A friend has brought to my notice an interesting programme on the BBC World Service (also available on the BBC website) about the Yiddish language.

Once a German dialect, Yiddish (literal translation “Jewish”) developed into a full language over the course of a millennium. Whilst the early history of the language is uncertain, it’s thought that it grew from a distinct Jewish culture called Ashkenazi in Germany in the 10th Century. At its height, more than ten million people spoke or understood the language.

Events in the 20th Century meant that many Yiddish speakers were killed and those remaining assimilated in to different cultures and languages. Today it’s estimated there are 3 million speakers worldwide.

In the first part of the programme:

Dennis Marks travels to New York to discover what has become of Yiddish and how much of the language survives today.

On the Lower East Side, where many Jewish migrants first came to live, he finds a musical and theatrical tradition which once supported a dozen Yiddish theatres on 2nd Avenue.

He hears from the publisher of The Forward, once the world’s most popular Yiddish newspaper, but which is now in seemingly terminal decline.

And he explores the enormous influence of Yiddish culture on American life, its literature and its comedic tradition. (Source: BBC World Service)