Ladino (Judeo-Spanish, Spanyol, Judezmo)

Ladino :: Language-genetic affiliationshow bookmarks

Ladino is an archaic variety of Spanish, which emerged as a Jewish ethnolect in late medieval Spain. Apart from minor particular usages of morpho-syntax and lexicon, it is still very closely related to Spanish. Perhaps the most outstanding unique feature of Ladino is the preservation of the sounds /ž/ and /š/ in words like mužer 'woman' and dišo 'he/she said', which are characteristic of late medieval and early modern Spanish. Some varieties of Ladino also maintain initial /f/ in words like fižo 'son'. Ladino also has some unique vocabulary: a number of Hebrew loanwords in the domains of culture and religion, as well as loanwords from Italian, Greek, Turkish and Arabic.

Ladino :: Historical distribution Mapshow bookmarks

The expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492 led to the emergence of a Judeo-Spanish speaking, 'Sephardic' (Judeo-Spanish) diaspora throughout the Mediterranean regions and farther, in northern European urban centres such as Amsterdam and Hamburg. Large communities of Spanish Jews settled in North Africa and in the Ottoman Empire, and towns such as Bitola or Manastir (Macedonia), Thessaloniki (Greece), Istanbul and Izmir (Turkey), and Jerusalem (Palestine) became key centres of Judeo-Spanish culture.


Ladino :: Present-day distribution, status and endangermentshow bookmarks

While Sephardic (Spanish) Jews in northern and eastern Europe appear to have abandoned their language at an early stage and assimilated to the local majority languages, those in the Mediterranean region maintained Judeo-Spanish until well into the twentieth century and even beyond. In most North African communities, speakers of Judeo-Spanish lived in urban communities, and shifted to French when this language became the language of colonial rule, administration and education in the region by the early part of the twentieth century. In Italy, too, Ladino was abandoned in favour of closely related Italian. The large Ladino-speaking communities of Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Greece suffered severe losses through deportation of Jews by the German occupation army during World War II. After the war, only few speakers remained, and the decimation of the community along with the loss of traditional culture and lifestyle hindered transmission of the language to a younger generation. In Palestine, Ladino speakers were encouraged, like the other Jewish populations, to adopt vernacular Hebrew when this language was revitalised as the lingua franca of the Jewish population in Palestine and later as the official language of the state of Israel. Of the original Ladino-speaking communities in the Mediterranean region, those in Turkey remained the strongest, numerically, and it is here that Ladino continued to survive in many families for a further generation after the 1940s. However, political and economic instability from the 1950s onwards led many members of the Jewish community to emigrate - some to Israel, others to North and South America, where the following generation adopted the respective majority language. Those that stayed behind favoured French-language education and gradually adopted Turkish as their everyday informal language. Ladino thus ceased to be passed on to the younger generation already in the 1950s. Its absence of the public and institutional domain of use certainly made its decline easier. Today Ladino is used in weekly broadcasts on Isreal Radio, targeting mainly the older generation of immigrants from the Balkans, as well as sporadically, in informal columns in occasional publications of the Jewish community in Turkey. Its use is otherwise confined to the informal, family language of an older generation of émigrés.


Ladino :: References to Yaron Matras's workshow bookmarks

  • 1998. Utterance modifiers and universals of grammatical borrowing. Linguistics 36-2, 281-331.

Ladino :: Links to other websitesshow bookmarks

Ladino :: Sound samplesshow bookmarks