Calendars from 1890's printed in Salonika Greece, but are in Arabic utilizing Hebrew characters
Until recently Ladino or Judeo-Spanish was a dying language, with few people speaking it since the end of WWII.
But the language of the Sephardim, Jews of Spanish descent, is now receiving a revival in a time that many saw as its last struggles.
In 2002, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization gave Ladino an endangered language status and channeled large funds of money into the preserving, teaching and publication of the language.
Today, this and many other organized attempts to rescue the language are now bearing fruits.
Earlier this year Yasim Levy sang a concert in Ladino at the Bloomsbury Theatre in London, to rave reviews.
Levy was also nominated for a BBC3 “World Music Award,” and she is gradually gaining international acclaim, not least by the Spanish.
|It became such a widespread language that at certain important ports in Europe during the Middle Ages business could only be conducted in Ladino. In later times Ladino was handed down from a mother to her children in the form of religious songs or ’Romancios’, songs and poems about love.|
At a recent concert in San Francisco co-sponsored by the Spanish and Israeli consul cultural attaches, the Spanish consul remarked: “The Sephardic phenomenon is quite unique. And, since the crown and democracy returned to Spain, there has been a significant effort to strengthen our ties with the Sephardim (and their culture).”
’A Holy Mission’
Levy sees her singing as vital for her heritage “I know I will sing Ladino the rest of my life,” she said. The singer will headline the famous Carnegie Hall in New York in December. “It is a dying language, and this is a holy mission,” she added.
Something a little less conventional are the ’Hip-Hop Hoodios’, a group from America who rap in English and Ladino. The group say they would like Ladino to be more widely known. "Jews speak other languages besides English and Hebrew," Josue Noriega, publicist for the group said.
A prayer book translated in ladino from the 1890's
However, it is not just in music that Ladino is experiencing a renaissance. A novel written by Rosa Nissan titled ’Like a Bride’ recounts the story of a Sephardic Jewish girl growing up in Mexico in the 1960’s.
The book is written partly in Ladino and was recently made into a film which won many international Awards.
Countless universities around the world are also picking up on the new interest in Ladino. The Hebrew University has no fewer than twenty courses on Ladino, from basic Ladino to Folksongs, Folktales and Contemporary Literature.
In America and Europe, more and more universities are introducing Ladino to their curriculum.
The language of Cervantes
Ladino traces its roots to the expulsion of Jews from the Iberian peninsular. It was the Castilian language which the Jews took with them into exile, mixed with a smattering of Hebrew.
To the modern Spanish speaker it sounds like the Spanish of Cervantes or similar to what a modern English speaker might hear if someone spoke Shakespearian English.
Ladino was spoken wherever the exiles went, in Holland, Germany, Greece, Turkey and the Balkans.
It became such a widespread language that at certain important ports in Europe during the Middle Ages business could only be conducted in Ladino. In later times Ladino was handed down from a mother to her children in the form of religious songs or ’Romancios’, songs and poems about love.
It has been estimated that 90% of the Ladino speaking world was wiped out by the Holocaust. Today, the language survives from generation to generation mostly in Turkey and Israel, but also in some western european countries.