ladino2After their expulsion from Spain in 1492, the Sephardim (or Spanish Jews) carried their language, based on Medieval Spanish, with them to their new homes in the Ottoman Empire, mainly in Turkey, Greece, the Balkans, Morocco and Israel. Except for Medieval Spanish elements, Ladino (Jewish-Spanish) contained elements from Hebrew and Arabic. Depending on the languages in their surroundings, elements from Turkish, Greek or Slavic languages were incorporated in their language. Due to the Enlightenment in more recent times, Ladino was also influenced by French and Italian.

Ladino language and Sephardic culture continued to flourish among the Sephardim. Thessaloniki was one of the greatest centers of Ladino in the 1930s, when about 60% of the population spoke it. During World War II, approximately half of the Ladino speakers were killed. Most of the survivors left their home countries in favor of Israel, USA, France etc. Today, the number of Ladino speakers is estimated to be between 70,000 and 200,000, mostly of the older generation, and is thus considered an endangered language. However, in recent times, several academic institutions, organizations, authorities and cultural frameworks in Israel and elsewhere in the world were established, with the aim of preserving and documenting Ladino language and culture.

The beginning of the 21st century saw a boom of performances and productions of Ladino classics by artists with different backgrounds around the world. However, the creation of new music in Ladino is still rather rare.


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Photos from Enrico Isacco's collection, courtesy of the Authority of Ladino