Zarphatic language

צרפתית Tzarfatit
Native to France, Germany
Extinct 14th century
Language codes
ISO 639-3 zrp
Glottolog zarp1238[1]

Zarphatic, or Judeo-French (Zarphatic: Tzarfatit), is an extinct Jewish language that was spoken by the French Jews of northern France and in parts of west-central Germany, such as Mainz, Frankfurt am Main and Aix-la-Chapelle. It was also spoken by French Jews that moved to Norman England.[2]


The term Zarphatic, coined by Solomon Birnbaum,[3] comes from the Hebrew name for France, Tzarfat (צרפת), which had been used in the Hebrew Bible name for the city of Sarepta, in Phoenicia. Some have conjectured that the language was the original language of the Jews who eventually adopted Old High German, which led to the development of Yiddish.


It was written by a modified Hebrew script and first appeared in the 11th century, in glosses to texts of the Hebrew Bible and the Talmud written by the great rabbis Rashi and Moshe HaDarshan. Constant expulsions and persecutions, resulting in great waves of Jewish migration, brought about the extinction of Zarphatic by the end of the 14th century.

One feature, unlike most other Indo-European Jewish languages, was that to represent vowel sounds, instead of using Hebrew letters with no matching phonemes in the language, it made extensive use of the Tiberian system of vocalisation to indicate the full range of Old French vowels.


Another interesting feature was that its vocabulary had relatively few Hebrew loanwords, unlike almost all other Jewish languages.

See also


  1. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Zarphatic". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  2. Hillaby (2013), p24
  3. S. A. Birnbaum, Yiddish: A Survey and a Grammar, Second Edition (University of Toronto Press, 2016), p. 33.
  • Information for this article draws heavily on the information presented on the Jewish Languages project Judeo-French page
  • Hillaby, Joe (2013). The Palgrave Dictionary of Medieval Anglo-Jewish History. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-0230278165. 
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