Reading Yiddish


"Those who can read Yiddish, as well as understand and speak it, are sometimes surprised to find that other people who can understand and speak the language cannot read it. This means that such individuals cannot enjoy the wonderful Yiddish literature in the original.

Of course, one remedy is to read the literature in translation, and there is much excellent translation available. However, another interesting alternative is to read it in transliteration, i.e., rendering the original Yiddish into the Roman (conventional American) alphabet. This provides an interesting hybrid experience for those who understand but can't read Yiddish.

"Reading a long document in transliteration can be demanding and tiring, but we think it does have a useful place in facilitating shorter communication in a venue such as Der Bay, when some readers who communicate most easily in Yiddish want to reach other readers who understand the language but can't read it. Accordingly, we have made fairly extensive and increasing use of transliteration in our columns.

It is important to explain to our readers that transliteration is like other languages in that it has tightly prescribed rules of spelling. Many people who use transliteration are either ignorant or sloppy about it, and think "anything goes." Not so! If one is going to use transliteration, there is an obligation to get it right. And it's easy. The YIVO studied the problem long ago, and came up with a clear-cut system of transliteration that is universally accepted by knowledgeable Yiddishists.

The YIVO standard was established in the 1930’s while YIVO was still in Vilna (Vilnius). In general, the consonants are pronounced as they are in English—the beyz is b and pronounced like b in

boat or bagel, etc. there are a few combinations of consonants that are different.

The following Roman letters do not exist in Yiddish Romanization; they are c, j, q, w, x.

The following are combinations of Roman letters to equal a single Yiddish sound.

kh as ch in Bach
dzh as g in George
zh as z in azure
tsh as ch in chin

In English we have the following vowels.
They are a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes y. Unlike Hebrew Yiddish uses letters for vowels. In Yiddish they are alef, vov, yud, ayin and several combinations along with the pasekh alef, komets alef, khirik yud and melapim vov.
The vowels are sounded as follows:

a as in arsenic
e as in bed
i as in it,
i at the end of a word as ee in beet
o as ou in bought
u as oo in too
ey as in they
ay as in aye, aye

Der Bay is running a series of popular transliterated letters from the Forverts. Shayles un Tshuves in “Hilkhes Libe” (Questions and Answers in the Matter of Love) fun der khaznte Khane Slek, transliterated & annotated by Goldie Adler Gold of New York City.

We ran a series of bible scenes, A Komishe Biblishe Stsene by Ed Goldman of Bayonne, New Jersey.

They are among the all-time most popular series.