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Modern Jewish History: The Ladino Language

by Isaac Wolf

Sometimes called "Spaniolish," Ladino is the Spanish-Jewish dialect spoken by Sephardic Jews. Ladino's origins are similar to those of Yiddish, in that they both combine Hebrew and local language(s). As the Ladino language developed during the 15th and 16th centuries, it grew to include Arabic, Turkish, Greek, French and Italian.

Ladino spread throughout the Mediterranean after Spain expelled it's Jews in 1492, and is currently spoken by about 160,000 Jews in Turkey, the Balkans, North Africa, Israel and the Americas. But because of the recent trend among Sephardic Jews to adapt local languages in place of traditional ones, Ladino is now in decline.

There are several subtle differences between Ladino and Spanish. In Spanish, the name for god is "Dios," which ends in "s," implicating that there are several gods. But in Ladino, god is consistently called "El Dio," or "the god." Similarly, instead of using the Spanish term Domingo (which translates to "god's day") for Sunday, Ladino employs "Alhat," an Arabic word meaning one.