Yiddish is a Germanic language, usually written in Hebrew characters, which contains many words borrowed from Hebrew and Slavic. For over one thousand years, Yiddish was spoken as a vernacular by Ashkenazi Jews living in Central and Eastern Europe. As such, Yiddish was the language of Jewish social and economic life, and later also came to represent a vibrant literary and cultural life. When in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century millions of Jews emigrated from Europe, they spread the Yiddish language all over the world, with the United States becoming one of the major new centers of Yiddish and Jewish life and culture. Whereas the Holocaust, Soviet repression of Jewish cultural life and linguistic assimilation in the United States, Israel, and other countries have led to a dramatic reduction of the number of Yiddish speakers in the world, Yiddish remains relevant for all those interested in Jewish history and literature written in Yiddish, as well as for those interested in Germanic linguistics.

Yiddish studies at UT has a unique profile in stressing intercultural contacts—from Russia and Galicia, all the way through to Broadway, with many other way stations in the German-speaking world. UT's Department of Germanic Studies offers YID 604 and YID 612—Accelerated First-Year Yiddish and Accelerated Second-Year Yiddish, respectively. These intensive language courses, taught by Dr. Itzik Gottesman, allow students to fulfill their language requirement in just one year. Germanic Studies and Jewish Studies also offer several English-language courses in Yiddish culture, such as J S 311 American Jews: The Yiddish Experience and J S 363 Yiddish Drama and Film. Furthermore, UT's campus is replete with Yiddish resources: The Perry-Castañeda Library contains a sizable collection of Judaica in Hebrew, Yiddish and modern languages, while the Harry Ransom Center holds early Yiddish texts and periodicals, as well as the papers of acclaimed writer Isaac Bashevis Singer.