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: https://​www​.loc​.gov/​c​a​t​d​i​r​/​c​p​s​o​/​r​o​m​a​n​.html. 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: https://​iblea​man​.github​.io/​L​O​C​-​t​o​-YIVO. 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, https://​yivo​.org/​y​i​d​d​i​s​h​-​a​l​p​habet. 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 Nov 26, 2020.


Isaac L. Bleaman

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