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Yiddish (literally: "Jewish") is a non-territorial Germanic language, spoken throughout the world and written with the Hebrew alphabet. It originated in the Ashkenazi culture that developed from about the 10th in central and eastern Europe, and spread via emigration to other continents. In the earliest surviving references to it, the language is called (loshn-ashkenaz = "Ashkenaz language"). In common usage, the language is called (mame-loshn = "mother tongue"), distinguishing it from biblical Hebrew and Aramaic which are collectively termed (loshn-koydesh = "holy tongue").

The term Yiddish did not become the most frequently used designation in the literature of the language until the 18th century. For a significant portion of its history it was the primary spoken language of the Ashkenazi Jews and once spanned a broad dialect continuum from "Western Yiddish" to "Eastern Yiddish". Only the Eastern dialects remain in use, differing most markedly from the Western varieties by the extensive inclusion of words of Slavic origin.