The language Ladino (also known to its native speakers as Djudeo-Espanyol, Djudeo-Kasteyano, Djudio or Djudezmo) is the historical language of the Sephardi Jews. Its status is comparable to that of Yiddish for the Ashkenazi community.
Ladino is chiefly derived from an archaic form of Spanish with many loan words from Hebrew and Aramaic. For historical reasons, it has also been heavily influenced by Arabic and Turkish and to a lesser extent by French, Greek, Portuguese, Bulgarian and Bosnian, depending on the region where the speakers family lived. It exists in several variants, some of which are written in the Hebrew abjad and others in the Roman alphabet (the same alphabet that is used for English).
Jews had lived in what became the Kingdom of Spain since Roman times. It was common for them to write Latin, Spanish and Arabic using the Hebrew alphabet.
The Ladino language began to develop outside of Spain at the end of the 15th century CE. On March 31 1492 CE, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella issued the Alhambra Decree, forcing all Jews to leave the Kingdom of Spain, its territories and possessions by July 31 of that year. Many Spanish Jews went to Portugal (where they only evaded persecution for a few years before the Portuguese Inquisition arose). Others went to North Africa and south-east Europe where the Muslim Sultan of the Ottoman Empire guaranteed their protection. The language of the Sephardic Jews evolved in those areas, being influenced by other languages spoken in the surrounding communities.
Ladino has also maintained many features of Spanish as it existed in the 15th century CE, the language in Spain and Latin America having developed in different ways.
Ladino speakers are now almost exclusively people who live in or originally came from the cities of Istanbul and Izmir in Turkey or the city of Thessaloniki in Greece. Like other languages traditionally associated with Judaism, Ladino has faced the risk of language extinction. Many of its speakers are elderly. Many Ladino speakers who emigrated to Israel did not pass the language on to their children and grandchildren. Ladino speakers who emigrated to Latin America found it quite easy to shift to speaking modern Spanish and abandonned their ancestral language.
However, the language has experienced a revival of sorts in recent years. It is taught at the University of Pennsylvania and Tufts University in the United States and at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Part time evening courses in the Ladino language have been offered at some educational institutions in Turkey and Spain.
The following is an example of the Ladino language, written in the Roman alphabet, with a translation.
El djudeo-espanyol, djudio, djudezmo, o ladino es la lingua favlada por los sefardim, djudios 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, Maruekos, Mayorka i las Amerikas, entre muchos otros.
- English translation
Judaeo-Spanish, Djudio, Djudezmo or Ladino is a language spoken by Sephardic Jews, Jews expelled from Spain in 1492. It is a language derived from Spanish and is spoken by 150,000 people in communities in Israel, Turkey, the former Yugoslavia, Greece, Morocco, Majorca, North and South America and many other places.