Native toGermany, Switzerland, Austria, France, Netherlands, and elsewhere
Native speakers
16,000 (2006)[1]
Latin (German alphabet)
Official status
Recognised minority
language in
Language codes
ISO 639-3yec

Yenish (French: Yeniche, German: Jenisch), is a variety of German spoken by the Yenish people, former nomads living mostly in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Alsace and other parts of France.


Yenish has been documented since the 18th century. It is a jargon rather than an actual language; it consists of a significant number of unique specialized words, but does not have its own grammar or its own basic vocabulary.[citation needed] Yenish speakers generally speak their local German dialect, enriched by the Yenish vocabulary, which is derived in part from Rotwelsch, with influences from Yiddish, Romani, and other minority languages of the region.

The Yenish vocabulary contains many words of Romani and Yiddish (and through the latter route, Hebrew) origin; it also has many unusual metaphors and metonyms that replace the standard German words. The relationship between Yenish and standard German is comparable to the relationship between Cockney or Polari and standard English. Some original Yeniche words have become parts of standard German.

The Yenish were originally travelers, i.e. people with professions outside of mainstream society that required them to move from town to town, such as showpeople, tinkers, and door-to-door salesmen. Today, the Yenish jargon is only used in certain isolated locations, such as certain poor districts of Berlin, Münster, some Eifel villages, and Luxembourg.

Individual variants of the Yenish language can be quite distinct, and have names of their own, such as Masematte, Lepper Talp, Heenese Vlek, and others.[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ Yenish at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  2. ^ "Yenish in Switzerland". Database for the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. Public Foundation for European Comparative Minority Research. Retrieved 4 July 2013.