Foreign Tongues: Ladino
Dr. Avner Perez speaks and writes in a language that - according to Wikipedia - is only spoken by about 100,000 people in the world, give or take a couple hundred. He speaks Ladino or Judeo-Spanish, as it is sometimes called. Perez was born in Jerusalem in 1942. He is a translator and writer of poetry. He is one of the few people in the world who actually writes in Ladino. His poems have appeared in many places around the world from Europe to the Americas. In 1992 he founded the Maale Adumim Institute for the Study of Judeo-Spanish and culture, his way of continuing the learning of Ladino.
Ladino is a language that has many roots. It is derived mostly from Castilian, which apparently is another name for Spanish. (If ever you want to tell someone you speak another language and Spanish sounds too mundane, try Castilian.) Ladino also has a million and one names including Judezmo, Djudeo-Espanyol, and Spaniolit. Ladino used to be widely spoken in the Balkans, Turkey, Middle East, and North Africa. The Jews brought it there when they were expelled from Spain in 1492. (Side note: The expulsion was called the Alhambra Decree issued by the Spanish Monarchs Isabella I of Castille and Ferdinand II of Aragon.) Ladino is also a mixture of languages from all the places the Jews emigrated to after their expulsion. Those languages include Aramaic, Arabic, Turkish, Greek, French, and a host of other languages. So a whopping 30% of the language is a mixture of other languages with the rest being Castilian. When the Spanish Jews immigrated to the Ottoman Empire they were allowed to keep their language and customs. So the language was preserved for 500 years. In the Ottoman Empire the language was known as Yahudice or Jewish language. After the fall of the Ottoman Empire many of the Spanish Jews who lived there moved throughout Europe, and then of course the Holocaust hit. Many of the Jews who spoke the language were killed. After WWII many of the Jews who spoke Ladino moved to Israel. To this day most of the people who speak Ladino live in Israel. The translator for Dr. Perez’s poems, Brenda Serotte, has this to say about Ladino “Language, like one’s name, is personal. It’s important to me to keep Ladino alive. In doing so, I have recreated my cultural traditions.”
You can find examples of Dr. Perez’s poetry in HFR issue #45.