Can Dutch, Austrian German and Yiddish speakers understand each other? In this episode we showcase some of the similarities and test the degree of mutual intelligibility between Dutch, the Austrian variety of German and Yiddish. Instead of a list of words and sentences, Samuel (Yiddish speaker), Miriam (German speaker from Austria) and Wijbrand (Dutch speaker) will each read short sentences and paragraphs in their respective languages to see how well they can understand one another.

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Yiddish (ייִדיש / יידיש /אידיש) is a language that originated in the 9th century in Central Europe, as a Hebrew-High German language spoken by Ashkenazi Jews. It is an Indo-European language with many elements taken from Hebrew and to a lesser extent from Aramaic, with some forms eventually taking part of Slavic languages, and traces of Romance languages. Yiddish writing uses the Hebrew alphabet and is mostly spoken by Hasidic and Haredi Jews. Colloquially, the term מאַמע־לשון‎ (meaning ’mother tongue’) is sometimes used in order to distinguish it from “holy tongue”, referring to Hebrew and Aramaic. Today, the majority of Yiddish speakers are are Hasidim and other Haredim (Orthodox Jews), with the majority of them living in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Israel. In the U.S, there are several major Hasidic communities where Yiddish remains the majority language, most notably in Brooklyn, New York, in the Crown Heights, Borough Park, and Williamsburg neighborhoods, as well as in Kiryas Joel in Orange County, New York.

Starting in the Middle Ages and for centuries after, an immense amount of Yiddish literature arose in Europe. As the community began to spread out, many more Yiddish writers, in different regions of the world, began to produce works of literature. In addition to I. L. Peretz (יצחק־לייבוש פרץ‎), who we mentioned in the video, for those who are interested, some of the more recent Yiddish literature produced, in the last two centuries, are by Sholem Aleichem (שלום עליכם), Mendele Mocher Sforim (מענדעלע מוכר ספֿרים), Isaac Bashevis Singer (יצחק באַשעװיס זינגער), awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1978, Sholem Asch (שלום אַש), Jacob Glatstein (יעקב גלאטשטיין), Abraham Sutzkever (אַבֿרהם סוצקעווער), David Bergelson (דוד בערגעלסאָן), Israel Joshua Singer (ישראל יהושע זינגער), Moyshe Kulbak (משה קולבאַק), Chaim Grade (חיים גראַדע‎), Peretz Markish (פּרץ מאַרקיש‎), Kadia Molodowsky (קאַדיע מאָלאָדאָװסקי), Joseph Opatoshu (יוסף אָפּאַטאָשו‎), Anna Margolin (אַננאַ מאַרגאָלין‎), and numerous others.

The German language (Deutsch) is a West Germanic language with official status in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, and the Italian province of South Tyrol. In Luxembourg, Belgium and parts of Poland, German is a co-official language, and one of several national languages of Namibia. German has many similarities with West Germanic languages such as Afrikaans, Dutch, English, and Yiddish. The German-speaking countries are ranked among the top in the world in terms of annual publication of new books, and a great amount of German literature, from medieval works to modern times, has been produced. Among many others, there are the works of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, a literary genius who is considered to be like the German Shakespeare. Goethe is best known for his novel, “The Sorrows of Young Werther” (Die Leiden des jungen Werthers), which was published when he was only 25. Other classics include Simplicius Simplicissimus by Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen, Hyperion by Friedrich Holderlin, The Devil’s Elixirs by ETA Hoffman, Debt and Credit by Gustav Freytag, Effi Briest by Theodor Fontane, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge by Rainer Maria Rilke, and many others.

Austrian German (Österreichisches Deutsch) is the variety of German spoken in Austria.

Dutch (Nederlands) is a West Germanic language spoken primarily in the Netherlands and Belgium. It’s the third-most-widely spoken Germanic language, after English and German. Dutch is also the official language in Suriname, Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten. In addition, the Cape Dutch dialects of Southern Africa evolved into Afrikaans, which is mutually intelligible with Dutch and is spoken mainly in South Africa, Namibia, and to some extent Botswana and Zimbabwe.