An LA Times story by Ken Ellingwood reports on belated efforts to preserve Ladino (discussed at LH here and here):

More than 500 years after Jews were expelled from Spain, an effort is afoot here to save Ladino, a medieval dialect that helped preserve the exiles’ culture as they scattered across Europe and the Middle East.
Ladino, also called Judeo-Spanish, is slowly dying. Israel is believed to have the largest number of people — perhaps as many as 200,000 — who can speak or understand the language. But many are older than 60.
Recognizing that the oldest generation of Sephardic Jews soon will disappear, some Israelis are trying to pump life into the flickering language — collecting written works, recording Ladino love songs and teaching Ladino to young people.

The Israeli government joined the efforts seven years ago, establishing the National Ladino Authority, which has prompted a surge of interest in the language and culture. The agency spends $275,000 a year on organizing lectures, promoting festivals and sponsoring language courses.
Thanks to the push, Ladino is now taught in several of the largest Israeli universities. Two schools recently opened centers devoted exclusively to the study of Ladino language and culture.
And the second national Ladino music festival, to take place here today, already is a popular showcase for young composers and musicians from all over the world, including the United States.
“It is a disappearing language, but more and more people I know are starting to play it,” said Yasmin Levy, a 28-year-old Israeli singer who has recorded two CDs in Ladino and performs often in Europe. “It’s beautiful.”…
Long before the Israeli government invested in promoting Ladino culture, a few activists collected folk stories, poems and songs. Perhaps the most ambitious was Levy’s father, Yitzhak Levy, who compiled 10 volumes of Ladino liturgy before his death in the 1970s.
Ladino language and culture enthusiasts in Israel and abroad are continuing the work, scouring bookshops and attics for overlooked Ladino writings. Some of the literature has been saved in the original language, some translated into Hebrew. One Israeli enthusiast is at work translating Homer’s “The Iliad” into Ladino from ancient Greek.
Eliezer Papo, the coordinator of a new Ladino culture center at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba, said Ladino enthusiasts are taking their cue from the United States, where people are encouraged to celebrate their diverse cultures.

Thanks to Andrew Krug for the link.


  1. Also out there is Ladinokomunita, the website for the Foundation for the Advancement of Sephardic Studies and Culture’s Ladino Preservation Counci, which hosts Ladino-only discussion boards and has some audio clips of Ladino.
    And here’s a link to another Ladino pop singer: Saraha Roeste.

  2. Doh! That should have been Sarah Aroeste

  3. Sorry if he has been mentionned already, but, in France, linguist Haïm Vidal Sephiha (also a survivor of the genocide and incidentally the father of Le Monde diplomatique jounalist Dominique Vidal, has put a lot of passion into the promotion of ladino. There was a ladino program on Parisian Jewish station Radio-Com/Judaïque FM a few years ago when I was a faithful listener, but I do not now about the current situation.
    I only made a quick search, but this short article by Vidal Sephiha provides some interesting samples (Warning: Word document). It also starts with a usefull clarification on the distinction between “judéo-espagnol vernaculaire” and what he calls “judéo-espagnol calque”, i.e. ladino.
    Audio sample of the Universal Declaration of the Human Rights here at languesdefrance.
    On another topic, the mention of a ladino Ilias reminds me of the emotional stream I felt when I saw an exhaustive translation in Pontic when in Athens last year. A pity I can’t find any link to it (I forgot the translator’s name, all I can remember is that he was the Chairman of the Zografou Pontics and that the publisher is Κάκτος).
    Maybe you know about the first attempt to a Pontic translation in 1935 Rostov/Don, ΑΣΙΝ ΙΛΙΑΔΑΝ ΤΥ ΟΜΙΡΥ (there you have the first verses; the transcription system invented by I-can’t-remember-who for Soviet Pontics is influenced by Russian reading).

  4. Thanks, those are great links! (And no, I didn’t know about it; Pontic and the Greek community in Russia have always interested me, and I’d like to know more about them.)

  5. 語帽老師,唔使客氣啊!
    I don’t really deserve it, unfortunatelly, since I made an embarrassing mistake (my face just turned red when I realised it):
    it was the “Odysseia”, not the “Iliad” that was translated recently by Pontic dramaturgist Παύλος Κοτανίδης (this Ελευθεροτυπία article reproduced on gives some basic information about the book).
    Now I know why I wasn’t finding any link yesterday, and why I shouldn’t be thinking in Greek when writing a report in Chinese.
    I have been told by native speakers that his Pontic is quite good (with no dhimotiki interferences), like back in the πατρίδα. The transcription he adopted may be more controversial, though (however, it is not Sovietic one).
    here is an apparently well-informed article about Greek and Pontic Press in the USSR (I only had a quick look at it). There must be a lot of Rossopontii pages on the Web now, but I have to go back to work.
    I learned to presume your knowledge much more often than your ignorance about Greek and Chinese (and, well, French) matters, as far as I can judge. I rarely encounter such universal, humanist minds (that means “à la Etiemble” for me, no matter what reasonable criticism could be addressed to him).
    NOTE: “teméteron” is Pontic for “ours”. Τεμέτερον εν (s/he’s one of us) is a sentence frequently used when Pontic personalities appear on TV, or to justify one’s vote for an obviously Pontic candidate (that means usually with a name in “-idis”) despite a discordant partisan affiliation. It would be δικός μας (άνθρωπος) είναι (or είναι δικός μας depending on the conversational context).

  6. I forgot something in the last sentence:
    In dhimotiki, it would be δικός μας (άνθρωπος) είναι, etc.

  7. Interestingly enough I work and I am friends with with a Ladino speaker at the office. She’s 30 years old and she does speak the language (which is more or less intelligible to a Spanish speaker – I can understand it- as Spanish is more or less to her). She’s from the Jewish community of Thessaloniki and she tells me that her grandparents’ generation is the last generation that spoke Ladino as a first language at home.
    Jimmy Ho: You’ll love the Cretan dialect rendition of the Iliad and the Odyssey, written by an “uneducated” local in rhyme, who made this his life’s work… or one of his life’s works because the translator in question is Giorgos Psychoundakis: the Cretan Runner himself…

  8. Thank you, Talos. I’ve heard about Psychoundakis’ translations, but never had the opportunity to look at them myself. I didn’t know it was published by the ΠΕΚ, whose production is generally of high value (see, among many others, the studies on Cavafy/Καβάφης). I will definitely have to check it out next time I go “back”.
    I’ll confess that every time I tried to read Kazantzakis’ rendition, I ended up opening the “original”. Although I often have to stop to check forms in Σταματάκος and my old Λεξικόν Ομηρικόν (του Πανταζίδου), I enjoy it a lot more. Only because the isle is far away from my own origins and I had never been there, I was blind to Cretan literature for toο long, until Ερωτόκριτος opened my eyes (Στους περαζόμενους καιρούς, που οι Έλληνες ορίζα / κι οπού δεν είχ’ η μπίστη τως θεμέλιο μηδέ ρίζα…).
    Now, the connection between Greece and Ladino (through Salonique) brought another old memory to my mind: if I recall correctly (from the fac-similes reproduced in Angelos Elephantis’ book on the subject), the paper of Avraam Benaroya (Αβραάμ Μπεναρόγια)’s Federación (Φεντερασιόν) was written in at least four languages: Ladino (with Hebraic letters), Greek, Macedonian and Turkish (with Arabic letters). There could have been some French, too, but I don’t want to mislead anyone (alas, the book is in Paris, and I am in Taipei).

  9. In Antioquia, Colombia, you would hear an arcaic Spanish with many expressions that are, simply, Ladino.
    I suggest you read the books of Tomas Carrasquilla, who wrote in traditional paisa parlace, which resembles Ladino. As a paisa, I’ve read Ladino texts, and they remind me of my grandparents. Genetic studies by Andres Ruiz et L show a high prevalence of Sefardic Y chromosomes in the paisa folk of Colombia. It might be worth looking into the remnants of Ladino in our culture, because it would be several million that could understand Ladino.

  10. Very interesting, thanks!

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