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About the story
What’s with this “Wren” thing?
   The oldest extant version of the fable we are presenting here appeared in 1913 in the first volume of a two-volume anthology of Low Saxon folktales (Plattdeutsche Volksmärchen “Low German Folktales”) collected by Wilhelm Wisser (1843–1935). Read more ...

Ladino - Djudeo-Espanyol

Ladino – Judeo-Spanish (Judeo-Castilian)

Sephardim in 19th-century Bosnia
Speakers of Eastern Ladino—Sephardic Jews in 19th-century Bosnia, possibly around the time when the region changed from Ottoman Turkish rule to Austro-Hungarian rule (1878).

Language information: Ladino is often confused with Ladin (Italian ladino), which is used in the Dolomite Mountains region of northeastern Italy. Both names mean “Latin” or actually “Romance language” (derived from Latin latinus). Ladino is known by several other names, such as “Judeo-Spanish” (non-American spelling “Judaeo-Spanish”), “Judezmo” (or “Dzhudezmo”), “Judio” (or “Djudio”), “Sefardi”, “Spanyol” (also “Spañol” or “Spagnol”) and “Haketia”. Some people use the name “Ladino” only for the classical written language and “Judeo-Spanish” for the language in general. The name “Sefardi” (or “Sephardi”) is sometimes used because the speakers are Sephardic (or Iberian) Jews, but this is imprecise since on the Iberian Peninsula the traditional language of Portuguese Jews used to be different (known as “Judeo-Portuguese” and “Lusitanic”), the Jews of Catalonia spoke “Judeo-Catalan” (or “Catalanic”), and the Jews of Aragon spoke “Judeo-Aragonese.” It is true, however, that Ladino is the only Sephardic language that is still being used.
     Strictly speaking, Ladino is a group of Castilian varieties (is thus closely related to Modern Standard Spanish). “Judeo-Castilian” (Ladino Djudeo-Kasteyano, Spanish judeocastellano, Turkish Yahudi İspanyolcası) is therefore the most appropriate name and is particularly favored in Turkey. Some people use the name “Haketia” (also spelled “Hakitia”, “Haquitía” or “Jaquetía”, from Arabic ħaka ‘tell’) for the language in general, but it ought to be used only for the now virtually extinct West Ladino dialects of northwestern Africa. Despite all of this, “Ladino” remains the most popularly used name, especially among laymen, and especially in Israel where now most of the remaining speakers of the language live.

Toledo, Spain, used to be one of the great centers of Al-Andalus, Andalusia under Islamic rule where Muslims, Jews and Christians lived together relatively peacefully. Although most of them were native Spanish speakers, many Christians and Jews were fluent in Arabic and often excelled as Arabic writers. Superbly ornate Arabic art greatly inspired all Spaniards at the time. Toledo’s Synagogue of the Transit is a good example of this. It became a church (Nuestra Señora Del Transito) after the expulsion of Jews from Spain.
      Ladino is essentially a descendant of what is commonly known as “Old Spanish,” namely the Castilian language as used from the 10th to the 15th century. It probably developed from a mixture of Castilian dialects with Judeo-specific Castilian jargon and Arabic, Hebrew, Aramaic and other admixtures. Also, it seems to be strongly influenced by Andalusian, the South Castilian dialects of the Spanish region once under Muslim domination, where Jews had enjoyed a relatively good measure of safety and freedom before the Christian Reconquest of Iberia and the following inquisitions (Spain 1478–1834), Portugal (1536–1821). Jews had to either renounce their ancestral faith or leave their home countries, or else be put to death. Many Jews took on Roman Catholicism but were later persecuted anyway. However, many of the Jewish converts adhered to their ancestral faith in secret as marranos (crypto-Jews). Lately, some of their descendants are officially converting to Judaism to reclaim their heritage.

Map of Sephardic Migration

            Converts used the mainstream languages and cultures of their Iberian regions. Those in Castilian-speaking regions thus used the common dialects as they kept developing in Spain. It was only the expelled Jews that adhered to Castilian as it used to be when they or their ancestors left Spain, and they delevoped it into a Jewish language with influences from Hebrew and Aramaic as well as from the languages of the regions in which they came to live. This is analogous to the development of Yiddish, or Judeo-German, in Eastern Europe, away from the German-speaking mainstream.

A Jewish man in Turkey (1779)—Sultan Bayezid II (1447-1512) had specifically invited expelled Iberian Jews and Muslims to settle in the Ottoman Empire and he issued a decree commanding that they be treated cordially.
      Eventually, two main Ladino dialect groups developed: Western Ladino (or Haketia) and Eastern Ladino. Western Ladino was mainly used in Northwest Africa, especially in Morocco. It and Sephardic culture of that region became fairly strongly influenced by Morrocan Arabic (which has Berber substrata). Eastern Ladino essentially developed in the then large Ottoman Empire, including the entire Balkan region, Romania and parts of Hungary, later growing to include what is now the Middle East without much of the Arabian Peninsula, and North Africa up to the eastern border of Morroco. Among the most important East-Ladino-speaking communities were those of Belgrade (Serbia), Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey), Rhodes (Greece), Smyrna (Izmir, Turkey), Sarajevo (Bosnia), Salonica (Thessaloniki, Greece), and Sofia (Bulgaria), and a language community grew in Jerusalem as well. The Ladino varieties of Italy may be seen as a separate group, since Iberian Jews had migrated directly to Italy, thus were not directly exposed to the languages of North Africa and the Ottoman Empire. Despite some local influences, Eastern Ladino is not very extreme in its dialect diversity, remaining rather true to its Late Old Castilian roots and being to a good degree intelligible to today’s Spanish speakers. A special case is that of the dialect of Monastir in what is now the Republic of Macedonia. It developed in isolation from other Ladino varieties and seems to have Italian influences as well. Some Ladino dialects display signs of Portuguese influences. This is probably due to many expelled Spanish Jews having first emigrated to Portugal and then left from there with the onset of the Portuguese Inquisition, probably taking with them some Portuguese Jews as well.
     Many Portuguese Jews left for what are now the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Northern Germany, establishing especially important and successful communities in then newly Protestant-dominated Amsterdam and Hamburg. For some generations they used Judeo-Portuguese, and many members were proficient in Ladino as well, which seems to indicate that there had been a fair degree of mixing. Furthermore, these communities were surrounded by speakers of Dutch, English and Low Saxon and they used these languages as well, in Hamburg later also German, at which time their use of Low Saxon supposedly waned. Other Portuguese Jews went to live in Brazil and in Dutch colonies in the Americas. Their Ladino and Judeo-Portuguese strongly participated in the development of Papiamentu and the creoles of Suriname. Non-Portuguese Ladino speakers, too, immigrated to the Americas, especially to the United States and to the predominantly Spanish-speaking countries. Ladino language loyalty in the Americas has been waning in recent decades, in Spanish-speaking countries in part because of dialect leveling due to Spanish influences on closely related Ladino.

Jewish inhabitants of Salonica (Thessaloniki) in 1917—Ninety-six percent of the city’s Jewish population was murdered during the 20th-century Holocaust.

             As was its Yiddish-speaking population, Europe’s Ladino-speaking population was drastically reduced as a result of the 20th-century genocidal Holocaust (for instance 96% of Salonica’s once thriving Jewish population having been murdered). The number of speakers would have been even farther reduced had it not been for the protection neutral Turkey afforded its Jews within and outside the country and also those that sought refuge there. Ladino-speaking life continued in Turkey, but many communities have meanwhile ceased to exist as some people took on Turkish as their first language and others emigrated either overseas or to Israel. For several decades after the country’s foundation, mainstream Zionist ideology in Israel was hostile to or at least non-supportive of Judeo-specific diaspora languages (and cultures) such as Bukhori, Dzhidi, Judeo-Arabic, Judeo-Berber, Judeo-Georgian, Judeo-Malayalam, Judeo-Marathi, Judeo-Telugu, Juhuri, Krymchak, Ladino and Yiddish. However, the climate is now more tolerant, and at least Bukhori (Judeo-Tajik), Ladino and Yiddish are now regularly featured in some Israeli media. Despite this, the number of Ladino speakers keeps shrinking even in the remaining centers: Argentina, Canada (especially Montreal), France, Israel, USA (especially New York City) and a few communities in Turkey, and Ladino is currently an endangered language. It remains to be seen if the current minor resurgence of Ladino language activism, partly due to Internet communication and partly to interest in Ladino music, will manage to halt or even reverse the decline.
     Although Ladino varieties developed various innovations as their Castilian came to be influenced by the languages of the displaced populations’ new abodes, it retained a number of features that in general Castilian changed or disappeared. Among these are phonetic features such as the old distinction between the sound as in French jour and the sound as in English “ship” or “fresh” (in other Castilian varieties now both written “j” and pronounced [x] as in Scots loch and German lachen); e.g. foja (like foža) ‘leaf’ and pásharo ‘bird’ (cf. Modern Spanish hoja and pájaro respectively). Old Spanish “ç” which was pronounced as [ts], has come to be written “c” before “i” and “e” and “z” before other vowels and is pronounced [θ] or [s]. In Ladino, depending on the variety and sometimes on the word, it is pronounced [s] or [ts]; e.g. korasón in Turkey, koratsón in Eastern Bulgaria, and kuretsón in Bosnia (cf. Modern Spanish corazón) ‘heart’. Old Spanish /z/ has coincided with this and with old /s/, but in Ladino it is still pronounced [z], as in dezir (cf. Modern Spanish decir) ‘to say’, kaza (cf. Spanish casa) ‘house’. The sequence /rd/ tends to be reversed (metathesis) to /dr/, as in tarde > tadre ‘late’. Ladino has at least two Portuguese-like phonological features with some dialectical variation. One of these is vowel raising in syllables without primary stress, such as in Bosnian Ladino kuretsón (cf. Modern Spanish corazón) ‘heart’ mentioned above. The other is a syllable-final “sh” sound ([∫]) before a stop consonant; e.g. peshkado ~ pishkadu (cf. Modern Spanish pescado) ‘fish’.
     Ladino has been written with several scripts. Like the highly Arabicized Romance language varieties collectively known as Mozarabic, Early Judeo-Spanish back in Muslim-dominated Spain used to be written with the Arabic script, but use of the Hebrew script was more common. Especially the Rashi typeface of the Hebrew script was very popular. Outside Iberia, depending on the dominant script of a given area, Ladino has been written not only with the Hebrew script but with the Cyrillic, Greek and Roman scripts as well. Among the Roman script systems, the predominant ones are based on Spanish orthography and on Turkish orthography. These days, a modified version of the Turkish system (without Turco-specific characters) seems to be internationally accepted and is being used in Turkey as well. It is used in nearly all publications. The Hebrew script is now hardly used at all for Ladino, and few people can read and write Solitreo, the handwritten equivalent of the Rashi typeface.

The first paragraph of the Ladino translation written with Solitreo, the handwritten equivalent of the Rashi typeface of the Hebrew script. It differs considerably from the now ordinary handwritten style of Hebrew.
     Oral literature has been playing an especially important role in Sephardic culture. In recent years, Ladino folksongs and various romantic, lyrical art songs with their numerous attractive musical modes from around the Mediterranian Sea and Southeastern Europe have been enjoying renewed international interest.

Genealogy: Indo-European > Romance > Italo-Western > Western > Gallo-Iberian > Ibero-Romance > West Iberian > Castilian > Judeo-Castilian

Historical Lowlands language contacts: Dutch, English, Low Saxon

    Click to open the translations: [Eastern Ladino] Click here for different versions. >

Author: Reinhard F. Hahn

© 2011, Lowlands-L · ISSN 189-5582 · LCSN 96-4226 · All international rights reserved.
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