THE Spanish Royal Academy (RAE) is to establish a new branch in Israel that will work to preserve Ladino – the language of Jewish communities that once hailed from Spain before the expulsion of the country’s Jews in 1492.
The new Israeli branch will sit alongside the 23 existing academies dedicated to the Spanish languages across Latin America and in countries such as Equatorial Guinea and the Philippines.
Ladino, also called Judeo-Spanish, combines old Spanish with elements of Hebrew and other languages, among them Ottoman Turkish, Arabic, Aramaic and some of the Balkan languages, depending on where it was spoken in the intervening centuries.
Exiles from Spain, known as Sephardim (the Hebrew word for people of Spain), moved to North Africa, the Middle East, Europe and Latin America after the expulsion.
While Ladino is still spoken by small numbers of people all over the world, most speakers today live in Israel.
Shmuel Refael, director of the Salti Center for Ladino Studies at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, estimated that some 400,000 Israelis have some knowledge of the language.
Dario Villanueva, RAE’s director, told the British press that Judeo-Spanish was ‘an extraordinarily important cultural and historical phenomenon.’
‘The Jews who were expelled in 1492 dispersed around Europe and the Americas, taking with them the Spanish language as it was spoken at the time of their expulsion,’ he told the Guardian.
‘All of this has been miraculously preserved over the centuries. There’s literature, folklore, translations of the Bible and even modern newspapers written in Ladino.’
Isaac Querub, president of Spain’s Federation of Jewish Communities, described Judeo-Spanish as ‘the language that mothers have used to rock their babies to sleep with for more than five centuries…that’s been used to pass down recipes and the one that is spoken in the intimacy of home. Even after all these hundreds of years, it’s still being used.’