An Overview of the Language History of the Hungarian Jewish Community in the Carpathian Basin and Diaspora with a Special Emphasis on Yiddish

Siarl Ferdinand


This paper presents a brief language history of the Hungarian Jewish community since their establishment in the Carpathian Basin to the present, with a special focus on Yiddish. Between the Middle Ages and the nineteenth century, Yiddish became the group’s majority language; after the 1850s, the Hungarian Jewry started a process of language substitution. By the 1930s, the use of Yiddish was mostly limited to the ultra-Orthodox communities of Eastern Hungary, while the rest mainly adopted Hungarian. In this research, a pilot study of the current situation of Yiddish has been mapped using several methods, including a questionnaire answered by a hundred and thirty individuals and unstructured interviews with linguists. Although this study’s results confirm the earlier research by Matras (2010) and Shandler (2006) in establishing that Yiddish is generally a post-vernacular language while Hungarian has acquired the role of an ethnic language, it was found that a considerable percentage of those living in the Carpathian Basin still preserve Yiddish. This paper aims to contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of the group dynamics in bilingual communities and, specifically, to provide a clearer view of the language situation among the Hungarian Jewry.


Yiddish; Hungarian Jews; Language vitality; Jewish sociolinguistics; Hungary

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Copyright (c) 2020 Siarl Ferdinand

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