Walter Mencken 9 a.m., May 23
- Community Blog
Ladino: the Jewish Spanish Language
Ladino, also known as Judeo-Spanish, is the spoken and written Hispanic language of Jews of Spanish origin. Ladino did not become a specifically Jewish language until after the expulsion from Spain in 1492 - it was merely the language of their province. It is also known as Judezmo, Dzhudezmo, or Spaniolit.
When the Jews were expelled from Spain and Portugal they were cut off from the further development of the language, but they continued to speak it in the communities and countries to which they emigrated. Ladino therefore reflects the grammar and vocabulary of 14th and 15th century Spanish. The language of Cervantes. The further away from Spain the emigrants went, the more cut off they were from developments in the language, and the more Ladino began to diverge from mainstream Castilian Spanish.
The Nazis destroyed most of the communities in Europe where Ladino had been the first language among Jews. Ladino speakers who survived the Holocaust and emigrated to Latin America tended to pick up regular Spanish very quickly, whilst others adopted the language of whichever country they ended up in. Israel is now the country with the greatest number of Ladino speakers, with about 200,000 people who still speak or understand the language, but even they only know a very limited and basic Ladino.
Here is a little excerpt of Ladino pulled from a newsgroup which posts in Ladino:
En komparasion kon las duras sufriensas ke pasaron los reskapados de los kampos de eksterminasion nazistas en Gresia, se puede dizir ke las sufriensas de los olim en el kampo de Kipros no fueron muy grandes, ma despues de anyos de vida en los kampos de konsentrasion, en teribles kondisiones, eyos kerian empesar en una mueva vida en Erets Israel i sus planos eran atrazados agora por unos kuantos mezes.
A Spanish speaker would understand that excerpt.
As you can see, Ladino retains much vocabulary that is Spanish (15th-century Spanish). It also has picked up a few other words from Arabic, Turkish, Greek and other languages. Spelling also is similar with that of Spanish, the biggest difference being that K and S are usually used to represent sounds that are sometimes represented in Spanish by other letters. One notable grammatical difference between Spanish and Ladino is that the latter doesn't use the usted and ustedes forms of the second-person pronoun. These developed in Spanish after the Jews had left. Ladino also distinguishes the sounds of the B and the V as it wasn't until after the 15th century that Spaniards gave those two consonants the identical sound. Some other features of Spanish, such as the inverted question mark and the use of the Ñ, are also absent. Until the early 20th Century, Ladino was written with Hebrew letters, as was the other Jewish language, Yiddish. Now the Latin alphabet (the same one used by English and Spanish) is used most commonly except in some religious writings.
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