- This article deals with the Judaeo-Spanish language. For the article on the various peoples by this name, please see Ladinos.
Ladino is a Romance language, derived mainly from Old Castilian (Spanish) and Hebrew. Speakers are currently almost exclusively Sephardic Jews, but historically there have also been Ashkenazi speakers — e.g., in Thessaloniki and Istanbul. The language is also called Judaeo-Spanish, Sefardi, Dzhudezmo, Judezmo, and Spanyol; haquitía (from the Arabic haka حكى, "tell") refers to the dialect of North Africa, especially Morocco. The dialect of the Oran area of Algeria was called Tetuani or Tetauni, after the Moroccan town Tétouan, since many Oranais Jews came from this city.
According to the Ethnologue,
- The name 'Dzhudezmo' is used by Jewish linguists, 'Judeo-Espanyol' by Turkish Jews; 'Judeo-Spanish' by Romance philologists; 'Ladino' by laymen, especially in Israel; 'Hakitia' by Moroccan Jews; 'Spanyol' by some others.
Sometimes "Ladino" is reserved for a very Hebraicized form used in religious translations as in the Ferrara Bible.
Like Old Spanish, Ladino keeps the /S/ and /Z/ palatal phonemes, both changed to /x/ in modern Spanish. But unlike Old Spanish, it has an /x/ phoneme taken over from Hebrew. It has also developed certain characteristic usages, such as muestro for nuestro (our). The structure is linguistically related to Spanish, with the addition of many terms from the Hebrew, Portuguese, French, Turkish, Greek, and South Slavic languages depending on where the speakers resided.
Today, Ladino is most commonly written with the Latin alphabet, especially in Turkey. However, it is still sometimes written in the Hebrew alphabet (especially in Rashi characters), a practice that used to be much commoner (called aljamiado, by analogy with Arabic usage.) The usage of Greek and Cyrillic alphabets was also found in the past, but is rare nowadays. Following the decimation of Sephardic communities throughout much of Europe (particularly the Balkans) during the Second World War, the greatest proportion of speakers remaining were Turkish Jews. As a result the Turkish variant of the Latin alphabet is widely used for publications in Ladino. The Israeli Autoridad Nasionala del Ladino promotes another spelling. There are also those who, with Iacob M Hassán, claim that Ladino should adopt the orthography of the standard Spanish language.
During the Middle Ages, Jews were instrumental in the development of Castilian into a prestige language. In the Toledo School of Translators, erudite Jews translated Arabic and Hebrew works (often translated earlier from Greek) into Castilian and Christians translated again into Latin for transmission to Europe.
Until recent times, the language was widely spoken throughout the Balkans, Turkey, the Middle East, and North Africa, having been brought there by Jewish refugees fleeing Spain following the expulsion of the Jews in 1492. The contact among Jews of different regions and tongues developed a unified dialect, already different in some aspects of the Castilian norm that was forming simultaneously in Spain. It was the most used language in Thessaloniki, Greece until after World War I, and remained widespread there until the death of 49,000 Thessalonikan Greek Jews in the Holocaust during the Second World War. Over time, a corpus of literature, both liturgical and secular, developed.
Early Ladino literature was limited to translations from Hebrew. At the end of the 17th century, Hebrew was disappearing as the vehicle for Rabbinic instruction. Thus a literature in the popular tongue (Ladino) appeared in the 18th century, such as Meam Loez and poetry collections. By the end of the 19th centuy, Sephardim in the Ottoman Empire studied in schools of the Alliance Israelite Universelle. French became the language for foreign relations (as it did for Maronites), and Ladino drew from French for neologisms. New secular genres appeared: more than 300 journals, history, theatre, biographies.
In the twentieth century, the number of speakers declined sharply: entire communities were eradicated in the Holocaust, while the remaining speakers, many of whom migrated to Israel, adopted Hebrew. The governments of the new nation-state encouraged instruction in the official language. At the same time, it aroused the interest of philologists since it conserved language and literature which existed prior to the standardisation of Spanish.
Many native speakers today are elderly immigrants, who have not transmitted the language to their children or grandchildren, however it is experiencing a minor revival among Sephardic communities. In addition, Sephardic communities in several Latin American countries still use Ladino.
Folklorists have been collecting romances and other folk songs, some dating from before the expulsion.
Here is a sample of religious poetry:
Non komo muestro Dio,
Non komo muestro Sinyor,
Non komo muestro Rey,
Non komo muestro Salvador.
It is also sung in Hebrew (Ein k'Eloheynu) but the tune is different.
Qol Yerushalayim and Radio Nacional de España hold regular radio broadcasts in Ladino.
- Ladinokomunita (http://www.sephardicstudies.org/komunita.html), an email list in Ladino