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Ladino language


Ladino language

  • Judeoespañol/Judeoespanyol
  • Español/Espanyol
  • Judesmo
  • Judío
  • Ladino
  • Haquetia
The Rashi script, originally used to write the language
Pronunciation [note 1]
Native to Israel, Turkey, USA, France, Greece, Brazil, UK, Morocco, Bulgaria, Italy and others
Ethnicity Sephardim and Sabbateans
Native speakers
unknown (112,130 cited 1985)[1]
Dialects Ponentine; Occidental/Western; Haketia; Levantine/Oriental
mainly Latin & Hebrew (originally Rashi and Solitreo); also Arabic, Greek and Cyrillic
Official status
Regulated by none
Language codes
ISO 639-2 lad
ISO 639-3 lad
Linguist list
Glottolog ladi1251[2]
Linguasphere 51-AAB-ba ... 51-AAB-bd

Judaeo-Spanish (also Judeo-Spanish; Judaeo-Spanish: Judeoespanyol; Judeoespañol; Hebrew script: גאדינו-הספאןעל), commonly referred to as Ladino, is a Romance language derived from Old Spanish. Originally spoken in the former territories of the Ottoman Empire (the Balkans, Turkey, the Middle East, and North Africa) as well as in France, Italy, Kingdom of the Netherlands, Morocco, and the UK, today it is spoken mainly by Sephardic minorities in more than 30 countries, most of the speakers residing in Israel. Although it has no official status in any country, it has been acknowledged as a minority language in Israel, Turkey and France.

The core vocabulary of Judaeo-Spanish is Old Spanish and it has numerous elements from all the old Romance languages of the Iberian Peninsula, such as Aragonese, Astur-Leonese, Catalan, Galician-Portuguese, and Mozarabic. The language has been further enriched by Ottoman Turkish and Semitic vocabulary, such as Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic, especially in the domains of religion, law and spirituality and most of the vocabulary for new and modern concepts has been adopted through French and Italian. Furthermore the language is influenced to a lesser degree by other local languages of the Balkans as well, such as Greek, Bulgarian and Serbo-Croatian.

Historically, the Rashi script and its cursive form Solitreo have been the main orthographies for writing Judaeo-Spanish. However today, it is mainly written with the Latin alphabet, though some other alphabets, such as Hebrew and Cyrillic are still in use. Judaeo-Spanish is also locally known by many different names, major ones being: Espanyol (Español), Judío, Judesmo, Sefardí and Haketia. In Israel, the language is called Spanyolit and Ladino. In Turkey and formerly in the Ottoman Empire, the language has been traditionally called Yahudice, meaning the Jewish language.

Judaeo-Spanish, once the trade language of the Adriatic Sea, the Balkans and the Middle-East and renowned for its rich literature especially in Thessaloniki, today is under serious threat of extinction. Most native speakers are elderly and the language is not transmitted to their children or grandchildren for various reasons. In some expatriate communities in Latin America and elsewhere, there is a threat of dialect levelling resulting in extinction by assimilation into modern Spanish. However, it is experiencing a minor revival among Sephardic communities, especially in music.


In Israel particularly, and in America, the language is commonly called Ladino (לאדינו) (a derivative of "Latin"), though the people who actually speak the language consider this use incorrect.[3] The language is also called judeo-espagnol,[note 2] judeo-español,[4] Sefardí, Judío, Judesmo, and Espanyol or Español sefardita; Haquetía (from the Arabic ħaka حكى, "tell") refers to the dialect of North Africa, especially Morocco. The dialect of the Oran area of Algeria was called Tetuani, after the Moroccan town Tétouan, since many Orani Jews came from this city. In Hebrew, the language is called Spanyolit.

According to the Ethnologue, "The name 'Judesmo' is used by Jewish linguists and Turkish Jews and American Jews; 'Judaeo-Spanish' by Romance philologists; 'Ladino' by laymen, especially in Israel; 'Haketia' by Moroccan Jews; 'Spanyol' by some others."[5]

The derivation of the name Ladino is complicated. In pre-Expulsion times in the area known today as Spain the word meant literary Castilian as opposed to other dialects, or Romance in general as distinct from Arabic.[6] (The first European language grammar and dictionary, of Castilian, refers to it as ladino or ladina. In the Middle Ages, the word Latin was frequently used to mean simply "language", and in particular the language one understands: a latiner or latimer meant a translator.) Following the expulsion, Jews spoke of "the Ladino" to mean the traditional oral translation of the Bible into archaic Castilian. By extension it came to mean that style of Castilian generally, in the same way that (among Kurdish Jews) Targum has come to mean Judaeo-Aramaic and (among Jews of Arabic-speaking background) sharħ has come to mean Judaeo-Arabic.[7]

Informally, and especially in modern Israel, many speakers use Ladino to mean Judaeo-Spanish as a whole. The language was formerly regulated by a body called the Autoridad Nasionala del Ladino in Israel. More strictly, however, the term is confined to the style used in translation. According to the website of the Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki,

Ladino is not spoken, rather, it is the product of a word-for-word translation of Hebrew or Aramaic biblical or liturgical texts made by rabbis in the Jewish schools of Spain. In these, translations, a specific Hebrew or Aramaic word always corresponded to the same Spanish word, as long as no exegetical considerations prevented this. In short, Ladino is only Hebrew clothed in Spanish, or Spanish with Hebrew syntax. The famous Ladino translation of the Bible, the Biblia de Ferrara (1553), provided inspiration for the translation of numerous Spanish Christian Bibles."[3]

This Judaeo-Spanish ladino should not be confused with the ladino or Ladin language spoken in part of North-Eastern Italy, which is closely related with the rumantsch-ladin of Swiss Grisons (it is disputed whether or not they form a common Rhaeto-Romance language) and has nothing to do with either Jews or Spanish beyond being, like Spanish, a Romance language, a property they share with French, Italian, Portuguese and Romanian.

In modern standard Spanish, "ladino" is an adjective[8] that means "sly" or "cunning". In Guatemala, "ladino" refers to a person of non-Amerindian heritage, including mestizos, as well as an Amerindian who has adopted the culture of non-Amerindians.


At the time of the expulsion from Spain, the day-to-day language of the Jews of different regions of the peninsula was little if at all different from that of their Christian neighbors, though there may have been some dialect mixing to form a sort of Jewish lingua franca. There was however a special style of Castilian used for purposes of study or translation, featuring a more archaic dialect, a large number of Hebrew and Aramaic loan-words and a tendency to render Hebrew word order literally (e.g.: ha-laylah ha-zeh, meaning "this night", was rendered la noche la esta instead of the normal Spanish esta noche[9]). As mentioned above, some authorities would confine the term "Ladino" to this style.

Following the expulsion, the process of dialect mixing continued, though Castilian remained by far the largest contributor. The daily language was increasingly influenced both by the language of study and by the local non-Jewish vernaculars such as Greek and Turkish, and came to be known as Judesmo: in this respect the development is parallel to that of Yiddish. However, many speakers, especially among the community leaders, also had command of a more formal style nearer to the Spanish of the expulsion, referred to as Castellano.

Sources of the language

Castilian Spanish

The grammar of Judeo-Spanish, its phonology and its core vocabulary (approx. 60% of its total vocabulary), are basically Castilian. In some respects it resembles southern and South American dialects of Spanish rather than the language of Castile itself: for example it exhibits both yeísmo ("she" is eya/ella [ˈeja] (Judaeo-Spanish) as against ella [ˈeʝa] (modern Spanish)) and seseo.

In many respects it reproduces the Spanish of the time of the expulsion rather than modern Spanish. Archaic features retained by Judeo-Spanish are as follows:

  • Modern Spanish j, pronounced [x], corresponds to two different phonemes in Old Castilian: x, pronounced /ʃ/, and j, pronounced /ʒ/. Judeo-Spanish retains the original sounds. Similarly, g before e or i remains /ʒ/ and not [x].
    • baṣo/baxo ("low" or "down", with /ʃ/, modern Spanish bajo) versus mujer ("woman" or "wife", with /ʒ/).
  • Modern Spanish z (c before e or i), pronounced as "s" or [θ] (as the English "th" in "think"), according to dialect, corresponds to two different phonemes in Old Castilian: ç (c before e or i), pronounced "ts", and z (in all positions), pronounced "dz". In Judeo-Spanish they are pronounced [s] and [z] respectively.
    • korasón/coraçón ("heart", with /s/, modern Spanish corazón) versus dezir ("to say", with /z/, modern Spanish decir).
  • In modern Spanish, the use of the letters b and v is determined partially on the basis of earlier forms of the language and partially on the basis of Latin etymology: both letters are pronounced as the same bilabial phoneme, realized either as [b] or as [β] according to position. In Old Castilian and in Judaeo-Spanish the choice is made phonetically: bivir [biˈviɾ], "to live" (modern Spanish vivir). In Judaeo-Spanish v is a labiodental "v" (as in English) rather than a bilabial.

Portuguese and other Iberian languages

However, the phonology of the consonants and part of the lexicon are in some respects closer to Galician-Portuguese or Catalan than to modern Castilian. This is explained not only by direct influence but because they retained characteristics of medieval Ibero-Romance that Castilian later lost. Compare for example Judaeo-Spanish aninda ("still") with Portuguese ainda (Galician aínda, Asturian aína or enaína) and Castilian aún, or the initial consonants in Judaeo-Spanish fija, favla ("daughter", "speech"), Portuguese filha, fala (Galician filla, fala, Asturian fía, fala, Aragonese filla, fabla, Catalan filla), Castilian hija, habla. This sometimes varied with dialect: in Judaeo-Spanish popular songs both fijo and hijo ("son") are found. The Judaeo-Spanish pronunciation of s as "[ʃ]" before a "k" sound or at the end of certain words (such as seis, pronounced [seʃ], for six) is also shared with Portuguese (only as spoken in Portugal) but not with Spanish.

Hebrew and Aramaic

Like other Jewish vernaculars, Judaeo-Spanish incorporates many Hebrew and Aramaic words, mostly for religious concepts and institutions. Examples are Haham (rabbi) and kal/cal (synagogue, from Hebrew qahal).

Arabic, Turkish, Greek etc.

Judeo-Spanish has absorbed some words from the local languages, though sometimes Hispanicizing them in form: for example bilbilico (nightingale), from Persian (via Turkish) bülbül. This may be compared to the Slavic elements in Yiddish. It is not always clear whether some of these words antedate the expulsion, given the large number of Arabic words in Spanish generally.


Judaeo-Spanish phonology consists of 28 phonemes; 23 consonants and 5 vowels.


Consonant phonemes[10]
  Bilabial Labio-
Dental Alveolar Post-
Palatal Velar
Nasal m n ɲ (ŋ)
Stop p b t d k g
affricate t͡ʃ d͡ʒ
Fricative (β) f v (ð) s z ʃ ʒ x (ɣ)
Trill r
Tap ɾ
approximant j w
Lateral l


Vowel phonemes
Front Back
Close i u
Close-mid e o
Open-mid (ɛ) (ɔ)
Open a


Judaeo-Spanish is distinguished from other Spanish dialects by the presence of the following features:

  • With regard to pronouns, Judeo-Spanish maintains the second-person pronouns as (informal singular), vos (formal singular), and vosotros (plural); usted and ustedes do not exist
  • In verbs, the preterite indicates that an action taken once in the past was also completed at some point in the past. This is as opposed to the imperfect, which refers to any continuous, habitual, unfinished or repetitive past action. Thus, "I ate falafel yesterday" would use the first-person preterite form of eat, komí/comí, whereas "When I lived in Izmir, I ran five miles every evening" would use the first-person imperfect form, koría/corría. Though some of the morphology has changed, usage is just as in normative Castilian.
Regular conjugation in the present:
  -er verbs
(comer: "to eat")
-ir verbs
(bivir: "to live")
-ar verbs
(favlar: "to speak")
yo -o : como/komo, bivo, favlo
-es : comes/komes, bives -as : favlas
el, eya/ella -e : come/kome, bive -a : favla
mozotros/nosotros -emos : comemos/komemos -imos : bivimos -amos : favlamos
vos, vozotros/vosotros -éş/éx : coméş/éx; koméş/éx -íş/íx : bivíş/íx -áş/áx : favláş/áx
eyos/ellos, eyas/ellas -en : comen/komen, biven -an : favlan

Regular conjugation in the preterite:

  -er verbs
-ir verbs
-ar verbs
yo -í : comí/komí, biví, favlí
tu -ites : comites/komites, bivites -ates : favlates
el, eya/ella -yó : comkom, biv -ó : favló
mozotros/nosotros -imos : comimos/komimos, bivimos, favlimos
vos, vozotros/vosotros -iteş/itex : comiteş/itex; komiteş/itex, bivites/itex -ateş/atex : favlateş/atex
eyos/ellos, eyas/ellas -ieron : comieron/komieron, bivieron -aron : favlaron


The Rashi script, originally used to write the language

The following systems of writing Judeo-Spanish have been used or proposed.

  • Traditionally, especially in Ladino religious texts, Judeo-Spanish was printed in the Hebrew alphabet (especially in Rashi script), a practice that was very common, possibly almost universal, until the 19th century (and called aljamiado, by analogy with the equivalent use of the Arabic abjad). This occasionally persists today, especially in religious use. Everyday written records of the language used Solitreo, a semi-cursive script similar to Rashi script, shifting to square letter for Hebrew/Aramaic words. Solitreo is clearly different from the Ashkenazi Cursive Hebrew used today in Israel, though that is also related to Rashi script. (A comparative table is provided in that article.) In this script, there is free use of matres lectionis: final -a is written with ה (heh) and ו (waw) can represent /o/ or /u/. Both s (/s/) and x (/ʃ/) are generally written with ש, as ס is generally reserved for c before e or i and ç.
  • The Greek alphabet and Cyrillic have been employed in the past,[11] but this is rare or nonexistent nowadays.
  • In Turkey, Judeo-Spanish is most commonly written in the Turkish variant of the Latin alphabet. This may be the most widespread system in use today, as following the decimation of Sephardic communities throughout much of Europe (particularly in Greece and the Balkans) during the Holocaust the greatest proportion of speakers remaining were Turkish Jews. However, the Judaeo-Spanish page of the Turkish Jewish newspaper Şalom now uses the Israeli system.
  • The Israeli Autoridad Nasionala del Ladino promotes a phonetic transcription into the Latin alphabet, making no concessions to Spanish orthography, and uses it in its publication Aki Yerushalayim. The songs Non komo muestro Dio and Por una ninya, below, and the text in the sample paragraph, below, are written using this system.
  • Works published in Spain usually adopt the standard orthography of modern Castilian, to make them easier for modern Spaniards to read.[12] These editions often use diacritics to show where the Judaeo-Spanish pronunciation differs from modern Spanish.
  • Perhaps more conservative and less popular, others including Pablo Carvajal Valdés suggest that Judaeo-Spanish should adopt the orthography used during the time of the Jewish expulsion of 1492 from Spain.

Arguments for and against the 1492 orthography

The Castilian orthography of that time has been standardized and eventually changed by a series of orthographic reforms, the last of which occurred in the 18th century, to become the spelling of modern Spanish. Judaeo-Spanish has retained some of the pronunciation that at the time of reforms had become archaic in standard Castilian. Adopting 15th century Castilian orthography (similar to modern Portuguese orthography) would therefore closely fit the pronunciation of Judaeo-Spanish.

  • The old spelling would reflect
    • the /s/ (originally /ts/) – c (before e and i) and ç (cedilla), as in caça,
    • the /s/ss, as in passo, and
    • the /ʃ/x, as in dixo.
  • The letter j would be retained, but only in instances, such as mujer, where the pronunciation is /ʒ/ in Judeo-Spanish.
  • The spelling of /z/ (originally /dz/) as z would be restored in words like fazer and dezir.
  • The difference between b and v would be made phonetically, as in Old Castilian, rather than in accordance with the Latin etymology as in modern Spanish. For example Latin DEBET > post-1800 Castilian debe, would return to its Old Castilian spelling deve.

Some old spellings could be restored for the sake of historical interest, rather than to reflect Judeo-Spanish phonology:

  • The old digraphs ch, ph and th (today c/qu/k/, f/f/ and t/t/ in standard Castilian respectively), formally abolished in 1803, would be used in words like orthographía, theología.
  • Latin/Old Castilian q before words like quando, quanto and qual (modern Spanish cuando, cuanto and cual) would also be used.

The supporters of this orthography argue that classical and Golden Age Castilian literature might gain renewed interest, better appreciation and understanding should its orthography be used again.

It remains uncertain how to treat sounds that Old Castilian spelling failed to render phonetically.

  • The s between vowels, as in casa, was probably pronounced /z/ in Old Castilian and is certainly so pronounced in Judaeo-Spanish. The same is true of s before m, d and other voiced consonants, as in mesmo or desde. Supporters of Carvajal's proposal are unsure about whether this should be written s as in Old Castilian or z in accordance with pronunciation.
  • The distinctive Judaeo-Spanish pronunciation of s as /ʃ/ before a /k/ sound, as in buscar, cosquillas, mascar and pescar, or in is endings as in séis, favláis and sois, is probably derived from Portuguese: it is uncertain whether it occurred in Old Castilian. It is debated whether this should be written s as in Old Castilian or x in accordance with the sound.
  • There is some dispute about the Spanish ll combination, which in Judaeo-Spanish (as in most areas of Spain) is pronounced like a y. Following Old Castilian orthography this should be written ll, but it is frequently written y in Ladino to avoid ambiguity and reflect the Hebrew spelling. The conservative option is to follow the etymology: caballero, but Mayorca.[note 3]
  • On this system, it is uncertain how loanwords from Hebrew and other languages should be rendered.

Aki Yerushalayim orthography

Aki Yerushalayim, owned by Autoridad Nasionala del Ladino, promotes this orthography:
Letter A a B b Ch ch D d Dj dj E e F f G g H h I i J j K k L l M m N n Ny ny O o P p R r S s Sh sh T t U u V v X x Y y Z z
IPA [a] [b~β] [t͡ʃ] [d~ð] [d͡ʒ] [e] [f] [g~ɣ] [x] [i~j] [ʒ] [k] [l] [m] [n~ŋ] [ɲ] [o] [p] [r~ɾ] [s] [ʃ] [t] [u~w] [v] [gz] [j] [z]
  • A dot is written between s and h (s·h) to represent [sx], to avoid confusion with [ʃ]. For example: es·huenyo [esˈxweɲo] (dream).
  • Unlike Spanish, stressed diacritics are not represented.
  • Loanwords and foreign names retain their original spelling. So letters which are not in this orthography like q or w would be used only in these types of words.

Hebrew orthography

Judeo-Spanish is traditionally written in a Hebrew-based script, specially in Rashi script. The Hebrew orthography is not regulated, but sounds are generally represented by these letters:
Square letter א ב ב׳ ג ג׳ ד ה ו ז ז׳ ח ט י יי כ/-ך ל מ/-ם נ/-ן ניי ס ע פ/-ף פ׳/-ף׳ צ/-ץ ק ר ש ת
Rashi letter ׳ ׳ ׳ ׳
AY equivalent letter a, Ø, e, o b v g dj, ch d a, e u, o, v z j h t i, e, y y k, h l m n ny s Ø, e, a p f (t)s k r sh, s t


Jews in the Middle Ages were instrumental in the development of Castilian into a prestige language. 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 the area today known as Spain following the expulsion of the Jews in 1492.[13]

The contact among Jews of different regions and languages, including Catalan, Leonese and Portuguese developed a unified dialect differing in some aspects from the Castilian norm that was forming simultaneously in the area known today as Spain, though some of this mixing may have occurred in exile rather than in the peninsula itself. The language was known as Yahudice (Jewish language) in the Ottoman Empire. In late 18th century, Enderunlu Fazıl (Fazyl bin Tahir Enderuni) wrote in his Zenanname: "Castilians speak the Jewish language but they are not Jews."

The closeness and mutual comprehensibility between Judeo-Spanish and Castilian favoured trade among Sephardim (often relatives) ranging from the Ottoman Empire to the Netherlands and the conversos of the Iberian Peninsula.

After the expulsion of the Jews, who were of mostly Portuguese descent, from Dutch Brazil in 1654, Jews were one of the influences on the African-Romance creole Papiamento of the Dutch Caribbean islands Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao.

Over time, a corpus of literature, both liturgical and secular, developed. Early 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 Me'am Lo'ez and poetry collections. By the end of the 19th century, Sephardim in the Ottoman Empire studied in schools of the Alliance Israélite Universelle. French became the language for foreign relations (as it did for Maronites), and Judeo-Spanish drew from French for neologisms. New secular genres appeared: more than 300 journals, history, theatre, biographies.

Given the relative isolation of many communities, a number of regional dialects of Judeo-Spanish appeared, many with only limited mutual comprehensibility. This is due largely to the adoption of large numbers of loanwords from the surrounding populations, including, depending on the location of the community, from Greek, Turkish, Arabic, and in the Balkans, Slavic languages, especially Bosnian, Bulgarian and Serbo-Croatian. The borrowing in many Judaeo-Spanish dialects is so heavy that up to 30% of these dialects is of non-Spanish origin. Some words also passed from Judeo-Spanish into neighbouring languages: the word palavra "word" (Vulgar Latin = "parabola"; Greek = "parabole") for example passed into Turkish, Greek, and Romanian[14] with the meaning "bunk, hokum, humbug, bullshit" in Turkish and Romanian and "big talk, boastful talk" in Greek (cf. the English "palaver").

Judeo-Spanish was the common language of Thessaloniki during the period of Ottoman rule. The city became part of the modern Greek Republic in 1912. Despite a major fire, economic oppression by Greek authorities, and mass settlement of Christian refugees, the language remained widely spoken in Thessaloniki until the deportation of 50,000 Thessalonikian Jews in the Holocaust during the Second World War. According to the 1928 census there were 62,999 native speakers of Ladino in Greece. This figure drops down to 53,094 native speakers in 1940 but 21,094 citizens also cited speaking Ladino "usually".[15]

Judaeo-Spanish was also a language used in Donmeh rites (Dönme in Turkish meaning convert and referring to adepts of Sabbatai Tsevi converted to the Moslem religion in the Ottoman empire). An example is the recite Sabbatai Tsevi esperamos a ti. Today, the religious practices and ritual use of Judaeo-Spanish seems confined to elderly generations.

The Castilian colonization of Northern Africa favoured the role of polyglot Sephardim who bridged between Castilian colonizers and Arab and Berber speakers.

From the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, Judaeo-Spanish was the predominant Jewish language in the Holy Land, though the dialect was different in some respects from that spoken in Greece and Turkey. Some Sephardi families have lived in Jerusalem for centuries, and preserve Judeo-Spanish for cultural and folklore purposes, though they now use Hebrew in everyday life.

An often told Sephardic anecdote from Bosnia-Herzegovina has it that, as a Spanish consulate was opened in Sarajevo between the two world wars, two Sephardic women were passing by and, upon hearing a Catholic priest speaking Spanish, thought that – given his language – he was in fact Jewish![16]

In the twentieth century, the number of speakers declined sharply: entire communities were murdered in the Holocaust, while the remaining speakers, many of whom emigrated to Israel, adopted Hebrew. The governments of the new nation-states encouraged instruction in the official languages. At the same time, Judaeo-Spanish aroused the interest of philologists, since it conserved language and literature that existed prior to the standardisation of Castilian.

Judeo-Spanish is in serious danger of extinction because many native speakers today are elderly olim (immigrants to Israel), who have not transmitted the language to their children or grandchildren. Nevertheless, it is experiencing a minor revival among Sephardic communities, especially in music. In addition, Sephardic communities in several Latin American countries still use Judeo-Spanish. In these countries, there is an added danger of extinction by assimilation to modern Castilian Spanish.

Kol Yisrael[17] and Radio Nacional de España[18] hold regular radio broadcasts in Judeo-Spanish. Law & Order: Criminal Intent showed an episode, titled "A Murderer Among Us", with references to the language. Films partially or totally in Judeo-Spanish include Mexican film Novia que te vea (directed by Guita Schyfter), The House on Chelouche Street, and Every Time We Say Goodbye.

Efforts have been made to gather and publish modern Judeo-Spanish fables and folktales. In 2001, the Jewish Publication Society published the first English translation of Judeo-Spanish folk tales, collected by Matilda Koén-Sarano, Folktales of Joha, Jewish Trickster: The Misadventures of the Guileful Sephardic Prankster. A survivor of Auschwitz, Moshe Ha'elyon, issued his translation into Ladino of the ancient Greek epic The Odyssey in 2012, in his 87th year, and is now translating the sister epic, the Iliad, into his mother tongue.[19]

Religious use

The Jewish community of Bosnia-Herzegovina in Sarajevo and the Jewish community of Belgrade still chant part of the Sabbath Prayers (Mizmor David) in Ladino. The Sephardic Synagogue Ezra Bessaroth in Seattle, Washington (US) was formed by Jews from Turkey and the Island of Rhodes, and they use Ladino in some portions of their Shabbat services. The Siddur is called Zehut Yosef and was written by Hazzan Isaac Azose.

At Congregation Etz Ahaim[20] (a Sephardic congregation started by Jews from Thessaloniki in New Brunswick, N.J.) in Highland Park, New Jersey a reader chants the Aramaic prayer B'rich Shemay in Ladino before taking out the Torah on Shabbat; it is known as Bendichu su Nombre. Additionally, at the end of Shabbat services the entire congregation sings the well-known Hebrew song Ein Keloheinu as Non Como Muestro Dio in Ladino.

The late Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan translated some scholarly religious Ladino texts, including Me'am Loez, into Hebrew or English, or both.[21][22]

Modern education

As with Yiddish[23][24] the Ladino language is seeing a minor resurgence in educational interest in colleges across the United States and in Israel.[25] Still, given the ethnic demographics among American Jews, it is not surprising that more institutions offer Yiddish language courses than Ladino language courses. Today, the University of Pennsylvania[26][27] and Tufts University[28] offer Ladino language courses among colleges in the United States.[29] In Israel, Moshe David Gaon Center for Ladino Culture at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev is leading the way in education (Ladino language and literature courses, Community oriented activities) and research (a yearly scientific journal, international congresses and conferences etc.). Hebrew University also offers Ladino language courses.[30] The Complutense University of Madrid also has in the past.[31] Prof. David Bunis taught Ladino at the University of Washington, in Seattle during the 2013-14 academic year.[32]


Comparison with other languages


El djudeo-espanyol, djudio, djudezmo es la lingua favlada por los djudios sefardim ekspulsados de la Espanya enel 1492. Es una lingua derivada del espanyol i favlada por 150.000 personas en komunitas en Israel, la Turkia, antika Yugoslavia, la Gresia, el Maruekos, Mayorka, las Amerikas, entre munchos otros.


El judeo-español, djudio, djudezmo o ladino es la lengua hablada por los judíos sefardíes expulsados de España en 1492. Es una lengua derivada del español y hablada por 150.000 personas en comunidades en Israel, Turquía, la antigua Yugoslavia, Grecia, Marruecos, Mallorca, las Américas, entre muchos otros.


El judeocastellà, djudiu, djudezmo és la llengua parlada pels jueus sefardites expulsats d'Espanya al 1492. És una llengua derivada de l'espanyol i parlada per 150.000 persones en comunitats a Israel, Turquia, antiga Iugoslàvia, Grècia, el Marroc, Mallorca, les Amèriques, entre moltes altres.


El xudeoespañol, djudio, djudezmo ye la llingua falada polos xudíos sefardinos expulsados d'España en 1492. Ye una llingua derivada del español y falada por 150.000 persones en comunidaes n'Israel, Turquía, na antigua Yugoslavia, Grecia, Marruecos, Mayorca, nes Amériques, entre munchos otros.


O xudeo-español, djudio, djudezmo é a lingua falada polos xudeos sefardís expulsados de España en 1492. É unha lingua derivada do español e falada por 150.000 persoas en comunidades en Israel, en Turquía, na antiga Iugoslavia, Grecia, Marrocos, Maiorca, nas Américas, entre moitos outros [lugares].

Portuguese (both European, and Brazilian)

O judeo-espanhol, djudio, djudezmo é a língua falada pelos judeus sefarditas expulsos de/da Espanha em 1492. É uma língua derivada do espanhol e falada por 150.000 pessoas em comunidades em Israel, na Turquia, na antiga Jugoslávia (ou ex-Iugoslávia/ex-Yugoslávia), na Grécia, em/no Marrocos, em Maiorca (ou Mayorca/Malhorca), nas Américas, entre muitos outros [lugares].


Judeo-Spanish, Djudio, Judezmo, is a language spoken by the Sephardi Jews expelled from Spain in 1492. It is a language derived from Spanish and spoken by 150,000 people in communities in Israel, Turkey, the former Yugoslavia, Greece, Morocco, Majorca, the Americas, among many others [places].


Folklorists have been collecting romances and other folk songs, some dating from before the expulsion. Many religious songs in Judeo-Spanish are translations of the Hebrew, usually with a different tune. For example, Ein Keloheinu looks like this in Judeo-Spanish:

Non komo muestro Dio,
Non komo muestro Sinyor,
Non komo muestro Rey,
Non komo muestro Salvador.

Other songs relate to secular themes such as love.

Adio, kerida

Por una Ninya For a Girl (translation)
Por una ninya tan fermoza
l'alma yo la vo a dar
un kuchilyo de dos kortes
en el korason entro.
For a girl so beautiful
I will give my soul
a double-edged knife
pierced my heart.
No me mires ke'stó kantando
es lyorar ke kero yo
los mis males son muy grandes
no los puedo somportar.
Don't look at me; I am singing,
it is crying that I want,
my sorrows are so great
I can't bear them.
No te lo kontengas tu, fijika,
ke sos blanka komo'l simit,
ay morenas en el mundo
ke kemaron Selanik.
Don't hold your sorrows, young girl,
for you are white like bread,
there are dark girls in the world
who set fire to Thessaloniki.
Quando el Rey Nimrod (Adaptation)                 When King Nimrod (translation)
Quando el Rey Nimrod al campo salía
mirava en el cielo y en la estrellería
vido una luz santa en la djudería
que havía de nascer Avraham Avinu.
When King Nimrod was going out to the fields
He was looking at heaven and at the stars
He saw a holy light in the Jewish quarter
[A sign] that Abraham, our father, must have been born.
Avraham Avinu, Padre querido,
Padre bendicho, luz de Yisrael.
Abraham Avinu [our Father], dear father
Blessed Father, light of Israel.
Luego a las comadres encomendava
que toda mujer que prenyada quedara
si no pariera al punto, la matara
que havía de nascer Abraham Avinu.
Then he was telling all the midwives
That every pregnant woman
Who did not give birth at once was going to be killed
because Abraham our father was going to born.
Avraham Avinu, Padre querido,
Padre bendicho, luz de Yisrael.
Abraham Avinu, dear father
Blessed Father, light of Israel.
La mujer de Terach quedó prenyada
y de día en día le preguntava
¿De qué teneix la cara tan demudada?
ella ya sabía el bien que tenía.
Terach's wife was pregnant
and each day he would ask her
Why do you look so distraught?
She already knew very well what she had.
Avraham Avinu, Padre querido,
Padre bendicho, luz de Yisrael.
Abraham Avinu, dear father
Blessed Father, light of Israel.
En fin de nueve meses parir quería
iva caminando por campos y vinyas,
a su marido tal ni le descubría
topó una meara, allí lo pariría
After nine months she wanted to give birth
She was walking through the fields and vineyards
Such would not even reach her husband
She found a manger; there, she would give birth.
Avraham Avinu, Padre querido,
Padre bendicho, luz de Yisrael.
Abraham Avinu, dear father
Blessed Father, light of Israel.
En aquella hora el nascido avlava
"Andavos mi madre, de la meara
yo ya topó quen me alexara
mandará del cielo quen me accompanyará
porque so criado del Dio bendicho."
In that hour the newborn was speaking
'Get away of the manger, my mother
I will somebody to take me out
He will send from the heaven the one that will go with me
Because I am a servant of the blessed God.'
Avraham Avinu, Padre querido,
Padre bendicho, luz de Yisrael
Abraham Avinu, dear father
Blessed Father, light of Israel.

Anachronistically, Abraham – who in the Bible is the very first Hebrew and the ancestor of all who followed, hence his appellation "Avinu" (Our Father) – is in the Judeo-Spanish song born already in the "djudería" (modern Spanish: judería), the Jewish quarter. This makes Terach and his wife into Hebrews, as are the parents of other babies killed by Nimrod. In essence, unlike its Biblical model, the song is about a Hebrew community persecuted by a cruel king and witnessing the birth of a miraculous saviour – a subject of obvious interest and attraction to the Jewish people who composed and sang it in Medieval Spain.

The song attributes to Abraham elements from the story of Moses's birth (the cruel king killing innocent babies, with the midwives ordered to kill them, the 'holy light' in the Jewish area) and from the careers of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who emerged unscathed from the fiery furnace. Nimrod is thus made to conflate the role and attributes of two archetypal cruel and persecuting kings – Nebuchadnezzar and Pharaoh. For more information, see Nimrod.

Jennifer Charles and Oren Bloedow from the New York-based band Elysian Fields released a CD in 2001 called La Mar Enfortuna, which featured modern versions of traditional Sephardic songs, many sung by Charles in Judeo-Spanish. The American singer, Tanja Solnik, has released several award-winning albums that feature songs sung in Ladino: From Generation to Generation: A Legacy of Lullabies and Lullabies and Love Songs. There are a number of groups in Turkey that sing in Judeo-Spanish, notably Janet – Jak Esim Ensemble, Sefarad, Los Pasharos Sefaradis, and the children's chorus Las Estreyikas d'Estambol. There is a Brazilian-born singer of Sephardic origins called Fortuna who researches and plays Judaeo-Spanish music.

The Jewish Bosnian-American musician Flory Jagoda recorded two CDs of music taught to her by her grandmother, a Sephardic folk singer, among a larger discography.

The cantor Dr. Ramón Tasat, who learned Judaeo-Spanish at his grandmother's knee in Buenos Aires, has recorded many songs in the language, with three of his CDs focusing primarily on that music.

The Israeli singer Yasmin Levy has also brought a new interpretation to the traditional songs by incorporating more "modern" sounds of Andalusian Flamenco. Her work revitalising Sephardi music has earned Levy the Anna Lindh Euro-Mediterranean Foundation Award for promoting cross-cultural dialogue between musicians from three cultures.[33] In Yasmin Levy's own words:

I am proud to combine the two cultures of Ladino and flamenco, while mixing in Middle Eastern influences. I am embarking on a 500 years old musical journey, taking Ladino to Andalusia and mixing it with flamenco, the style that still bears the musical memories of the old Moorish and Jewish-Spanish world with the sound of the Arab world. In a way it is a ‘musical reconciliation’ of history.[34]

Notable music groups performing in Judaeo-Spanish include Voice of the Turtle, Oren Bloedow and Jennifer Charles' "La Mar Enfortuna" and Vanya Green, who was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship for her research and performance of this music. She was recently selected as one of the top ten world music artists by the We are Listening International World of Music Awards for her interpretations of the music.

Robin Greenstein, a New York based musician, received a federal CETA grant in the 1980s to collect and perform Sephardic Ladino Music under the guidance of the American Jewish Congress. Her mentor was Joe Elias, noted Sephardic singer from Brooklyn. She recorded residents of the Sephardic Home for the Aged, a nursing home in Coney Island, NY singing songs from their childhood. Amongst the voices recorded was Victoria Hazan, a well known Sephardic singer who recorded many 78's in Ladino and Turkish from the 1930s and 1940s. Two Ladino songs can be found on her "Songs of the Season" holiday CD released in 2010 on Windy Records.

The Portland Oregon based Pink Martini released a Ladino Hanukkah song, "Ocho Kandelikas," on their 2010 album "Joy to the World"

See also



  1. ^ Also pronounced (Occidental Judaeo-Spanish) and (Moroccan dialects).
  2. ^ Speakers use different orthographical conventions depending on their social, educational, national and personal backgrounds, thus there is no uniformity in spelling, although some established conventions exist. The endonym Judeo-Espanyol is thus also spelled as Cudeo-Espanyol, Djudeo-Espanyol, Djudeo-Espagnol, Judeo-Español, Judeo-Espaniol, Džudeo-Espanjol, Giudeo-Espagnol, Ǧudéo-Españól and Ĵudeo-Español.
  3. ^ The modern Spanish spelling Mallorca is a hypercorrection.


  1. ^ [1]. Retrieved on 2 September 2014.
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Ladino". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ a b Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki. Retrieved on 19 October 2011.
  4. ^ Real Academia Española dictionary, entry: Judeo-Español in the Diccionario de la Real Academia Española (DRAE).
  5. ^ Gordon, Raymond G., Jr. (2005). "Ladino". Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Fifteenth edition. SIL International. Retrieved 2008-09-25. 
  6. ^ (Spanish) DRAE: Ladino, 2nd sense. Retrieved on 19 October 2011.
  7. ^ Historia 16, 1978
  8. ^ 2001 Dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy of the spanish tongue, Diccionario de la lengua española de la Real Academia Española, Espasa.
  9. ^ "Clearing up Ladino, Judeo-Spanish, Sephardic Music" Judith Cohen, HaLapid, winter 2001; Sephardic Song Judith Cohen, Midstream July/August 2003
  10. ^ The UCLA Phonetics Lab archive
  11. ^ Verba Hispanica X: Los problemas del estudio de la lengua sefardí, Katja Šmid, Ljubljana, pages 113–124: Es interesante el hecho que en Bulgaria se imprimieron unas pocas publicaciones en alfabeto cirílico búlgaro y en Grecia en alfabeto griego. [...] Nezirović (1992: 128) anota que también en Bosnia se ha encontrado un documento en que la lengua sefardí está escrita en alfabeto cirilico. The Nezirović reference is: Nezirović, M., Jevrejsko-Španjolska književnost. Institut za književnost, Svjetlost, Sarajevo, Bosnia 1992.
  12. ^ See preface by Iacob M Hassán to Romero, Coplas Sefardíes, Cordoba, pp. 23–24.
  13. ^ "Ladinoikonunita: A quick explanation of Ladino (Judeo-Spanish). Retrieved on 19 October 2011.
  14. ^ palavră in the Dicționarul etimologic român, Alexandru Ciorănescu, Universidad de la Laguna, Tenerife, 1958–1966: Cuvînt introdus probabil prin. iud. sp: "Word introduced probably through Judaeo-Spanish.
  15. ^ Συγκριτικός πίνακας των στοιχείων των απογραφών του 1928, 1940 ΚΑΙ 1951 σχετικά με τις ομιλούμενες γλώσσες στην Ελλάδα. – Μεινοτικές γλώσσες στην Ελλάδα Κωνσταντίνος Τσιτσελίκης (2001), Πύλη για την Ελληνική Γλώσσα
  16. ^ Eliezer Papo: From the Wailing Wall (in [[Bosnian language|Bosnian)]
  17. ^ Reka Network: Kol Israel International
  18. ^ Radio Exterior de España: Emisión sefardí
  19. ^ Nir Hasson, Holocaust survivor revives Jewish dialect by translating Greek epic, at Haaretz, 9 March 2012.
  20. ^ Etz Ahaim home page
  21. ^ > Events > Exhibitions > Rare Book Library Collection Restoration Project – Ladino. American Sephardi Federation (23 April 1918). Retrieved on 19 October 2011.
  22. ^ Yalkut May'Am Loez, Jerusalem 5736 Hebrew translation from Ladino language.
  23. ^ Price, Sarah. (2005-08-25) Schools to Teach Ein Bisel Yiddish | Education. Jewish Journal. Retrieved on 19 October 2011.
  24. ^ The Mendele Review: Yiddish Literature and Language, Volume 11, No. 10. (30 September 2007). Retrieved on 19 October 2011.
  25. ^ EJP | News | Western Europe | Judeo-Spanish language revived. (19 September 2005). Retrieved on 19 October 2011.
  26. ^ Jewish Studies Program. Retrieved on 19 October 2011.
  27. ^ Ladino Class at Penn Tries to Resuscitate Dormant Language. The Jewish Exponent (1 February 2007). Retrieved on 19 October 2011.
  28. ^ Department of German, Russian & Asian Languages and Literature – Tufts University. Retrieved on 19 October 2011.
  29. ^ For love of Ladino – The Jewish Standard. Retrieved on 19 October 2011.
  30. ^ Courses – Ladino Studies At The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. (30 July 2010). Retrieved on 19 October 2011.
  31. ^ "Hebrew Philology courses (in Spanish)". UCM. UCM. Retrieved 22 July 2012. 
  32. ^ title=Why I'm teaching a new generation to read and write Ladino|url=
  33. ^ "2008 Event Media Release – Yasmin Levy". Sydney Opera House. Retrieved 2008-08-19. 
  34. ^ "BBC – Awards for World Music 2007 – Yasmin Levy". BBC. Retrieved 2008-08-19. 
  35. ^ Åžalom Gazetesi – 12.10.2011 – Judeo-Espanyol İçerikleri. Retrieved on 19 October 2011.


  • Barton, Thomas Immanuel (Toivi Cook) (2010) Judezmo Expressions. USA ISBN 978-89-00-35754-7
  • Barton, Thomas Immanuel (Toivi Cook) (2008) Judezmo (Judeo-Castilian) Dictionary. USA ISBN 978-1-890035-73-0
  • Bunis, David M. (1999) Judezmo: an introduction to the language of the Sephardic Jews of the Ottoman Empire. Jerusalem ISBN 965-493-024-4
  • Габинский, Марк А. (1992) Сефардский (еврейской-испанский) язык (M. A. Gabinsky. Sephardic (Judeo-Spanish) language, in Russian). Chişinău: Ştiinţa
  • Hemsi, Alberto (1995) Cancionero Sefardí; edited and with an introduction by Edwin Seroussi (Yuval Music Series; 4.) Jerusaelem: The Jewish Music Research Centre, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
  • Kohen, Elli; Kohen-Gordon, Dahlia (2000) Ladino-English, English-Ladino: concise encyclopedic dictionary. New York: Hippocrene Books
  • Markova, Alla (2008) Beginner's Ladino with 2 Audio CDs. New York: Hippocrene Books ISBN 0-7818-1225-9
  • Markus, Shimon (1965) Ha-safa ha-sefaradit-yehudit (The Judeo-Spanish language, in Hebrew). Jerusalem
  • Molho, Michael (1950) Usos y costumbres de los judíos de Salónica
  • Varol, Marie-Christine (2004) Manuel de Judéo-Espagnol, langue et culture (book & CD, in French), Paris: L'Asiathèque ISBN 2-911053-86-9

Further reading

  • Lleal, Coloma (1992) "A propósito de una denominación: el judeoespañol", available at Centro Virtual Cervantes,
  • Saporta y Beja, Enrique, comp. (1978) Refranes de los judíos sefardíes y otras locuciones típicas de Salónica y otros sitios de Oriente. Barcelona: Ameller

External links

  • Autoridad Nasionala del Ladino (Judaeo-Spanish)
  • Ladino
  • Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki
  • Ladino Center
  • Ladinokomunita, an email list in Ladino
  • La pajina djudeo-espanyola de Aki Yerushalayim
  • The Ladino Alphabet
  • Judeo-Spanish (Ladino) at Orbis Latinus
  • Ladino music by Suzy and Margalit Matitiahu
  • Socolovsky, Jerome. "Lost Language of Ladino Revived in Spain", Morning Edition, National Public Radio, 19 March 2007.
  • A randomly selected example of use of ladino on the Worldwide Web: La komponente kulinaria i linguístika turka en la kuzina djudeo-espanyola
  • Israeli Ladino Language Forum (Hebrew)
  • LadinoType – A Ladino Transliteration System for Solitreo, Meruba, and Rashi
  • Habla Ladino? Sephardim meet to preserve language Friday 9 January 1998
  • Edición SEFARAD, Radio programme in Ladino from Radio Nacional de España
  • , showing orthography of Old CastilianGramática de la lengua castellanaEtext of Nebrija's .
  • Sefarad, Revista de Estudios Hebraicos, Sefardíes y de Oriente Próximo, ILC, CSIC
  • Judæo-Spanish Language (Ladino) and Literature, Jewish Encyclopedia
  • Dr Yitshak (Itzik) Levy An authentic documentation of Ladino heritage and culture
  • Sephardic Studies Digital Library & Museum - UW Stroum Jewish Studies
  • WorldHeritage in Ladino

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