The nearly 200,000 Spanish Jews who went into exile in Portugal, northern Europe and the entire Mediterranean basin were called Sepharades or Sephardim, based on the Hebrew name for Spain, Sepharad (these words have at times been written alternatively with "f" rather than "ph").
However, the culture and language of the Spanish Jews was to follow
a new path. As it evolved outside Spain, the archaic 15th century Castilian
was soon considered to be specifically Jewish. From this came the name
Judeo-Spanish, which is used in this text with its accepted linguistic
Before the Second World War and shortly thereafter, communities of Spanish Jews still banded together in northern Europe (France, England, Belgium, the Netherlands, etc.) under the name Sephardim or Sepharades, but an excessively simplistic dichotomy divided Judaism into two branches. In contrast to the Ashkenazi Jews who spoke Yiddish or Judeo-German, and confusing rites with ethnic origin, any Jew who was not an Ashkenazi came to be called a Sephardi, whether he spoke Spanish, Arabic, Iranian, Greek or any other language subsequently acquired (while, for example, Roman Catholics are not all necessarily Italian!). This was the result of recent changes such as new migrations due to the phenomenon of decolonisation. This is the case of north African Jews who use the Sephardic rites but are not of Sephardic origin. Thus, the content has changed but the label remains the same. In contrast, the Jews of Rhodes who settled in the Congo/Zaire and later in Belgium are truly of Sephardic origin.
For the purpose of this publication, the term Sephardim will be used when speaking of the Judeo-Spanish speakers. This covers all Jews from northern Morocco and from the former Ottoman Empire, including their present-day descendants who are dispersed to the four corners of the earth. These people are helping to preserve the Spanish of 1492, or at least the Judeo-Spanish vernacular which sprang from it. We also include those who adopted this language by integrating into Judeo-Spanish communities.
Therefore, it is to those Jews who so "miraculously" preserved their language and culture for more than four centuries, to their slow agony during the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire, to their fate and to their brutal death under the steamroller of the Nazi regime, that these pages are dedicated.
Judeo-Spanish, a language of fusion, is essentially 15th century Castilian, coloured initially by regionalisms and hispanic Arabicisms, and after 1492 by Moroccan Arabicisms, Turkisms, Italianisms, Hellenisms, Slavisms, etc. taken on in the various host countries. Later, with the creation of the schools of the Alliance Isra,lite Universelle in 1860, the language was affected by a mania for gallicization, to the point that a new dialect called judeo-fragnol (Judeo-Franco-Spanish) emerged.
We said in our subtitle that Judeo-Spanish is a living museum for 15th century Spanish. Indeed, in 1492 - the date of the Jews' expulsion from Spain - Castilian had not yet undergone the silencing of voiced sibilants or the birth of the jota. Thus, the intervocalic [z] of that time remains, and one continued to say [meza] for mesa, (with [s], "table"). Similarly, one continued to say [ka's'a] for caja, "box" or "crate," or [pa'z'a] for paja, or "straw." It is precisely for this reason that Don Quixote [Don Ki's'o-te], which is now written Don Quijote - with jota - arrived in France as Don Quichotte, with [ch], reflecting the pronunciation of that time.
The distinction between [b] and [v] would also be maintained: [kantava] for cantaba, "I" or "he sang." Other archaic forms also persisted: kavdal - kovdisya - kovdo - sivda etc., which later became caudal in Spanish, "goods or fortune," codicia"cupidity or covetousness," codo "elbow," ciudad "city," etc.
There are also numerous "vulgarisms" from that time: agora - prove - guevo - guerfano, etc. for ahora, "now," - pobre "poor" - huevo "egg" - huerfano "orphan." Similarly, the two forms muevo/nuevo coexist for "new.".
Morphology: The old verbal forms do- vo- so and esto for doy "I give" voy "I go," soy "I am" and estoy both "I am" in English, continued to be used. As in the popular Spanish language, the second person forms of the simple past already had a tendency to take on a final -s. The metathesis >ld of the imperative form also continued to be used: kantadlo>kantaldo "sing it."
These observations obviously provide only a few examples illustrating a much broader topic.
In its subsequent evolution, Judeo-Spanish would develop particularly interesting strategies for hispanizing various loan words. Thus, there is continued use of the frequentative verbal ending -ear, as a verbal hispanizer for all loan words from the Turkish, Arab, Bulgarian, Greek, etc. host countries (adstrates), except for those of French origin, which take the -ar ending. Thus, from the Turkish dayanmak, "resist, endure," we get the Judeo-Spanish form dayanear. In contrast, based on the French "s'amuser" (to enjoy oneself), we have the form am?zarse. On the other hand, the ending -dero, which is very frequent in Spanish, is maintained but is used especially in forming words for obsessions or habits. We see this, for example, in the word arraskadero, whose meaning shifted from "pruritus, itching" to "obsession with scratching."
Vocabulary and semantics (Spanish archaic usages): there are many examples: merkar (to buy), trokar (to change), mansevez (youth), etc. The feminine gender of some nouns ending in -oris also kept, while these have become masculine in standard Spanish.
But along with these archaic usages, which are very understandable given the historical path of the language, there are also some genuine lexical creations based on Ladino (Judeo- Spanish calque), produced by the word-for-word translation from Hebrew into Spanish, which go back to the 13th or even the 12th centuries. All of these terms that are more archaic than the vernacular language are, via the intermediary of Ladino, a faithful reflection of the sacred languages (Hebrew and Aramaic), which makes them semi-sacred. By way of example, akunyadar/ear, which means "to fulfil the Levitical law," (i.e. the obligation found in the law of Moses for the brother of a dead man to marry the dead man's childless widow).
So, we can see that Judeo-Spanish is a language of fusion. Four percent of its loan words come from Hebrew, 15 percent from Turkish, 20 percent from French, two percent from Ladino, etc., with all of these built on the foundation of the 15th century Spanish substratum.
Apart from the phonetic, morphological and syntactic differences mentioned above (which are very rare, especially in the romances and proverbs), the spoken language, Judezmo (the Judeo-Spanish vernacular) does not differ much from peninsular Spanish. However, as mentioned above, Ladino faithfully reflects the sacred languages (Hebrew and Aramaic), making it semi-sacred.
Today, Sephardim write their language according to the alphabet used in their country. In this text, we use the French- influenced spelling of the Paris-based Association Vidas Largas for the Defence and Promotion of the Judeo-Spanish Language and Culture.
The old liturgical literature (Bibles, prayer books etc.) was written in Ladino, both in the East and the West (Morocco, Bordeaux, Amsterdam, etc.). It was not until 1730 that texts were written in Judezmo, notably the famous "Me'Am Lo'ez," a popular 18-volume encyclopedia published between 1730 and 1908. Secular literature was passed on mainly in oral form: proverbs, romances, "kantigas," tales and fables - all forms which began by perpetuating the Hispanic heritage and then took inspiration from daily life in the Ottoman Empire and northern Morocco.
The numerous proverbs are an inexhaustible source of linguistic and cultural interest; thus, it is not surprising that they are the subject of studies and investigation, notably at the Arias Montano Institute in Madrid.
The Sephardic "romancero" - which celebrates more or less recent events, like the execution in Fez in 1820 of Sol Hachuel, a young Jewish woman who refused to convert, or the "Gran fuego," a terrible fire that devastated Salonika in 1912 - has been particularly long-lived.
This oral literature is of considerable importance for Spain as well, because through it one has access to aspects of the country which seemed to have been lost forever. The Jews, faithful to their ungrateful homeland, have conserved this Spanish of old in their living museum.
The French language became increasingly invasive (notably through teaching), resulting in a new form of the language in the Ottoman Empire - Judeo-Franco-Spanish, as mentioned above.
According to Michael Molho, starting in Istanbul in 1832, the two modes of Judeo-Spanish (Ladino and the vernacular language) have given rise to a significant body of literature: 5,000 to 6,000 works, not including the 300 press titles which then flourished. Hundreds of plays have also been discovered since that time.
The dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire brought the disintegration of this bloc. Spanish Judaism had lost its glue. Sephardim again went into exile. In their new host countries, they were faithful to their language and established religious and ethnic communities.
One international magazine, Le Judaïsme Séphardi, served as their link. However, in 1948, in the United States, the last Judeo- Spanish newspaper printed in Hebrew characters, La Vara, stopped being published.
This trend continues, because although the number of those who acknowledge Judeo-hispanicity is probably much higher (we are thinking here of Jews in Latin American countries, where the number of those who still speak their language of origin is dropping quickly). Moreover, all or nearly all are bi- or tri- lingual. In Israel, the last major reservoir of Sephardim, the understandable hebraization is also undermining the presence of Judeo-Spanish. The only magazine still written entirely in this language, Aki Yerushalayim, is a sort of symbol for all of the nostalgia concerning Judeo-Spanish throughout the world. In the Turkish weekly alom, only one page in between six and ten is in Judeo-Spanish. These are the two survivors of a once- thriving press that boasted over 300 titles.
We should add to this all-too-brief list all of those who compiled tales, proverbs and romances, thus helping to safeguard this precious heritage. They include Israeli Matilda Koen- Safrano's compilation entitled "Kuentos del folklor de la Famiya Djudeo-espanyola" and Jaime B. Rosa's book entitled "Sepharad 92," which contains a collection of poems by Avner Perez, Izan Konorti, Isahar Avzaradel, etc.
Finally, there are works in other languages which keep the memory of Judeo-Spanish alive. Some of these include Annie Benveniste's chronicle "Le Bosphore ? la Roquette," Brigitte Peskine's "Les eaux douces d'Europe" and Nelly Kafsky's "Le rêve d'Esther," which was adapted very successfully for television.
Judeo-Spanish is also studied in conjunction with the study of dialects in all linguistic courses in Hispanic or Iberian faculties in French universities.
The same goes for universities in Spain, where the Arias Montano Institute in Madrid has published the magazine Sefarad since 1941, which is to Judeo-Spanish what the magazine Al-Andalus is to Spanish Islam.
In Germany and other European countries, Judeo-Spanish is taught in the Romance language department of universities. One example is the Institut f?r romanische Philologie of the Freie Universit?t of Berlin. Judeo-Spanish is also a topic of interest at the universities of T?bingen, Munich, Trier, Aachen, and Frankfurt, and in Innsbruck in Austria, in Fribourg, Neuchftel and Geneva in Switzerland, and in the Spanish language departments of the universities of Venice and Padua. Other universities also touch on the subject in their departments of Iberian or Hebrew studies. Hispanic studies departments in England are interested in Judeo-Spanish as well.
Numerous university correspondents in the above mentioned countries as well as Greece, Poland, former Czechoslovakia, Hungary, the former USSR, Bulgaria, Romania, former Yugoslavia, Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden and Norway have announced the creation of teaching and research centres for this discipline. This shows the importance that is attributed to it.
In Israel, after a certain rejection of the languages of the Diaspora, awareness began to grow regarding the linguistic and cultural wealth of Judeo-Spanish. At present, this discipline is taught in most Israeli universities.
In addition to the Judeo-Spanish language, the literature and, in particular, the Judeo-Spanish romancero are drawing the attention of specialists in Spanish literature in universities in France and abroad. An example of this is the recent bilingual anthology of Spanish poetry by La Pl,iade and the production of many records of Judeo-Spanish songs over the last three decades.
There has also been a great revival of interest in Judeo-Spanish culture. Examples are the many magazines and bulletins being published throughout the world. There is also evidence of this cultural renaissance on the radio, with daily broadcasts in Israel and Madrid, a bi-weekly programme in France and a weekly programme in Belgium.
The message is getting across, and this trend appears to be irreversible, but we must continue to consolidate and protect the heritage of the ancients. It is to this end that Judeo-Spanish workshops are being created everywhere, in collaboration with a growing number of researchers.
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