It may have been spoken for 1,000 years, but the origins of Yiddish – the language of Ashkenazic Jews – has been a bone of contention between linguists for years.
Now researchers say the DNA of Yiddish speakers may have originated from four ancient villages in north-eastern Turkey.
And they believe the Yiddish language was invented by Iranian and Ashkenazic Jews as they traded on the Silk Road, challenging the popular idea it is an old German dialect.
Scientists at the Universities of Sheffield and Tel Aviv used a tool dubbed the Geographic Population Structure (GPS) to convert DNA data into ancestral coordinates.
This enabled them to identify the ancient villages - Iskenaz, Eskenaz, Ashanaz, and Ashkuz – close to the crossroads of the Silk Roads, which were a historically important international trade route between China and the Mediterranean.
They believe the villages names derive from the word 'Ashkenaz' and may have existed as long as 1,500 years ago.
Dr Eran Elhaik from Sheffield University's Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, said: 'Language, geography and genetics are all connected.
'Using the GPS tool to analyse the DNA of sole Yiddish and non-Yiddish speakers, we were able to predict the possible ancestral location where Yiddish originated over 1,000 years ago – a question which linguists have debated over for many years.'
'North east Turkey is the only place in the world where these place names exist – which strongly implies that Yiddish was established around the first millennium at a time when Jewish traders who were plying the Silk Road moved goods from Asia to Europe wanted to keep their monopoly on trade.
'They did this by inventing Yiddish – a secret language that very few can speak or understand other than Jews.
'Our findings are in agreement with an alternative theory that suggests Yiddish has Iranian, Turkish, and Slavic origins...
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