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A Rashi Decision: Learning Ladino

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Senior Member
Virgin Islands
Speaks: Ladino
Joined 4649 days ago

2231 posts - 6710 votes 
Speaks: English*, Spanish, Portuguese, Haitian Creole, Creole (French)

 Message 1 of 85
29 January 2014 at 1:43am | IP Logged 
1492 was a big year in Spain. Columbus set sail for India and found the "New" World. the "Reconquista" was finally completed. Spain became one. After the Moors were driven out of Spain, a royal edict (El Edicto de Expulsión d Granada- Español y el Edikto de Ekspulsion de Granada- Ladino) expelled the Spanish Jews who would not convert to Christianity. Many fled to Portugal from which they would be expelled again eight years later. Some stayed, "converted" and became "hidden Jews" or "marranos". Sultan Bayezid II of the Turkish Ottoman Empire extended his hospitality to those who were expelled. Many settled in Greece, the Balkans and Turkey itself. At the time of the expulsion in 1492, the Jews had lived in Spain since Roman times and may even date to the era of King Solomon. The Jews (Sepharadim) had lived in Spain (Sepharad in Hebrew) over twice as long as Europeans and their descendants have been living in the Americas at present.

The expulsos spoke Medieval Spanish with some Hebrew and Arabic terms. They took their language with them across the Mediterranean and preserved it for 500 years- along with a deep love for Spain. It was said that may kept the keys to their homes and passed them down over generations. Over time, the Medieval Spanish language was enriched with Arabic, Greek, Italian, French and many Turkish words. The name for their language is Ladino- also known as Djudesmo, Djudeo-espanyol, Spanyolit, Spanyol Castellano and a few others. It has been written in at least four different scripts- Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhak's script for Torah commentary), Meruba (Hebrew Square script), Solitreo (Hebrew Cursive Script) and in the early twentieth century in Roman characters. In the Balkans it was even written in Cyrillic.

Different dialects developed over time, with the Western Sephardim having more elements of Northern Spanish and Portuguese and the Eastern Sephardim with more of a Castillian and Southern Spanish base. Salonika in Greece was about 50% Jewish until World War Two. The Nazi Holocaust decimated the Jewish population of Greece, Italy and the Balkans. The language was destroyed along with them. After the war, those few who remained dispersed to North America, Israel and all over the world. Jews in Turkey were spared by virtue of Turkey having remained neutral. There is still a community there today, though greatly reduced by emigration.

Today the language is dying. Estimates are there are around 100,000 speakers left- none of whom are monolingual. Most of the speakers are elderly. The majority live in Israel, Turkey, The US, Argentina, Mexico, and France.

So why have I made this Rash(i) decision to study this language? First of all I have Luso to thank for the punny name of this log. Luso also inspired me with his Arabic and Sanskrit studies. Emk has also inspired me with his work with Egyptian- he's having way too much fun! There's no heritage involved for me- I am not Jewish nor do I have any Jewish family. There is going to be no one for me to talk to on a Skype language exchange. No dvd's of American series dubbed in Ladino. No translated modern novels. No great collection of cinematic treasures (though I do have one film with about 25% Ladino). My best chance to encounter the spoken language would be at an international conference on the mainland US (an artificial situation) or perhaps a visit to Turkey or Israel.

What attracts me to the language is the history, folklore, culture and wisdom of a people who preserved their language for half a millennium despite the pressures of assimilation over that time. I am also intrigued by the effort being made to preserve the language via the online virtual community of Ladino-speakers located around the world, Ladinokomuita. Preservation efforts are also underway in Israel via La Autoridad Nasionala del Ladino with their magazine Aki Yerushalayim and Kol Israel La Boz de Israel which has a daily 15 minute radio broadcast in Ladino.

For a dying language, there are actually quite a few resources available for learning and practicing it. There are at least two internet forums in Ladino. In addition to the Israeli radio broadcast, Radio Nacional de España has a weekly half an hour broadcast. The Ladino music scene is alive and well and not just traditional- Sarah Aroeste- Ensuenyo Te Vi
The Argentine website esefarad has plenty of Ladino writing and folklore available and the same goes for the Belgian French home of "Los muestros" (Ladino with Ladino-French Glossary and bilingual text).

My Resources:

This won't be a true test of the multi-track approach because I already speak Spanish and most of Ladino is more transparent to me than Portugese was when I started learning it after knowing Spanish though there are several vocabulary differences. Luso actually taught me the Ladino word for "orange" in Ladino- "portokal", which is an Arabic borrowing meaning Portugal. Apparently the Portuguese were responsible for introducing the sweet version of the fruit to the Arabs. There are many Turkish borrowings- "buyrun"- welcome, "boy"- age, "bohor"- eldest, "zarzavatchi"- vegetable seller, etc.

I have "The Little Prince" - "El Princhipiko" in both Roman and Rashi script. I have two courses- the Hippocrene "Beginner's Ladino" and the "Manual of Judeo Spanish" which is the English base version of a French based original. Both have audio cd's but, they're not that important since I already speak Spanish and Portuguese and listen often to the language. I have the Hippocrene dictionary and the free Ladinokomunita pdf dictionaries converted to kindle format to help with reading. I have several music cds- the dvd of a Tom Hanks movie set in WW II Israel called Every Time We Say Goodbye, and enough texts in Roman, Rashi and Solitreo to keep me busy for quite a while. To learn the scripts there's a great website for transliteration called LadinoType.

I have joined the Ladinokomunita forum. Though I have not yet posted, I have scoured the files available for download and made a few bilingual texts of short stories. I don't intend to become as proficient in Ladino as I am in Spanish and Portuguese. I'll be happy with being competent and being able to read the stories of Djoha. I hope to be able to read Ladino texts in both Rashi and Solitreo. I won't be doing all Ladino all the time, but I will be doing enough to finish my courses and learn a lot of the language.

In the meantime I will continue to improve my Portuguese, Spanish and Haitian Creole. There's no point in asking FX to add Ladino as a language. So you won't see it under "studies"- and that doesn't matter. I also hope that my log will serve as a guide to learning a rare language without traditional resources, and to learning a very similar language to one already known. Most of all, I intend this to be fun!

Moshiko no kome burrekas- Ladino/French

Edited by iguanamon on 27 November 2014 at 1:57am

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Senior Member
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 Message 2 of 85
29 January 2014 at 2:06am | IP Logged 
Wow, sounds like fun! Good luck!
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ChinaRegistered users can see my Skype Name
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Speaks: English*, Spanish, Mandarin, Esperanto
Studies: Basque

 Message 3 of 85
29 January 2014 at 4:00am | IP Logged 
I've looked at Ladino before, too. I suppose you've probably already got a pretty good grasp on the language, but good luck diving in deeper!

With a language with speakers that spread out, can people from different areas of the world still understand each other? Are there any major dialects or is it all pretty homogenous? Especially since it's pulled vocabulary from many different places. I skimmed through the Wikipedia article but didn't see much mention of it.
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Senior Member
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Speaks: English*, Spanish
Studies: Dutch, Polish

 Message 4 of 85
29 January 2014 at 6:21am | IP Logged 
Siempre haciendo algo interesante y un poco diferente.. me encanta. Buena suerte Iguanamon y tengo ganas de ver
tu progreso y todo lo que aprendas del idioma y de la historia de la gente.
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Senior Member
Joined 4795 days ago

264 posts - 497 votes 
Speaks: French*, English, Yiddish
Studies: Latin, Ancient Egyptian, Welsh

 Message 5 of 85
29 January 2014 at 9:58am | IP Logged 
Good luck with Ladino !

Şalom, the newspaper of the Turkish Jewish community, has one page in Ladino each week. You can find the articles on their website.
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Senior Member
Virgin Islands
Speaks: Ladino
Joined 4649 days ago

2231 posts - 6710 votes 
Speaks: English*, Spanish, Portuguese, Haitian Creole, Creole (French)

 Message 6 of 85
29 January 2014 at 12:54pm | IP Logged 
Kuji, thanks so much for your support!

Crush, yes there are differences between the dialects of Italy, Greece, the Balkans and Turkey. The Judeo-Spanish of Morocco with more contact with Arabic evolved into la Haketia. Despite the contact with different languages and different borrowings, the language remained mutually intelligible because of the common Medieval Spanish base. I'll be concentrating on the variety of Ladino as spoken today in Turkey and using the orthography of Aki Yerushalayim as adopted by Ladinokomunita.

¡Gracias por tus palabras tan amables y por seguirme, Vos! Quedo muy impresionado con tu aprendizaje de idiomas, especialmente tu dominio del neerlandés, viviendo en un país como Australia, tan lejano de los otros países- muy impresionante. Recuerdo cuando comenzabas aprendiendo español hace cuatro años y ahora, eres un hispanoparlante. ¿Has pensado en aprender el portugués,italiano, catalán o francés algún día?

Akkadboy, Mersi muncho por sus desejos de mazal bueno! It's great to have a speaker of Yiddish following my log. I have bookmarked Salom. Thank you for your good wishes. Do you happen to know what coding I should use to type and display Rashi, Meruba and Solitreo characters. I'd love to be able to OCR my pdf's and copy and paste to make some parallel texts. Right now, I am learning Rashi with El Princhipiko- it's a lot of fun reading Hebrew characters designed for Torah commentary by a French Rabbi, from right to left and coming out with Medieval Spanish!

Edited by iguanamon on 29 January 2014 at 2:09pm

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Senior Member
Joined 4026 days ago

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Speaks: Norwegian*, English, Spanish, French, Romansh, German, Italian
Studies: Russian, Catalan, Latin, Greek, Romanian

 Message 7 of 85
29 January 2014 at 2:43pm | IP Logged 
Ladino - Great choice! As someone who also studies a language spoken by very few people (Romansh) I can only wish you the best with your endeavours, and I will certainly follow your log.

I remember back when I was studying Spanish, I was on a trip to Israel and got quite excited when I came across a small newspaper in Ladino (written in Latin script). Excited because I could understand so much of it, thanks to my knowledge of Spanish. This made me investigate into the history of the Spanish jews (the Sepharadim) and what happened to them after the expulsion in 1492. I also bought a couple of books in and about Ladino. But this was long before the internet existed, and access to Ladino resources in Norway was practically inexistant, so i did not pursue that particular interest.

Here in France where I live there is a big Jewish community, and many are Sepharadim, descending from Spanish jews, although most of them have come here in recent times from North African countries. However, some of them have surnames that tell of their origin, e.g. Toledano, which is quite common around here and the name of my dentist, by the way. I do not think there are many, if any, Ladino-speakers amongst them though. They have mostly become fully integrated and assimilated to French culture and language.

Edited by Ogrim on 29 January 2014 at 2:44pm

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Speaks: English*
Studies: French
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 Message 8 of 85
29 January 2014 at 3:22pm | IP Logged 
Though I'm not learning (nor even know) any Ladino, I love the pun in your log title!

You may already know about this, but just in case not - Susanna Zaraysky, one of the speakers at the
Polyglot Conference in Hungary last year (I didn't attend; just saw the videos), is making a documentary,
"Saved by Language", which I believe is about the last surviving Ladino speaker in Sarajevo. As a child
during the Second World War, his knowledge of Ladino saved his life. There's a description of the project
here (If the link doesn't work, please copy and paste the
URL, removing any spaces, of course)

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