Ladino : Spanish’s Jewish Cousin

Most folks have heard of Yiddish, a language that developed in the Ashkenazi community of Central Europe during the Middle Ages. However, many people don’t realize that Yiddish is actually closely related to German. In fact, it originates from a Medieval form of that language, only written in Hebrew letters. Similarly, Spanish has its own language cousin in the Jewish world, Ladino or Judaeo-Spanish, which is spoken by the Sephardic descendants of the Jews expelled from Spain by Ferdinand and Isabella.

A collage of some important Sephardic Jews. Maimonides is in the top left and Hank Azaria is in the bottom right. Click through for the full list.

While Yiddish grew out of Medieval German, it also has linguistic influences from Hebrew and Aramaic. In a similar way, Ladino developed from a Medieval form of Spanish but also shares bits of vocabulary and grammar with Hebrew, Arabic, and even Turkish. For those who know any Spanish, I think you’ll find it sounds familiar…and a little exotic at the same time.

(Grasyas, ceniboy, for posting this and other great Ladino videos.)

Ladino is still spoken by small communities in Israel, Turkey, Greece, and even the United States, but it is in danger of going extinct. Most speakers use it as a second language, and older generations are not passing it along to their children and grandchildren in great numbers. Nonetheless, here’s hoping for a renaissance.


3 responses to “Ladino : Spanish’s Jewish Cousin

  1. Pingback: ¡Feliz Janucá! : Spanish Hanukkah vocabulary « The Spanish Dilettante

  2. Hi there –

    I stumbled across your blog today, and saw your post about Ladino. You would probably really enjoy an old Tom Hanks movie from 1986. It’s called “Every Time We Say Goodbye.” Here’s the synopsis:

    “An American flyer who joined the RAF before his country was in the war is recovering from a leg injury in Jerusalem. Through an English friend he meets a quiet Jewish girl whose close-knit family originally came from Spain. The two are attracted to each other but she is convinced their diverse backgrounds mean it could never work; not only is he a gentile, his father is a protestant minister. So though they keep running into each other in the small community, they find themselves just as frequently parting again.”

    In the scenes with the girl’s family, they all speak Ladino. It was a sweet movie, made especially intriguing for me because of the linguistic aspect (I was a Spanish major at the time — ahora soy profesora!).

    Espero que te guste!

  3. Thanks for the suggestion. I’ll definitely check it out!