Habla Ladino? Spain's Royal Language Institution Is Establishing an Academy for It in Israel

Ladino was a form of Spanish spoken by Jews in Iberia at the time of the Spanish expulsion in 1492

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A conference of Ladino speakers in Jerusalem, 2007.
A conference of Ladino speakers in Jerusalem, 2007.Credit: Daniel Bar On

The Real Academia Española, the academy of the Spanish language, is setting up a daughter academy in Israel dedicated to the study Judaeo-Spanish, known as Ladino.

Ladino was a variation of Spanish spoken in the Iberian Peninsula at the time of the Spanish expulsion of the Jews in 1492. The language remains spoken in some Sephardic Jewish communities to this day.

Darío Villanueva, RAE director told Spanish daily El País, "We must pay this historic debt." Villanueva explained that the project would bring together the efforts of experts, the National Ladino Authority, the Sefarad-Israel Center and the Tel Aviv municipality, as the the academy will be established in Tel Aviv.

Bendigamos al altísimo, a traditional Ladino prayerCredit: Paco Díez

The new academy would be the 24th in the Association of Spanish Language Academies, a network with members in Europe, Latin America, Africa, and Asia.

“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,” Villanueva 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.”

Shmuel Refael Vivante, a member of the National Ladino Authority's Executive Committee and director of the Naime and Yehoshua Salti Center for Ladino Studies at Bar-Ilan University, is one of the promoters of the initiative. He told El País "This language played an important role in my life. Sephardic words, expressions, idioms, customs and manners poured in my house. Even songs. It was the language of joy."

Isaac Querub, the president of Spain’s Federation of Jewish Communities, welcomed the move to recognize what he called the “rich and profound cultural legacy” of Ladino.

“It’s the language that mothers have used to rock their babies to sleep with for more than five centuries,” he told the Guardian. “It’s the language 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.”

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