Overview of Ladino Language

The Ladino language, also referred to as Judeo-Spanish, Sephardi, or Judezmo is the Romance language spoken by the Sephardic Jews, originating from Iberian Jews exiled from Spain and Portugal. As the Spanish and Portuguese Jews were forced to convert to Catholicism or leave the Iberian Peninsula, many of them fled to places like Turkey, Greece, Italy, and the Middle East. The exiled Jews continued to speak their native language of Ladino while also adapting to the languages of their new surroundings, mixing in these new languages to the language of their homeland. Thus, Ladino is a combination of Castilian Spanish and Hebrew with bits of Aramaic, Arabic, Turkish, Greek, French, Bulgarian, and Italian. 

Alhambra Decree

 Goodoldpolonius2. "Alhambra Decree". Wikimedia Commons. 2005-08-04, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Alhambra_Decree.jpg. 

The decree shown in the image above, called the Alhambra Decree, states that "’all Jews and Jewesses of whatever age they may be, who live, reside, and exist in our said kingdoms and lordships,’ no matter their personal status or identity, leave their homes within four months of the declaration. Those who did not obey were sentenced to death without trial and their property was confiscated by the government” (Jpost). Legend has it that Jews from Spain took their house keys with them as they left, hoping one day to return.

Prior to the Inquisition, Spain had a thriving Jewish population with numbers as high as 250,000. The Spanish that these Jews spoke was not distinctly different from that of the non-Jews in Spain at the time. 

Nova Hispaniae descriptio

Jansson, Jan, et al. Nova Hispaniae Descriptio. Jansson, 1630.

The map above, called Hispaniae Nova Descriptio, shows the area of the Iberian Peninsula which consists of Spain and Portugal. This region expelled all Jews 150 years prior to the creation of this map.

While Sephardic Jews continue to have thriving communities, the Ladino language is very nearly extinct today. It has, though, continued to be spoken in Israel, the Balkans, North Africa, Greece, the Americas, and Turkey by the descendants of the Spanish Jews that were expelled in 1492. Today, there are only about an estimated 60,000 to 200,000 Ladino speakers worldwide. 

Traditionally, Ladino was written in Hebrew script, but is now most often written with the Latin alphabet, spelled phonetically. Now a romance language, people who speak and read Spanish are able to understand most parts of Ladino, allowing the two languages to converse with one another with ease.

History of Ladino Music