Olga Borovaya

in Jewish Studies

ISBN: 9780199840731
Published online August 2012 | | DOI:

Show Summary Details


Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) is an Ibero-Romance language used by Sephardim (descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jews) in the Balkans and the eastern Mediterranean from the 16th century to the mid-20th century. Most Sephardi Jews expelled from the Iberian Peninsula in the 1490s and their descendants settled in the Ottoman lands from the 16th to the early 17th centuries. Hence they were cut off from Spain while its dominant dialect was still in the process of active evolution, so that Ladino developed in isolation from Castilian Spanish and in close contact with numerous other languages and dialects. Consequently, its phonology, morphology, and syntax are mainly those of 15th-century Castilian, while its vocabulary includes a significant number of borrowings from other Romance languages and dialects as well as Hebrew, Turkish, and Balkan languages. With some local variations, the major influences on Ladino were Hebrew on the syntax of the written language and the vocabulary; Turkish, Portuguese, and Italian on the vocabulary; and, starting in the last third of the 19th century, French at all levels. The vernacular of a stateless people that always existed in a diglossic relationship with at least one high-prestige competitor (Hebrew, French, Turkish, or Greek), Ladino was not standardized and almost never formally taught. In the 20th century, the nation-states that replaced the Ottoman Empire discouraged or even suppressed the use of Ladino as a minority language, which accelerated the loss of most of its functions. The Holocaust dealt it the last blow by eliminating more than a third of Ladino speakers and dislocating most of the others. As a result, almost no monolingual speakers of Ladino were left. In 1999, the UNESCO Red Book Report on Endangered Languages classified Ladino as “seriously endangered,” that is, a language with twenty to tens of thousands of speakers but without children among them. Currently, most native speakers of Ladino live in Israel, Turkey, and the United States.

Article.  6404 words. 

Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.