Ladino Reconstruction

Introduction

It is unfortunately a fact that the number of active Judeo-Espanyol speakers in the world is declining. For a language to survive, the motivation for new generations to learn it and maintain it is the key. For those who have learned Judeo-Espanyol at home, the focus is on maintaining the language. There is, however, a minority of those who cannot learn the language, or even hear a spoken word, anywhere around. For them the focus is on how to reconstruct Judeo-Espanyol, that precious symbol of their Sephardic identity which has been, together with the major part of their families, wiped out during the Holocaust. Accordingly, one should consider and understand the situation in such Sephardic communities, like the ones in former Yugoslavia and the related Diaspora, where we can talk about two options only:

  • Give up on the language which has been spoken within their families for centuries and thus silently accept one of the consequences of the Holocaust devastation.
  • Remain defiant and resolute to reconstruct Judeo-Espanyol by any feasible means available.

It is important to note that there is absolutely not even a slightest intention to suggest that the methodology to reconstruct Judeo-Espanyol should also be paradoxically applied by the majority of Sephardim who live today in Israel and Turkey and who have learned Judeo-Espanyol in the most natural way, within their families, who speak the language fluently and who publish precious works without which the reconstruction of Judeo-Espanyol cannot be successful. It is our hope that the majority will understand the situation within the minority and be receptive to their efforts to reconstruct their lost language. Actually, we all do have the same common goal - reinforce Judeo-Espanyol and stop its decline.

Reconstruction Outline

In order to reconstruct Judeo-Espanyol in the communities where the language completely died out, we suggest a process in which:

  1. New learners are encouraged to learn modern Spanish first, by taking the advantage of the availability of Spanish courses and learning opportunities worldwide.
  2. New learners can then, by using Judeo-Espanyol dictionaries and literature in the orthography transparent to modern Spanish spelling standard, easily absorb the limited scope in which Judeo-Espanyol differs from contemporary Spanish.

It is important to note that in the targeted Sephardic communities many of potential new Judeo-Espanyol learners, who are essential for the resurrection and preservation of the language, are familiar with English or French as their second or, often in Diaspora, their first language. Therefore, a Romanic spelling system, like the one proposed at the previous congress, would be appropriate because the same principles are found in French, English and Spanish orthography. By using this system, new learners can also better associate Judeo-Espanyol words with the Latin roots of the words they are already familiar with in their second or first language. This significantly helps and enhances the learning process.
Fears that the strategy of learning Judeo-Espanyol through modern Spanish would backfire and lead to consumption of Judeo-Espanyol by Spanish prevalence cannot be justified in this case since Judeo-Espanyol is already extinct within the Sephardic communities in question. Either it remains dead or we get Judeo-Espanyol back to life, even if the reconstructed language will not be as authentic as the one within the Sephardic communities that were fortunate to sustain Judeo-Espanyol without discontinuity. It is our firm conviction that Judeo-Espanyol reconstructed according the outline described above will always remain distinct from modern Spanish.

Conclusion

This methodology for Judeo-Espanyol reconstruction has been developed specifically with the minority of Sephardic families in mind, the ones that live on the territory of former Yugoslavia and related Diaspora, where Judeo-Espanyol has completely died out. However, it is our hope that these efforts also contribute, however small they may be, to much bigger and more significant efforts of the Sephardic majority in Israel and Turkey to sustain, reinforce and enrich the authentic Judeo-Espanyol preserved in their families. Finally, we all work for the greater good of preserving and strengthening our cherished heritage.
And in the end, although some may find this far-fetched, one can conceivably hope that the alternative Romanic spelling system, presented during the previous congress, together with Spanish – Judeo-Espanyol dictionaries written using the same orthography, could serve not just as a tool for Judeo-Espanyol reconstruction, but also a vehicle to connect Sephardim and decedents of Anusim in Spain, Portugal and Latin America, and to generate an incentive for them to get closer to their roots and Sephardic communities worldwide. Therefore, the strategy outlined in previous sections could not only help to reconstruct and sustain Judeo-Espanyol in the Sephardic communities that unfortunately lost the language, but hopefully even pave a way for Judeo-Espanyol to become popular among some native Spanish speakers.

Presentations from 16th World Congress of Jewish Studies in Ladino, Jerusalem, July 28 - August 1, 2013

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