Localizing Ashkenazic Jews to Primeval Villages in the Ancient Iranian Lands of Ashkenaz

Ranajit Das, Paul Wexler, Mehdi Pirooznia, Eran Elhaik

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Citations (SciVal)

Abstract

The Yiddish language is over 1,000 years old and incorporates German, Slavic, and Hebrew elements. The prevalent view claims Yiddish has a German origin, whereas the opposing view posits a Slavic origin with strong Iranian and weak Turkic substrata. One of the major difficulties in deciding between these hypotheses is the unknown geographical origin of Yiddish speaking Ashkenazic Jews (AJs). An analysis of 393 Ashkenazic, Iranian, and mountain Jews and over 600 non-Jewish genomes demonstrated that Greeks, Romans, Iranians, and Turks exhibit the highest genetic similarity with AJs. The Geographic Population Structure analysis localized most AJs along major primeval trade routes in northeastern Turkey adjacent to primeval villages with names that may be derived from "Ashkenaz." Iranian and mountain Jews were localized along trade routes on the Turkey's eastern border. Loss of maternal haplogroups was evident in non-Yiddish speaking AJs. Our results suggest that AJs originated from a Slavo-Iranian confederation, which the Jews call "Ashkenazic" (i.e., "Scythian"), though these Jews probably spoke Persian and/or Ossete. This is compatible with linguistic evidence suggesting that Yiddish is a Slavic language created by Irano-Turko-Slavic Jewish merchants along the Silk Roads as a cryptic trade language, spoken only by its originators to gain an advantage in trade. Later, in the 9th century, Yiddish underwent relexification by adopting a new vocabulary that consists of a minority of German and Hebrew and a majority of newly coined Germanoid and Hebroid elements that replaced most of the original Eastern Slavic and Sorbian vocabularies, while keeping the original grammars intact.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1132-49
JournalGenome Biology and Evolution
Volume8
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2016 Apr 19
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

© The Author 2016. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution.

Keywords

  • Genome, Human
  • History, Ancient
  • History, Medieval
  • Humans
  • Iran
  • Jews/genetics
  • Language/history
  • Phylogeography
  • Turkey

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