Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Role of Crimean Gothic in the Formation of the Eastern Yiddish Dialects

As readers of this blog know, my research has led me to some unusual conclusions about the history of Yiddish. Yiddish is most commonly believed to have originated in Germany about 1000 years ago and to have been carried from there to eastern Europe where the majority of its speakers lived. Two things that have that generally been considered relevant to the history of Yiddish are Crimea and the Gothic language. Crimea is a peninsula of Eurasia which is not known to have had a Yiddish-speaking population before the 19th century when Jews began to settle there from other parts of the Russian Empire. Gothic is a Germanic language spoken by a people who migrated from northern Europe to the shores of the Black Sea around 250 CE. It gradually stopped being spoken on the European mainland after about 600 but continued to be used in Crimea at least through the 1500's.

In previous posts I have stated my general conclusions that there was once a Gothic speaking Jewish community in Crimea which played a role in the history of Yiddish. Recently, I have been able to come up with a more detailed historical narrative. In future posts I plan to supply the reasoning behind this reconstruction but here I just want to present it in broad outlines.
Around the 850's there was an active trade route between Austria and east Germany in the west and the Black Sea coast. Crimean Jews played a role in this trade. The Jews involved in this trade spoke a form of Gothic. By making inferences from later Yiddish it is possible to reconstruct some aspects of this language. It incorporated words borrowed from Hebrew and Aramaic. Often these were incorporated into Gothic by attaching Gothic elements to the Hebrew roots.
After about 900, this trade route declined. The Gothic speaking Jewish community now split into two groups which had, for a long time, relatively little communication.
One group continued to live in the Austrian and East German area. They were surrounded by speakers of German, a language that was fairly closely related to Gothic and they gradually shifted from speaking Gothic to speaking a language that was largely German but with an underlying structure that was retained from Gothic. This was an early form of Yiddish. The modern Yiddish dialect which resembles it most closely is the one that Uriel Weinreich named West Transcarpathian Yiddish.
Back in Crimea, the Jewish Gothic spoken there eventually took a new approach to Hebrew loans. Gothic morphemes were no longer attached to Hebrew roots. Hebrew nouns were given Hebrew plural endings and the roots of Hebrew verbs were used along with separate Gothic auxiliary verbs.
Around 1300, trade between the German lands and Crimea revived. Jews from the eastern parts of Germany and Austria re-established communication and some migrated to Crimea. They brought their language, the ancestral form of West Transcarpathian Yiddish  along with a new approach to Jewish culture that had evolved in central Europe. Some Gothic speaking Crimean Jews adopted these cultural features and also learned Yiddish from these immigrants.
In this new environment Yiddish was no longer surrounded by German speakers but by speakers of Gothic. A new dialect, Crimean Yiddish developed under this renewed Gothic influence.
By the mid 1300's,  major trade routes from Crimea led north into the developing Duchy of Lithuania and Polish Kingdom. Yiddish speaking Crimean Jews moved north along these routes, settling along them and bringing their Crimean Yiddish. In the Duchy of Lithuania it developed into the Northeastern Yiddish dialect.
In the Polish Kingdom the development was more complicated. There settlers from Crimea encountered Jewish settlers from eastern Germany and Austria who spoke the ancestral form of West Transcarpathian Yiddish.. Contact between this dialect and Crimean Yiddish led to the development of the Central and Southeastern Yiddish dialects.

In summary the eastern dialects of Yiddish formed as the result of three language contact events. The first involving a form of Jewish Crimean and German occurred along the the trade routes between the German speaking lands and the Black Sea around 850. This produced a dialect ancestral to modern West Transcarpathian Yiddish. Subsequently, the central European and Crimean branches of this trading community were separated The second event was renewed contact between speakers of this Yiddish dialect and speakers of Jewish Crimean Gothic which occurred around 1300. It produced the ancestor of modern Northeastern Yiddish. The third event occurred in the 1300's in the lands that became the Kingdom of Poland. There the contact was between the Crimean Yiddish ancestral to Northeastern Yiddish and the dialect ancestral to West Transcarpathian Yiddish. The products of this was the ancestor of the modern Central and Southeastern Yiddish dialects.