Page 23 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 19

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Y I DD I SH L E X I C O G R A P H Y
By
S
h lomo
N
oble
T
HE roots of the Yiddish lexicon must be sought in the
Yiddish glossary, for a glossary is nothing but an ad hoc
dictionary. In view of the significance of study in Jewish life,
it need not occasion surprise that the oldest extant manuscripts
of this kind are Yiddish glossaries to the Scriptures, particu larly
to the Prophets and the Hagiographa. Of printed books in this
field, primacy goes to the works of Elijah Levita, a lexicographer,
grammarian, belletrist, translator—in short, a true Renaissance
man in his catholicity of interests.
Strictly speaking, Levita’s Tishbi (Basle, 1526) is a Hebrew-
Aramaic-Italian-Yiddish lexicon. It contains explanations of 712
(the numerical value of the Hebrew letters tishbi) Hebrew and
Aramaic terms and translations into Italian, which he calls laaz,
and into German—leshon ashkenaz. A closer examination, how­
ever, w ill soon reveal that this is a German sui generis. When
hitnazel is translated in leshon ashkenaz as ‘farentfern ,’ k itn it
as ‘tsimes’ or minayin, ‘fun vanen/ this German has a fam iliar
ring. It is Yiddish. And undoubtedly, by the term leshon ash­
kenaz Levita designated Yiddish. W e have, therefore, in the
Tishbi Yiddish lexicological elements in the matrix of a Hebrew-
Aramaic lexicon.
A somewhat similar work, of unknown authorship, is M irkevet
Hamishne (Cracow, 1534), a concordance to the Bible, trans­
lated into leshon ashkenaz, which is again Yiddish. The words
are arranged alphabetically and in the order of their occurrence
in the Bible. Noteworthy in this book is the large number o f
leshon ashkenaz words that have disappeared from modern
spoken Yiddish but were preserved in the translation of the
Pentateuch in the hadarim up to the 20th century. In this cate­
gory are such words as altgezesener (sojourner), bayshtidl (lintel),
gemark (boundary), genenin (approach), and a number of
others.
The First Yiddish Dictionary
The first Yiddish dictionary in the fu ll sense of the word is
E lijah Levita ’s Shemot Devarim (Isnae, 1542 ) . It is based on the
alphabetical order o f the Yiddish words, which are translated
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