Guidelines for Yiddish in Bibliographies: A Supplement to YIVO Transliteration

Isaac L. Bleaman


Virtually every researcher in the field of Yiddish today uses what is known as “YIVO transliteration” when rendering Yiddish titles in bibliographies for non-Yiddish-language publications. Despite its name, the YIVO system of transliteration (or romanization) is not “transliteration” in its strict sense—an unambiguous mapping between Hebrew and Latin characters. Instead, the YIVO system attempts to strike a balance between transliteration, which is faithful to orthography, and transcription, which is faithful to pronunciation. For example, a single Latin letter s is used to represent a samekh (ס), a sin (שׂ), and a sof (ת), and it is also found in the transliterations for shin (ש; sh) and tsadek (צ; ts). Readers simply need to know that mentsh ‘person’ corresponds to the Yiddish מענטש and not to one of several other possible but invalid spellings (including מענטסה, מענצה, and מענתּש). Conversely, a single Yiddish letter can have multiple transliterations depending on context, e.g., shin by itself is sh (as in אַש ash ‘ash’) but the letter combination zayen shin is zh rather than zsh (אַזש azh ‘literally, actually’). 1 1 While this holds true of the YIVO system, the Library of Congress has issued guidelines for both Yiddish and Hebrew whereby otherwise homophonous consonants are transliterated using different sets of diacritics: For example, in the LOC-style title Di geshikhṭe fun azones̀ ‘the history of cantorial music,’ the dots in and indicate that the Yiddish characters are tes (not tof = unmarked t) and khes (not khof = kh), and the grave accent in indicates that the Yiddish character is a sof (not samekh = s or sin = ś). For additional background on the challenges of Yiddish transliteration for library cataloging, see Bella Hass Weinberg, “Ambiguities in the Romanization of Yiddish,” Judaica Librarianship 9, no. 1–2 (Spring–Winter 1995), 58–74. The LOC guidelines have informed the cataloging practices of university libraries throughout the country, and the distinctive LOC diacritics can also be seen in the Yiddish Book Center’s online archive. However, LOC transliteration is not typically encountered in bibliographies, and its use is not recommended. For this reason, scholars interested in using the YIVO system should be warned against automatically importing or copy-pasting bibliographic information from library catalogs. An online tool (beta) is available to assist scholars in converting LOC-style titles to the YIVO system: In cases of homophony, a single transliteration can correspond to multiple Yiddish words (e.g., farshemt is either פֿאַרשעמט ‘embarrassed’ or, less commonly, פֿאַרשמט ‘renowned’). In cases of homography, a single Yiddish form may be transliterated in multiple ways (e.g., אין can be read in ‘in’ or eyn ‘there isn’t,’ as in Hebrew-origin phrases like eyn mazl leyisroel ‘Jews have no luck’). Such cases can only be disambiguated in context by readers who are familiar with the language.

To make matters more complicated, the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research actually does not prescribe a standard for representing Yiddish in bibliographies. Although Yiddish-to-Latin transliteration tables and example bibliographies are readily found in YIVO publications, 2 2 Transliteration tables are found in Uriel Weinreich’s textbook and dictionary: Uriel Weinreich, College Yiddish: An Introduction to the Yiddish Language and to Jewish Life and Culture (New York: Yiddish Scientific Institute – YIVO, 1949), 26; Uriel Weinreich, Modern English-Yiddish Yiddish-English Dictionary (New York: YIVO Institute for Jewish Research & McGraw-Hill, 1968), xxi. A table is also available on the YIVO’s website, Example bibliographies are available in any issue of the journal YIVO Annual. the organization has never produced a definitive set of transliteration guidelines specifically for scholars to use in English or other languages with Latin alphabets. Some of the open questions for transliteration include whether to use capitalization (and if so, when) and how to transliterate words whose standard pronunciations are not reflected in their Yiddish alphabetic forms. 3 3 For a different treatment of these issues, see David L. Gold, “A Guide to the Standardized Yiddish Romanization,” Jewish Language Review 5 (1985), 96–103. Gold’s article is concerned more with the transcription of Yiddish than with the discoverability of textual sources for research. For this reason, a number of his recommendations (e.g., the optional placement of marks indicating where stress falls in a word; the acceptability of ken, ka, and ke for the word קיין; the placement of hyphens, which follows the Standard Yiddish orthography rather than the source) are not adopted here.

In the absence of such guidelines, scholars have had to use their discretion when providing bibliographic information for Yiddish source materials. This has contributed to a great deal of inconsistency across publications in the field. Consider, for example, the many ways that scholars working in English have listed the author and title of the following source (Figure 1), all of which can be roughly characterized as “YIVO transliterations”:

  1. Chone Shmeruk. Peretses yiesh-vizye: Interpretatsye fun Y.L. Peretses Bay nakht afn altn mark un kritishe oysgabe fun der drame. 4 4 Amelia M. Glaser, Jews and Ukrainians in Russia’s Literary Borderlands: From the Shtetl Fair to the Petersburg Bookshop (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2012), 225, footnote 81.
  2. Chone Shmeruk. Peretses yiesh-vizye [Peretz’s Vision of Despair: Interpretation of I. L. Peretz’s Bay nakht oyfn altn mark and Critical Edition of the Play]. 5 5 Abraham Novershtern, “Between Dust and Dance: Peretz’s Drama and the Rise of Yiddish Modernism,” trans. Sharon Neeman, Prooftexts 12, no. 1 (January 1992): 89, footnote 3.
  3. Chone Shmeruk. Peretz’s yiyesh vizye. 6 6 David Fishman, The Rise of Modern Yiddish Culture (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2005), 162, footnote 14.
  4. Khone Shmeruk. Peretses yiesh-vizye. Interpretatsye fun Y. L. Peretses Bay nakht afn altn mark un kritishe oysgabe fun der drame [Peretz’s Vision of Despair. An Interpretation of I. L. Peretz’s Bay nakht afn altn mark and Critical Edition of the Play]. 7 7 David G. Roskies, “The Emancipation of Yiddish,” Prooftexts 1, no. 1 (January 1981): 41, footnote 16.
  5. Khone Shmeruk. Peretses yeush-vizye: interpretatsye fun Y. L. Peretses “Bay nakht oyfn altn markt” [sic.] un kritishe oysgabe fun der drame. 8 8 Mikhail Krutikov, Yiddish Fiction and the Crisis of Modernity, 1905–1914 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001), 218, footnote 17.
  6. Khone Shmeruk. Peretz’s yi’esh vizye: Interpretatsye fun Y. L. Peretzes ‘Bay nakht oyfn altn mark. 9 9 Dan Miron, From Continuity to Contiguity: Toward a New Jewish Literary Thinking (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2010), 507, footnote 48.
  7. Khone Shmeruk. Peretzes Yeush-Vizie: Interpretatsie fun Y. L. Peretzes Bay Nakht oyfn Altn Mark un kritishe oysgabe fun der drame [Peretz’s Vision of Despair: Interpretation of Night in the Old Marketplace, and critical edition of the drama]. 10 10 Nahma Sandrow, Vagabond Stars: A World History of Yiddish Theater (1977; repr., Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1996), 424.

Differences include spelling, capitalization, punctuation, the presence or absence of a subtitle, and the presence or absence of a translation.

The purpose of this document is to fill some of the gaps in the YIVO system of transliteration for bibliographies. The recommendations are based on an informal synthesis of examples taken from the English-language bibliographies of authoritative YIVO-affiliated scholars. 11 11 E.g., Uriel Weinreich and Beatrice Weinreich, Yiddish Language and Folklore: A Selective Bibliography for Research (The Hague: Mouton, 1959); Max Weinreich, History of the Yiddish Language, trans. Shlomo Noble (New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press, 2008); Mordkhe Schaechter, Di geviksn-velt in yidish [Plant Names in Yiddish] (New York: YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, 2005), xxxiii–xxxvi. These recommendations are meant to supplement, rather than replace, the style guidelines required by editors and publishers. For example, although there are recommendations for the capitalization of Yiddish titles, bibliographic entries should otherwise follow established formatting guidelines (e.g., the ordering of elements within an entry, when to use quotation marks and italics in titles, etc.). This document is also not meant to prescribe the transliteration of Yiddish outside a bibliography. When transliterating textual quotations—and certainly when transcribing speech—it may be appropriate to diverge from these guidelines or even from the YIVO system entirely. Finally, these recommendations are meant to yield more consistency across bibliographies, first and foremost with the hope of increasing the searchability and discoverability of source texts. Where ambiguities in transliteration continue to arise, researchers should strive to make informed decisions and check that they are internally consistent within their own bibliographies.

I would like to acknowledge Zachary Baker, a leading Yiddish specialist in the field of library science, for his thoughtful comments on an earlier draft. These recommendations have been endorsed by the Max Weinreich Center at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research (Eddy Portnoy) and by the editorial board of In geveb, which will incorporate them into its style guidelines. I am grateful for any additional comments or corrections. To the extent possible this document will be updated with revisions.

A pdf of this document can be found here.

Table of Contents


Punctuation in abbreviations and acronyms

Translation of titles

Transliteration of authors’ names

Transliteration of words not pronounced as written

Loshn-koydesh (Hebrew- and Aramaic-origin words)

Other words

Nonstandard orthographies

i and y

Example transliterations

Figure 1

Figure 2


The Yiddish alphabet has no capital letters. One might assume that capitalization, if used at all in transliterated Yiddish, would be purely aesthetic rather than functional. However, capitalization does play a role in many modern reference books, where it is used to add clarity to transcriptions. Consonants that are transliterated with a single Latin letter are given in uppercase (e.g., K, H, T, S), while those that are transliterated with multiple Latin letters are given in mixed case (e.g., Kh, Ts, Sh). This can help to distinguish between what would otherwise be ambiguous strings. For example, the word for ‘woodpecker’ is PIKHOLTs (פּיקהאָלץ), not PIKHOLTS (פּיקהאָלטס) or PIKhOLTs (פּיכאָלץ); the word for ‘rhinoceros’ is NOZHORN (נאָזהאָרן), not NOZhORN (נאָזשאָרן). Writing these words in lowercase (pikholts; nozhorn) eliminates this helpful distinction. While this capitalization convention has been used by lexicographers, it is not the norm for transliterating Yiddish in bibliographies. (It also does not address the problem of many-to-one character mappings, like samekh, sin, and sof to S.)

A survey of English-language bibliographies reveals that authors and publishers exhibit a tremendous amount of variation when it comes to the capitalization of Yiddish titles. However, there are several general trends in capitalization practices, which can be organized into a rough implicational hierarchy:

  1. Almost everyone capitalizes the first letter of titles: e.g., Zekhtsik yoriker yubiley fun dr. khaim zhitlovski [Dr. Chaim Zhitlowsky’s Sixty-Year Jubilee].
  2. A subset of these scholars also capitalize the names and titles of individuals: Zekhtsik yoriker yubiley fun Dr. Khaim Zhitlovski.
  3. A subset of the scholars in category 2 also capitalize place names: Vilne, mayn Vilne [Vilnius, my Vilnius].
  4. A subset of the scholars in category 3 also capitalize the names of languages and national or ethnic groups: Dos gerangl far Yidish [The struggle for Yiddish]; Vilne unter di Daytshn [Vilnius under the Germans].
  5. A subset of the scholars in category 4 capitalize other words whose English equivalents would be capitalized, including names of holidays: Der Purim-shpiler [The Purim player].
  6. Finally, some scholars capitalize all major content words, following rules similar to those governing English title case: Groyser Verterbukh fun der Yidisher Shprakh [Great Dictionary of the Yiddish Language].

There is additional inconsistency within each of these categories. For example, some of the authors who capitalize place names in nominal form (category 3) also capitalize them in adjectival form (e.g., Fun Vilner geto ‘from the Vilnius ghetto’), but many do not. Some will capitalize all parts of hyphenated place names (Dorem-Amerike ‘South America’; Sovetn-Farband ‘Soviet Union’), while others will capitalize only the “proper” parts (dorem-Amerike; Sovetn-farband); others capitalize only the initial part (Nyu-york, Buenos-ayres). Of those who capitalize the names of languages and national or ethnic groups (category 4), some also capitalize them when they appear as adjectives with endings (di Yidishe shprakh ‘the Yiddish language’; farn Yidishn folk ‘for the Jewish people’).

To avoid these sorts of inconsistencies, and to follow the trend set by most scholars working in English, the recommendation is to capitalize the first word of a title—which is likely to satisfy requirements of editors and publishers—as well as the names and titles of individuals (category 2). One should refer to the style guidelines of individual publications to determine whether the first word of a subtitle needs to be capitalized.

If a title contains the title of a different work, as in the example from Shmeruk cited in the introduction, then the first letter of the embedded title should also be capitalized. If a person’s name is made up of multiple parts, the first letter of each part should be capitalized (e.g., Dov-Ber). Relatedly, the names of organizations should also be provided in uppercase, and if they are acronyms, they should be entirely in capital letters (e.g., YIVO, not Yivo or yivo). Otherwise, all words should be rendered in lowercase.

Punctuation in abbreviations and acronyms

Unlike English, which often uses periods in abbreviations and acronyms, standard written Yiddish usually uses a geresh or gershayim, similar in appearance to an apostrophe/single prime and a quotation mark/double prime, respectively. For example, פֿר׳ froy ‘Mrs.’; אאַז״װ un azoy vayter ‘etc.’; ימ״ש yemakh-shmoy/shmom ‘may his/their name be erased (said after mentioning an evil person or enemy).’ In some cases, abbreviations and acronyms are pronounced as words, as though they are not shortened from longer phrases: e.g., גמ״ח g(e)makh ‘interest-free loan fund’; שליט״א shlite ‘may he live a long life (appended to the name of a prominent rabbi).’ Finally, some especially common acronyms are not only pronounced as words, but also optionally spelled without any abbreviating symbols, e.g., תּנ״ך or תּנך tanakh ‘Bible’; ייִװ״אָ or ייִװאָ ‘YIVO.’

In order to aid readers in tracking down source texts, the recommendation is to transliterate the acronym rather than transcribe the full word or phrase (e.g., fr’ not froy), and also to use apostrophes, quotation marks, or (more rarely) periods, depending on the abbreviation convention used in the source: e.g., fss”r, f.s.s.r., fssr, etc., ‘(the) USSR.’ If the acronym is based on a Hebrew- or Aramaic-origin phrase, each letter should be transliterated according to the standard pronunciation of the full phrase. For example, ע״ה o”h ‘may he/she rest in peace’ (for olev/ole-hasholem). 12 12 Or in the plural, if the context calls for it: a”h for aleyem-hasholem ‘may they rest in peace.’ A shtumer alef should be represented by the corresponding vowel pronounced in the relevant word of the phrase: uaz”v.

Relatedly, any punctuation within a title should be retained. For example, if a title contains a word in quotation marks and a comma appears outside the closing quotation mark, this should be retained in the transliteration.

Translation of titles

To improve searchability, the titles of Yiddish-language books and articles should always be provided in transliteration, not only in translation. 13 13 For examples of bibliographies that cite (at least some) titles only in translation, see U. Weinreich and B. Weinreich, Yiddish Language and Folklore; Gitl Schaechter-Viswanath and Paul Glasser, eds., Comprehensive English-Yiddish Dictionary: Based on the Lexical Research of Mordkhe Schaechter (Bloomington and Indianapolis, IN: Indiana University Press, 2016), x. However, to benefit readers outside Yiddish studies, researchers should also strive to provide English translations (in square brackets or parentheses). Many Yiddish-language books and periodicals printed in the United States have a title page or a table of contents in both Yiddish and English. If the translation is inaccurate or incomplete (e.g., missing a subtitle), the researcher may want to provide an original translation of the title. Otherwise, the translation printed in English should be used, since that is the one most likely to be included in library catalogs and databases. It is generally not considered necessary to translate the titles of periodicals.

If a source provides a translated title in a language other than English (e.g., Spanish, Polish, Russian), scholars are encouraged to provide that information, as well. Doing so may help readers find sources in catalogs that, for whatever reason, have not indexed the original Yiddish titles (a problem especially in libraries outside the United States). Non-Latin alphabets, such as Cyrillic, will likely need to be transliterated, and scholars should adopt the conventions for the particular language in question.

Transliteration of authors’ names

The spelling of authors’ names is arguably the most contentious issue in Yiddish transliteration. In most cases, the transliteration of an author’s Yiddish name will differ from the author’s published name in English. For example, Judah A. Joffe and Yudel Mark are listed as the compilers of the Groyser verterbukh fun der yidisher shprakh [Great Dictionary of the Yiddish Language] on the English title page, but their names listed on the Yiddish title page would be transliterated “Yuda A. Yofe” and “Yudl Mark.” This inconsistency can make it difficult for readers to track down the original sources, especially for lesser-cited authors. Occasionally an author’s names in English and in transliterated Yiddish are close enough in alphabetical order that their works will be listed together in a bibliography (e.g., Sutzkever, Abraham and Sutskever, Avrom); however, this is not guaranteed (e.g., Chagall, Bella and Shagal, Bela).

The recommendation is to use just one name per author, rather than—as has been the practice in some bibliographies—using multiple spellings depending on the language of the source document. If the author has a commonly accepted spelling in English or other Latin-based orthography, that should be used (e.g., Max Weinreich). Researchers should consult authoritative encyclopedias, such as the YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe, to determine whether such a spelling exists. Otherwise, a transliterated Yiddish name should be used. 14 14 A recommended resource for the transliteration of common Hebrew-origin names is Yitskhok Niborski, Verterbukh fun loshn-koydesh-shtamike verter in yidish [Dictionnaire des mots d’origine hébraïque et araméenne en usage dans la langue yiddish; Dictionary of Hebrew- and Aramaic-Origin Words in Yiddish], 3rd ed. (Paris: Bibliothèque Medem, 2012). See, however, the separate section on transliterating these words. The same rule applies for the names of publishers (and theoretically for the publisher locations, although usually the English spelling is obvious, e.g., Chicago or New York rather than shikage or nyu-york).

For example, the spelling Sholem Aleichem is recommended rather than Sholem-Aleykhem, the YIVO transliteration, or Sholom Aleichem, a less common variant sometimes seen in English. 15 15 Incidentally, the two parts of this pen name are always pronounced together in order. For this reason, the name is not to be alphabetized “Aleichem, Sholem,” and quotes should not be attributed just to “Aleichem.” However, the Yiddish language planner Mordkhe Veynger should be listed under that spelling, rather than one of the possible English spellings (Mordecai Weinger, etc.). Where an author has more than one common alias, researchers should use a single authoritative form for the heading of the bibliographic entry but are encouraged to list alternative transliterations elsewhere in the reference (in brackets or parentheses).

Finally, these recommendations are only for names of authors. If a Yiddish-language title contains a person’s name, the entire title should be transliterated according to YIVO conventions. For example, a bibliography might have an entry for Max Weinreich’s Geshikhte fun der yidisher shprakh [History of the Yiddish Language], but also for an article entitled “Maks Vaynraykhs verk” [Max Weinreich’s works].

Transliteration of words not pronounced as written

Loshn-koydesh (Hebrew- and Aramaic-origin words)

These words should be transliterated based on their transcriptions in Weinreich’s dictionary or in one of the more recent authoritative dictionaries. 16 16 U. Weinreich, Modern English-Yiddish Yiddish-English Dictionary; Solon Beinfeld and Harry Bochner, Comprehensive Yiddish-English Dictionary (Bloomington and Indianapolis, IN: Indiana University Press, 2013); Schaechter-Viswanath and Glasser, Comprehensive English-Yiddish Dictionary. Very rarely, the transcription given in one dictionary will not agree with the transcription in another (e.g., לחײם ‘(a) toast’ is transcribed as lekhaim by Weinreich but lekhayem by Schaechter-Viswanath and Glasser). Because Weinreich’s dictionary is older and has had more influence on cataloging practices, it is recommended to follow Weinreich’s transcriptions where available.

Occasionally a word will be transcribed as having both a “full” and “reduced” form (e.g., חריפֿות kh(a)rifes ‘insight’; יישר־כּוח (ya)sh(er)-koyekh ‘thanks’); in these cases, always provide the full form in transliteration. Similarly, if a word is made up of multiple hyphenated parts and some of its elements have been reduced as a result, it should be transliterated based on the full pronunciation of its subparts (e.g., בית־מדרש, transcribed besmedresh, should be transliterated beys-medresh, which also preserves the punctuation; בית־הקבֿרות, transcribed beysakvores, should be transliterated beys-hakvores). If a word is transcribed with two distinct pronunciation variants (e.g., כּהנים koyenim/kehanim ‘descendants of the ancient priests’), either may be used.

In comparison to Ashkenazic Hebrew, Yiddish often reduces unstressed vowels to e (approximating a schwa) or deletes them completely. Certain consonants, including h, are also eliminated in the standard transcription. For example, the Hebrew oylom ‘world,’ minhog ‘custom,’ and Avrohom ‘Abraham’ become in Yiddish oylem, mineg, and Avrom. These dictionary transcriptions should also be used in bibliographic transliterations, with the caveat for multipart words mentioned in the previous paragraph. Similarly, the unstressed sequence transcribed in dictionaries as -ekh should be transliterated as such, not as -akh (e.g., koyekh ‘strength,’ not koyakh; the same holds for non-Hebraic words like kinderlekh ‘kids,’ not kinderlakh).

There are several cases when adopting the transcription of a dictionary is not advisable in a bibliography. This is because the transcription of Hebrew- and Aramaic-origin words in dictionaries also includes some “pre-processing” by dictionary authors in order to apply regular rules of standard Yiddish phonology. There are two rules in particular that affect a large number of transcriptions:

  1. Syllabic nun (i.e., when there is a “consonant + nun” syllable without any intervening vowel) undergoes assimilation to the place of the preceding consonant. This is seen in words like חורבן ‘destruction,’ which would ordinarily be transliterated as khurbn but because the syllabic nun appears right after a beys, the nun is pronounced (and transcribed in dictionaries) as though it were a mem: khurbm. Additional examples are provided in the table below. This rule also affects the syllabic nun in Germanic-origin words like shraybn ‘to write’ (pronounced shraybm) and lipn ‘lips’ (pronounced lipm), 17 17 Dovid Katz, Grammar of the Yiddish Language (London: Duckworth, 1987), 33. but such words are never transliterated with an m. For this reason, the recommendation for transliteration is to modify the transcriptions given in dictionaries, so as not to obscure the original spelling.
  2. Sequences of consonants within a syllable must agree in their voicing—either all voiced or all voiceless, depending on the voicing of the sequence’s final consonant. For example, the word בשׂורה ‘announcement’ begins with the sequence [bs]; because the /b/ is voiced and the /s/ is voiceless, the /b/ is devoiced to a [p]: psure (the form listed given in dictionaries). The same rule also renders voiceless consonants voiced, as in סגולה ‘remedy,’ which would ordinarily be transliterated sgule but is transcribed in dictionaries as zgule due to the voicing of /s/ to [z] when preceding the voiced /g/. As with the rule affecting syllabic nun, this voicing rule is not restricted to Hebrew- or Aramaic-origin items: Katz’s standard Yiddish grammar lists the pronunciation of שרײַבסט shraybst ‘(you) write’ as shraypst and זיסװאַרג zisvarg ‘candy products’ as zizvarg, 18 18 Katz, Grammar of the Yiddish Language, 29–30. though these words are never transliterated that way. Again, in order not to obscure the original spelling, the recommendation here is to provide a transliteration as if the voicing agreement rule had not taken place.

Table 1

A sampling of words from the Hebrew and Aramaic component of Yiddish, showing their dictionary transcription and recommended transliteration for bibliographies.

Other words

There are a number of exceptional cases in which a non-Hebrew/Aramaic word, prefix, or suffix is not pronounced the way it is written in the standard Yiddish orthography. These elements should be transliterated so as to reflect their written forms (e.g., פֿאַרחלומטקײט ‘dreaminess,’ pronounced farkholemtkayt, should be transliterated farkholemtkeyt; אױפֿקום ‘origin,’ pronounced ufkum, should be transliterated oyfkum). However, if the original source title is written with nonstandard diacritics or spellings, as in Soviet publications, those differences should be reflected in the bibliography whenever possible (e.g., פארכאָלעמטקײַט should be transliterated farkholemtkayt; אופקומ/אופקום should be transliterated ufkum). Although this introduces a distinction that is normally leveled off in speech, it contributes to the searchability and discoverability of source materials.

Table 2

A sampling of words and affixes from the Germanic component of Yiddish, which are nevertheless not spelled as pronounced in Standard Yiddish.

Nonstandard orthographies

The guidelines presented above for non-Hebrew/Aramaic words that are not pronounced as written also apply, more generally, to texts written in nonstandard orthographies. Consider, for example, the simple case of a title that is written in the YIVO orthography but with none of the diacritics. In that case, one should assume that the standard diacritics are present (e.g., to distinguish p and f, a and o, ey and ay, etc.). If the text also has silent letters ע and ה, as in many publications that attempt to mirror German spellings, those should be preserved in the transliteration. For example, if the title is written מענשען און געשעהנישען ‘people and events,’ it should be transliterated: menshen un geshehnishen. A transliteration that has been standardized to mentshn un gesheenishn is arguably “easier on the eyes” to somebody who is used to reading YIVO transliterations, but it makes it more difficult to find the original source in an archive or database. For this very reason, nonstandard orthographies have even been included in the bibliographies of Yiddish-language works that are otherwise fully compliant with the standard YIVO orthography (Figure 2).

Similarly, one might wish to represent the silent alef that appears in certain German-oriented texts, e.g., in דיא ‘the,’ perhaps by adding an a or an apostrophe. However, doing so would introduce an inconsistency with the shtumer alef that appears at the beginning of certain vowel-initial words and roots (אײנס, פֿאַראײן) which is not normally transcribed or transliterated. For this reason, it is not recommended.

When representing nonstandard spellings, one does not need to append “sic.” to the end of the title, as has sometimes been done by YIVO-affiliated scholars. 19 19 Schaechter, Di geviksn-velt in yidish, xxxiii: “gegenvart [sic!].” It should be assumed that any nonstandard entry in a bibliography has been rendered that way on purpose.

i and y

The normal rule for deciding whether to transcribe the Yiddish letter yud as an i or yi if a vowel, y if a consonant—can be challenging to implement in practice. This is because a yud can also indicate that a preceding consonant is pronounced with palatalization. The introduction to Weinreich’s dictionary 20 20 U. Weinreich, Modern English-Yiddish Yiddish-English Dictionary, xxiii–xxi states that after the dental consonants /t, d, s, z, n, l/ (which, incidentally, are not dental for all Yiddish speakers), the letter yud followed by a vowel indicates that the dental consonant is palatalized, and this should be transcribed with a lowercase y: e.g., מעדיום MEDyUM ‘medium (noun)’ and סטודיאָ STUDyO ‘studio.’ However, Weinreich notes that there are exceptions, where in this exact same context a yud represents either a separate consonant (uppercase Y) or even a vowel (I). For example, the word דיאַלעקט ‘dialect’ contains a yud that represents a vowel i (so DIALEKT, not DyALEKT or DYALEKT) even though it is not written with a khirek (not דיִאַלעקט). These exceptional words are listed in the dictionary as having either a [DI] or [DY] sequence: e.g., דיאַבעט DIABET ‘diabetes’ and דיאָצעז DIOTsEZ ‘diocese,’ but אינגרעדיענט INGREDYENT ‘ingredient’ and אידיאָמאַטיש IDYOMATISh ‘idiomatic.’ Finally, there is apparently further variation in the standard pronunciation, e.g., Weinreich’s example of אַזיע ‘Asia’ which he states can be pronounced [AZ-YE] or [A-ZI-E].

To make matters simple and more easily implementable in bibliographies, it is recommended that any time an unmarked yud (י) appears before another vowel, it should be transliterated y. If there is a khirek (יִ), it should be transliterated i. Otherwise, consonantal yud is transliterated y and vocalic yud (one that comes between consonants) is transliterated i.

For example, ביבליאָטעק ‘library’ should be transliterated biblyotek because there is an unmarked yud appearing before the vowel o. However, ביבליִאָטעק (a non-YIVO spelling in some Soviet Yiddish sources) would be transliterated bibliotek, due to the khirek under the yud. The same is true for דיאַלעקטאָלאָגיע ‘dialectology’: dyalektologye. If there were a khirek under the first and last yud, it would be transliterated dialektologie.

Example transliterations

This table provides examples of authors, titles, and (where applicable) journal names written in transliteration. Other common elements of a bibliographic entry are not normally affected by the above recommendations and have not been included in the table.

Table 3

A sampling of sources listed in their original orthography alongside transliterations that comply with the recommendations included in this document.

Figure 1

The title pages accompanying Shmeruk’s study and critical edition of Peretz’s Bay nakht oyfn altn mark. The English page includes not only a translation of the title, but also a partial transliteration (Peretses yiesh-vizye; Bay nakht oyfn altn mark) and an implicit recommendation that the author’s first name be rendered Chone (though the letter c is not used in the YIVO system).

Figure 2

The bibliography from Yitskhok Niborski, Verterbukh fun loshn-koydesh-shtamike verter in yidish [Dictionnaire des mots d’origine hébraïque et araméenne en usage dans la langue yiddish; Dictionary of Hebrew- and Aramaic-Origin Words in Yiddish], 3rd ed. (Paris: Bibliothèque Medem, 2012), xviii. The bibliography preserves a number of features of the source texts’ nonstandard orthographies, including the last two sources which have different spellings for hebreizmen ‘Hebraisms’ and yidish ‘Yiddish.’

Bleaman, Isaac L. . “Guidelines for Yiddish in Bibliographies: A Supplement to YIVO Transliteration.” In geveb, July 2019:
Bleaman, Isaac L. . “Guidelines for Yiddish in Bibliographies: A Supplement to YIVO Transliteration.” In geveb (July 2019): Accessed Sep 24, 2020.


Isaac L. Bleaman

Isaac L. Bleaman is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley.