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Ladino: An Endangered Language

Chances are, if you’re Jewish, you’ve at least heard of Hebrew and Yiddish, if not spoken one or both a few times — reciting blessings over challah and wine counts! But did you know there’s another Jewish language out there? It’s called Judeo-Spanish, or Ladino, and it’s a beautiful mix of Castilian Spanish and Hebrew, with a smidgen of Arabic, Greek, Turkish and French thrown in for good measure.

If Yiddish is the language of Ashkenazi Jews, then Ladino is the language of Sephardic Jews. According to Sephardicstudies.org, when the Jews were expelled from Spain and Portugal in 1492, they brought the language of their region to new countries, where they adapted to two different dialects, “Oriental” Ladino and “Western” Ladino.

As with Yiddish speakers in Eastern Europe, many Ladino speakers perished during the Holocaust. Survivors were drawn to Latin America because the language was so similar to Ladino, but many adopted Spanish as their primary language.

Today, the country hosting the most Ladino speakers is Israel, where approximately 200,000 still converse. Istanbul, Turkey, is also home to a prominent Ladino-speaking community and has been publishing a Ladino newspaper called El Amaneser (The Dawn) since 2005. For the most part, though, Ladino has not been passed on to the younger generation and is at risk of extinction.

However, at UCLA, a student organization called ucLADINO spreads knowledge of the Judeo-Spanish language(s) to undergraduate and graduate students in Los Angeles and throughout the U.S. There are Ladino workshops, lectures and celebrations as well as a yearly symposium, all in the hopes of keeping the Ladino language alive. You can also take Ladino lessons on YouTube or watch Ladino music performances, such as this Judeo-Spanish Chanukah song.

Curious about what Ladino looks like? Check out our chart below of some English words translated into Yiddish, Ladino and Spanish for a comparison.

English Yiddish Ladino Spanish
Synagogue Shul Kal Sinagoga
Charity/Justice/Tzedakah Tsdoke Sedaka Caridad (charity), justicia (justice)
Prayer Tfile Tefila Oración
Happy Tsufridn Mazalozo Feliz, contento
Community Kibets Kollel/Komunitika Comunidad
Beautiful Sheyn Yuzel Hermoso

Are you or do you know a Ladino speaker? Share your story with us!

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