Ladino

Judeo-Spanish--also known as Ladino--mixes 16th-century Spanish, Hebrew, Turkish and other languages.

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The second view, which is gaining greater currency, maintains that JS, while being essentially a form of spoken medieval Spanish, had linguistic features of its own long before 1492, owing not merely to the presence of Hebrew words, but also to the peculiar sociolinguistic conditions which affected Jewish communities during their long history in the Iberian Peninsula, and to the greater linguistic receptivity by Jews to the waning Arabic culture. Thus the Arabic borrowing ahad ("the first [day]") is retained for "Sunday" in preference to the Spanish domingo (from Latin dies Dominicus "the Lord's day"), with its Christian connotation; ahad appears in medieval texts and continues to be in use in both eastern and western JS.

Ladino Literature

The first editions of the JS Bible translations appeared in the 16th century, although these are believed to reflect an earlier tradition elaborated by the Spanish Jews long before their expulsion. The language of these texts is usually referred to in scholarship as Ladino: it is characterized by an artificiality which permeates, especially, the lexicon and syntax, and which is the result of a method of translation where the strictest adherence to the Hebrew original is the rule. It is generally accepted that these texts do not reflect the spoken language, although clearly they share common features with it.

Two centuries later, the first complete Ladino translation of the Old Testament in Hebrew characters (1739-45) was edited in Constantinople by Abraham Assa, and editions of it continued to be produced throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This highly literal method of translation was so widely accepted that it was even adopted by Christian missionaries in 1873 in their JS Bible translation.

The same method is also reflected by translations of liturgical works which first appeared in the sixteenth century and have continued to do so up to the present. Among them are the Ladino translations of the daily and festival prayerbooks, manuscript fragments of which date from before the Expulsion, the Haggadah, and the Pirkei Avot [Ethics of the Patriarchs, a talmudic book]. Halakhic [Jewish legal] literature dating from the 16th century also displays this translation language and incorporates much Hebrew phraseology; however, the language does not show the same degree of rigid adherence to Hebrew as that found in the Ladino Bible and liturgical translations. Among these is a selection from Yosef Caro's Shulhan Arukh [a major code of Jewish law] entitled Shulhan Hapanim (Salonica, 1568).

The reader of JS, as opposed to Ladino, literature may be struck by the fact that the language he is reading reflects a spoken rather than a literary variety. The sensation is of a strong tradition of oral literature, which is eventually committed to paper. A notable case is that of the traditional ballads known as romances, which comprise many medieval Spanish examples of the genre, as well as more recent ones based on the traditional model. But JS texts in Hebrew characters also number among the earliest witnesses of Spanish literary activity. The kharjas incorporated into the poetry of such major figures of the Golden Age of Hebrew verse in Spain as Yehudah Halevi in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, are an example of this as is a fifteenth-century fragment of an early JS poem on the biblical story of Joseph, Coplas de Yocef.

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Dr. Isaac Benabu is a professor in the Institute of Languages, Literature and Art at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.