at the University of Chicago Facebook Page, or write to Jessica Kirzane here.  

Related Courses

YDDH 10100 Elementary Yiddish for Beginners I

In this course, students will develop basic speaking, listening, reading, and writing skills in Yiddish.  By the end of the course, students should be able to understand and participate in a conversation on a variety of everyday topics, read simple texts, be prepared to tackle more complex texts with the aid of a dictionary, and write short compositions on a variety of everyday topics.  The course will also introduce students to the history of the Yiddish language and culture.

2020-2021 Autumn

YDDH 20100 Intermediate Yiddish I

This course offers students the opportunity to study the Yiddish language at the intermediate level. It reviews and extends students' knowledge of the grammar of the Yiddish language, enhances vocabulary, and includes literary and cultural readings. Designed to further develop listening, speaking, reading comprehension, and writing skills.

YDDH 10300 or consent of instructor. No auditors.

2019-2020 Autumn