Endangered Language Alliance



Ladino (Judeo-Spanish)

a Romance language of the Sephardic Jews, originally of Spain and later of the Ottoman Empire, Morocco, and beyond

Background

Judeo-Spanish (widely known as Ladino) was once spoken by the Jews of Spain, known as the Sephardim — approximately 100,000-175,000 of whom were expelled from Spain in 1492. While those later known as “Western Sephardim” primarily went to Portugal (where they were expelled again soon after) and from there to England, France, Holland, and other Western European nations, and others went to Morocco, as many as 125,000 “Eastern Sephardim” went to Ottoman Empire at the invitation of Sultan Bayezid II. It was among those in Morocco and the Ottoman Empire that a distinct variety of Spanish was maintained and developed. Besides Ladino and Judeo-Spanish, many names — as many as 81! — have been used by speakers to refer to their language, including Judezmo, (Muestro) Spaniol, Djudyo, Jargon, and in Morocco, Haketia.

Affiliation

Deprived from Old Spanish, Ladino is classified by linguists as a Romance language (ultimately belonging to the Indo-European language family).

Endangerment

Most Ladino speakers today are over 60 years of age, if not older. Harris 1994 estimated 60,000 Ladino speakers in the world, but the number today may be considerably smaller. The largest number of speakers is thought to be in Israel, though the most fluent and active may be among the elderly members of the Jewish community of Istanbul, where Ladino remained the language of everyday life until very recently, when it has been displaced by Turkish.

Academic Work

Some important sources are listed below:

Academic Literature

Harris, Tracy. 1994. Death of a Language: The History of Judeo-Spanish. Newark, DE: University of Delaware Press.

See the Glottolog entry on Ladino (Judeo-Spanish)

Other Websites:

Ladino New York

By the early 20th century, with the arrival of tens of thousands of speakers from cities such as Salonica, Istanbul, and Izmir, New York had become one of the language’s global centers. Endangered everywhere today, the language nonetheless has a vital presence in the city — as Ladino New York attests.

ELA’s Ladino New York project, part of our larger Jewish Languages Initiative, is recording Ladino speakers talking about Sephardic history in New York.