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What is Ladino?

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Question: What is Ladino?

Answer: The two most well known Jewish hybrid languages are Yiddish and Ladino, also known as Judeo-Spanish.

When the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, they took the Spanish language of Columbus, Ferdinand, Isabella and Cervantes with them. In their new homes, they were cut off from the further development of the language. Ladino therefore reflects the grammar and vocabulary of 14th and 15th century Spanish. The vocabulary of Ladino includes hundreds of old Spanish words which have disappeared from modern day Spanish.

At the same time, the Spanish exiles distorted the language by borrowing many words from Hebrew, Arabic, Greek, Turkish, and French. There were two dialects of Ladino. Oriental Ladino, spoken in Turkey and Rhodes, reflected Castillan Spanish. Western Ladino, spoken in Greece, Macedonia, Bosnia, Serbia and Romania, reflected northern Spanish and Portuguese.

For most of its lifetime, Ladino was written in the Hebrew alphabet, in Rashi script, or in Solitro, a cursive method of writting letters. It is interesting to note that Rashi script was originally a Ladino script which was used centuries after Rashi's death to differentiate Rashi's commentary from Torah text. Ladino was first written using the Latin alphabet in the 20th century.

At various times Ladino has been spoken in North Africa, Egypt, Greece, Turkey, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Romania, France, Israel, the United States and Latin America. The Nazis destroyed most of the communities in Europe where Ladino had been the first language among Jews.

Today Ladino speakers exist primarily in the Balkans, North Africa, and Israel. It is estimated that there are between 150,000-200,000 people who still speak or understand Ladino, but their knowledge of it is limited. Thus, Ladino is a seriously endangered language.

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