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, formerly spoken among the French Jews of northern France and in parts of west-central Germany, such as Mainz, Frankfurt am Main, and Aachen.


The word Zarphatic comes from the Hebrew name for France, Tzarfat (צרפת), the Biblical name for the Phoenician city of Sarepta. Some have conjectured that Judeo-French was the original language of the Jews who eventually adopted Old High German, which led to the development of Yiddish.

Judeo-French was written using a variant of the Hebrew alphabet, and first appeared in the 11th century, in glosses to texts of the Hebrew Bible and Talmud written by the great rabbis Rashi and Rabbi Moshe HaDarshan. Constant expulsions and persecutions, resulting in great waves of Jewish migration, brought about the extinction of this short-lived, but important, language by the end of the 14th century.

Distinct features

One feature of Judeo-French spelling which sets it apart from most other Indo-European Jewish languages is that to represent vowel sounds, rather than using Hebrew letters with no matching phonemes in the language, it instead made extensive use of the Tiberian system of niqqud to indicate the full range of Old French vowels.

Another interesting feature of Judeo-French is that it displays relatively few Hebrew loanwords; this sets it apart from the vast majority of other Jewish languages.

See also


  1. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Zarphatic". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
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