The indefatigable aldiboronti (in a thread at his usual haunt, has turned up another great resource, the Jewish Language Research Website [archived]:

Throughout the world, wherever Jews have lived, they have spoken and/or written differently from the non-Jews around them. Their languages have differed by as little as a few embedded Hebrew words or by as much as a highly variant grammar. A good deal of research has been devoted to a number of Jewish languages, including Yiddish, Judeo-Spanish, Judeo-Arabic, Judeo-Italian, Jewish English, and Jewish Neo-Aramaic. This website displays information about several Jewish languages, as well as about some of the researchers who have written about them.

The list of languages for which they provide contacts, descriptions, and basic bibliographies includes Hebrew, Jewish Aramaic, Jewish English, Jewish Malayalam, Judeo-Arabic, Judeo-French, Judeo-Greek, Judeo-Iranian, Judeo-Italian, Judeo-Persian, Judeo-Portuguese, Judeo-Provençal, Judeo-Spanish/Judezmo/Ladino, and Yiddish; other languages for which they provide only Ethnologue links are Israeli Sign Language, Judeo-Alsatian, Judeo-Berber, Judeo-Crimean Tatar/Krimchak, Judeo-Georgian, Judeo-Slavic/Canaanic, Judeo-Tadjik/Bukharan, Judeo-Tat/Juhuric, and Karaim—a tantalizing list!

Here’s a bit from the Jewish Malayalam page:

One of the most notable features of Jewish Malayalam is the presence of fossilized elements from the pre-Malayalam layer. These archaisms exist at several levels, including lexicon, morphology, phonology, and semantics. A semantic example can be found in one of the wedding songs: the bride is described as covering her head with three types of flowers that have NaRRam. The word NaRRam exists in contemporary Tamil, Malayalam, and other local languages with the meaning ‘bad smell’. However, in this case the word is used with its old Tamil sense: ‘good smell’. This is just one example of the many elements of Jewish Malayalam that may seem like contemporary Tamil borrowings but are actually archaic remnants from before Malayalam split off from Tamil.


  1. I think that everyone will agree that there is a Jewish German (Yiddish) and a Jewish Spanish (i.e. Ladino; Judaeo-Spanish; Hebraeo-Spanish) but the other proposed Jewish languages are more tentative, even questionable. I’ve never read any discussions about Jewish Arabic, Jewish Russian or Jewish English. All of the Jewish immigrants I’ve known from Russia and the Ukraine speak the standard forms of these languages. The few Yiddishisms that turn up in the English of New York and New Jersey (mensch, nosh, shlmeel, yenta etc.) are probably not enough to qualify it as a special “Jewish-English” except if one goes by a very liberal interpretation; However I’ve read that linguists , in general, are a very cautious and conservative lot.

  2. I too would like to see what is meant by Jewish English. Some Yiddish loan words, a distinctive accent and other speech patterns do not make for even a dialect, let alone a language.

  3. Well, you don’t have to wonder; they have a page on it. They don’t claim it’s a separate language, just a distinctively Jewish form of English.

  4. Intriguing: “Jewish English seems to be following the progression explained by Fishman (1985), in which a group of Jews moves to a new land, picks up the local language, and speaks progressively *MORE* distinctly over time” (emphasis mine).
    Also intriguing is what you already mention, but which is mentioned at a number of the pages there: that Jews preserved various elements of local dialects that died out in the population at large. Apparently some dialects of Judeo-Iranian preserve the wee bit of ergativity that Persian lost more than 1200 years ago.
    Thanks for the link!

  5. Jewish Arabic is well established in the literature. Several, I believe (since Arabic itself is not a single modern language). There was a nice paper I read somewhere on the differences between Christian, Jewish and Muslim Arabic in Baghdad, for example.

  6. Charles Perry says

    The paper was “Confessional Dialects of Baghdad,” by Chaim Blanc; rather hard to find these days.

  7. Wow, it sure is!
    Your search – “Confessional Dialects of Baghdad” – did not match any documents.
    Google has only three hits for the author’s name, one of which appears to be a reference to this paper:
    Thus, Chaim Blanc (1948?) described the division of Arabic in Baghdad at the time into a Muslim, Christian and Jewish dialect.
    It’s really hard to believe that a paper on such an interesting subject could have so thoroughly descended into oblivion.

  8. That’s not the paper I’m thinking of, I’m thinking of something that came out of a conference a few years ago from someone who’d been doing fieldwork.

  9. You could also try Google Scholar – there are odd references but I didn’t delve into them.

  10. The Hebrew / Yiddish examples in “Jewish English” which Sarah Bunin Benor lists in her description are not unlike the various forms of Spanish code switching that you find in the English of some recently arrived Hispanics in the United States e.g. M’IJA (My child; My dear); My NOVIO (boyfriend); Sexy CADERAS (hips); ABUSADOR (Woman beater); DESPOTA (Bossy woman); DON PERFECTO (Mr. Perfect); LATINO POSTRES (Spanish deserts); Grab EL TORO by the horns; LA CONQUISTA (The Spanish colonization of Latin America); Don’t just sit on your POMPI (duff) and do nothing; full of bad BURUNDANGA (karma; vibes); …he and Gloria are PADRINOS (godparents) to my kids…; Most days MAMI (mommy) was a HURACáN (bundle; hurricane) of energy… and He’s a free-loader who disappears and reappears like a FANTASMA (ghost).
    I’ve also read articles about similar Russian code switching in Armenian, Kirghiz, and Uzbek.
    However this phenomenon usually lasts in a language community only for only a few generations and eventually their descendents either go over completely to the new language or back to the old one.

  11. The paper was “Confessional Dialects of Baghdad,” by Chaim Blanc; rather hard to find these days.

    Aha, I’ll bet Charles Perry meant Communal Dialects in Baghdad by Haim Blanc, reviewed by William Cowan in Language 42:3 (Sep. 1966). It does sound enticing: “In-depth linguistic studies of how the Arabic language is spoken in Baghdad. Includes a map of ‘The Mesopotamian Dialect Area.'” It’s available at Scribd, but I only get a few sample pages.

  12. I noticed a reference to a book ( Akhiezer and Shapira,”Qara’im be‐Lita u‐ve‐Wohlyn‐Galitsiyah ad ha‐me’ah ha‐18″ (Karaites in Lithuania and in Volhynia-Galicia until the Eighteenth Century) Pe’amim 2001) which claims the Lithuanian and Polish Karaite language was too distinct from the language of Crimean Karaites to allow the origin of the former from the latter. Can anyone comment on this revisionist claim? Usually they are considered to be related dialects of one Karaite language…

  13. I can copy-and-paste from Handbook of Jewish Languages, Brill, 2005, edited by Lily Kahn, Aaron D. Rubin.

    Chapter 13, by Henryk Jankowski. [online with 2-page preview]
    Introduction to Karaim and Krymchak

    Karaim and Krymchak are languages belonging to the Kipchak branch of the Turkic language family. Karaim was once spoken by Karaite communities in the Crimea, Poland, Ukraine and Lithuania, but now is spoken only by a few families in Lithuania. It is a highly endangered language. Krymchak was spoken by Rabbinic Jews in the Crimea prior to 1941, but is now an extinct language.

    [ . . . ]

    The Karaim langauge comprises two main dialect groups, Eastern (also called Crimean) and Western. The population of East Karaim speakers had originally migrated to the Crimea in the 13th century, mainly from Greek-speaking Byzantium, to which they had arrived in the early 12th century, from Arabic-speaking Persia, Iraq, and Jerusalem, i.e., the territories which belonged then to the Abbasid Caliphate. East Karaim subsequently became largely assimilated to Crimean Turkish, with a strong Crimean Tatar grammatical and lexical component. Around the second half of the 19th century East Karaim was gradually replaced by Russian, and today there are no remaining speakers. For a discussion on language strategies among the Crimean Karaites see Kokizov (1911).

    Shapira (2003: 662) insists that a Crimean Karaim language never existed. He argues that the Crimean Karaites spoke the language of their Muslim and Christian neighbors. His arguments have been contested by Jankowski (2008) and Aqtay (2009: 17–18), but the issue still requires further investigation.

    The references are:

    Aqtay, Gülayhan. 2009. Eliyahu ben Yosef Qılcı’s Anthology of Crimean Karaim and Turkish Literature. Critical Edition with Introduction, Indexes and Facsimile. 2 vols. Istanbul: Yıldız Dil ve Edebiyat Dizisi.

    Shapira, Dan. 2003. The Turkic Languages and Literatures of the East European Karaites. In Karaite Judaism. A Guide to Its History and Literary Sources, ed. Meira Polliack, pp. 657–707. Leiden: Brill.

    Hm, this is awkward. There is no 2008 entry for Jankowski, Henryk. The bibliography lines bracketing that year are:

    2005. Reading Loose Sheets of Paper Found among the Pages of Karaim Mejumas. Mediterranean Language Review 16:145–166.

    2011. Two Prayers for the Day of Atonement in Translation into the Luck-Halicz Dialect of Karaim.
    In “קראי מזרח אירופה בדורות האחרונים” [Eastern European Karaites in the Last Generation], ed. Dan Y. Shapira and Daniel Lasker, pp. 156–170. Jerusalem: Ben-Zvi Institute.

    Maybe one of the 2003 papers?

    . 2003a. Position of Karaim among the Turkic Languages. Studia Orientalia 95:131–153.
    . 2003b. On the Language Varieties of Karaims in the Crimea. Studia Orientalia 95:109–130.

  14. I see that there is an updated edition (2017) of the Handbook of Jewish Languages — but the chapter by Jankowski does not seem to be corrected. There is still a reference in the text to a publication in 2008 which is not in the bibliography.

  15. There is also a bit on Karaim in The Northwestern Turkic (Kipchak) languages (a chapter in The Oxford guide to the Transeurasian languages / [ed] Martine Robbeets and Alexander Savelyev, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020, p. 370-391)

  16. The Handbook of Jewish Languages has a chapter by Chetrit on Jewish Berber. Chetrit has written almost all that’s been written on it. But Lameen Souag feels very strongly that there is no evidence for a distinct Jewish variety of any Berber language. I know nothing to judge this directly by, other than to say that Chetrit has never to my knowledge addressed that question, i.e. situated the (scant) known Jewish Berber sources within the language family at large, not even referring to it by a more specific language name than “Berber”.

  17. 2003a. Position of Karaim among the Turkic Languages. Studia Orientalia 95:131–153

    Thank you. It’s available online here
    Jankowski makes a detailed argument that modern Crimean Karaite and Western Karaite languages diverged largely due to intense influences of Turkish on the former and Polish on the latter, but appear to be descendants of the same Old Karaite, which was a fully formed language before its encounter with Hebrew, including a layer of Persian loanwords. Karaite, Krymchak and Armeno-Kipchak languages retain a layer of archaisms, some but not all of which are attested in Old Kuman (but which are absent from Crimean Tatar, Kumuk, and Karachay-Balkar, although their loss there may have resulted from Turkish influences, and doesn’t necessarily imply a deeper fork in the linguistic tree)

    In contrast, Shapira, Dan. 2003. The Turkic Languages and Literatures of the East European Karaites. In Karaite Judaism. A Guide to Its History and Literary Sources, ed. Meira Polliack, pp. 657–707. Leiden: Brill. has somewhat more superficial analysis (leading the author to conclude that Western Karaites weren’t originally from Crimea, but must have migrated directly from the Golden Horde). Alas, it keeps referring to Shapira & Akhiezer’s Hebrew work for details.

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