Lack of official statistics, difficult to know
exact number of speakers:
Renard (1966) estimate: 360,000
Harris (1979) estimate: 160,000
Harris (1994) estimate: 60,000.
Number of speakers is constantly decreasing.
In 1978 and 1985, Harris (1994) conducted research in the Sephardic communities in
New York, Israel and Los Angeles.
Total of 91 Judeo-Spanish speakers were interviewed:
28 from New York
28 from Israel
35 from Los Angeles
Reading: 81/91 can read Judeo-Spanish (mostly letters from Sephardic relatives in
other parts of the world, ballads etc.)
Writing: 63/91 can write Judeo-Spanish using the Roman alphabet (use the language
to write to Sephardic relatives.) Many people could write in the language many years
ago but are out of practice now.
Speaking: 91/91 can speak confidently in Judeo-Spanish. 77/91 use the language
when speaking to grandparents (the rest did not have the opportunity to speak to
their grandparents.) This number progressively decreases when moving down the
age scale.
Grammar and vocab of Judeoespañol resembles
14th and 15th century Spanish.
'Oriental' Ladino was spoken in Turkey and
Rhodes and reflected Castilian Spanish.
'Western' Ladino was spoken in Greece,
Macedonia, Bosnia, Serbia and Romania, and
preserved the characteristics of northern
Spanish and Portuguese.
For most of its lifetime, Ladino was written in
the Hebrew alphabet, in Rashi script, or in
Solitro, a cursive method of writing letters.
It was only in the 20th century that Ladino was
ever written using the Latin alphabet.
At various times, Ladino has been spoken in
North Africa, Egypt, Greece, Turkey,
Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Romania, France, Israel,
and, to a lesser extent, in the United States
Ladino began to disintegrate > Emigration to Israel from the Balkans hastened the decline of
Ladino in Eastern Europe and Turkey.
In 20th century, number of speakers declined: entire communities were murdered in the
Others adopted the language of whichever country they ended up in.
Those who emigrated to Israel, therefore adopted Hebrew.
Israel is now the country with the greatest number of Ladino speakers.
The Jews of Spain today preserve, but generally do not speak judeoespañol.
Nevertheless, it is experiencing a minor revival among Sephardic communities, especially in
In addition, Sephardic communities in several Latin American countries still use Judeo-Spanish.
Though in these countries, there is an added danger of extinction by assimilation to modern
Castilian Spanish.
Originally written using Hebrew alphabet
(read right to left)  changed to the Latin
Grammar, phonology and core vocabulary
(aprox 60%) are basically Castilian.
Resembles Southern Spanish and South
American dialects – use of yeismo and seseo.
Influences from other Languages
Retains archaic characteristics of the Spanish
spoken at the time of expulsion.
Mainly Castilian, although strong Hebrew
influence. Judeo Spanish vocab:
‫ = כבוד‬kavo(d) = honour
‫ = צדקה‬tzdakah = charity
‫ = מת‬met = dead
‫ = נפטר‬niftar = dead
‫ = תפלה‬t’filah = prayer
JS has all five vowels [a], [Ƹ], [i], [o] and [u].
Eastern dialects – all occur in stressed and
unstressed positions
Western dialects – only [Ƹ], [i], [u] can occur in
unstressed positions
Initial vowel may be omitted:
 E.g. (e)skrito (written) = escrito
The rising diphthongs are more frequent
(ia, ie, ii, io, iu, ua, ue, ui, uo) than the falling
ones (ai, oi, ui, au, eu)
The diphthongs [iw] developed into [iv].
e.g. bivda = viuda
sivdad = ciudad
The diphthongs are often supressed:
e.g. escola = escuela;
pasensia = paciencia;
preto = prieto;
Some words work with or without the diphthong
e.g. ken / kién = quién
Alternation of unstressed vowel with diphthong
e.g. pueder = poder
The Judeo-Spanish sound [j] corresponds to
the modern Spanish [j] / [λ] / [lj]
e.g. yegar = llegar
kaveyo = cabello
yerba = hierba
The semiconsonant [w] (‘w’ or ‘u+vowel’)
became [gw], even in the middle of words
e.g. guevo = egg
jugueves = thursday
The [sw-] at the beginning of the word
became [sfw-] or [ w-]
e.g. sfuegra = suegra (mother in law)
shuenyo = sueño
The [m-] became [mw-] or [ w-]
e.g. : muadre = madre;
The [p-] became [pw-] or [ w-]
e.g. puadre = padre.
Judeo Spanish has 25 consonants as opposed
to Castilian’s 20 consonants
 JS retains the Spanish ‘v’ as the labiodental,
creating a difference between the ‘v’
consonant and ‘b’.
e.g. vaca, ver, viaje etc.
 The sound [v] occurs also where modern
Spanish has [u]
e.g. devda = deuda;
bivda = viuda;
sivdad = ciudad.
The initial [h-] in modern Spanish becomes [f-]
or [...-]
e.g. (f)oja = hoja (leaf)
(f)ijo = hijo
(f)avlar = hablar
 The initial [f-] in modern Spanish before ‘ue’
becomes in certain JS dialects is changed to a
sounded [h-].
e.g. huerte = fuerte
 The Old Castilian consonant [ts] developed into
[0] in modern Spanish and [s] in JS
e.g. sinko = cinco
The sound [ts] occurs now only in words of nonSpanish origin
e.g. tsadik a virtuous man.
 In many words [s] changed into [ʃ], especially before a
consonant in the middle of the words.
e.g. moshka = mosca (a fly)
peshkado = pescado
bushkar = buscar
 JS retained Old Castilian in using the sound [dʒ] (in
the beginning of the word and after n) and [ʃ],
whereas Modern Spanish developed this into [x]
e.g. jugar [dʒu'gar] = jugar
berenjena [-ndʒƸ] = berenjena (aubergine)
deshar = dejar
The voiced intervocal [z] survived in JS, while
in modern Spanish it changed to [s]
e.g. (f)ermozo = hermoso.
 The Old Spanish affricate [dz] developed as
[z] in JS and as [0] in Modern Spanis
e.g. korazón = corazón
 There are even few words in which [dz] was
e.g. ondze = once = 11
e.g. dodze = doce = 12
The final [-s] becomes voiced [-z] if the next word begins with
vowel or a voiced consonant
e.g. los ojos [loz’oʒos]
las noches [laz 'notʃƸs]
 The final -m occurs in Jewish, Arabic and Turkish words only
e.g. adam = man
haham = a clever man
 Initial n sometimes changes to m in the group nuee.g. mueve = nueve
e.g. muevo = nuevo
e.g. muestro = nuestro
e.g. mosotros = nosotros
 An extra ‘m’ is included sometimes.
e.g. enshemplo = ejemplo
e.g. muncho = mucho
The Old Spanish group -mb- was preserved
in JS
e.g. lamber = lamer (to lick)
e.g. palomba = paloma (dove)
 The Old Spanish medial labiodental
consonants such as bd, bt, vd, vt are retained
e.g. sivdat = ciudad (Old Spanish çibdad)
 There occurs a metathesis of the [r] in a
combination with occlusive consonant
e.g. godro = gordo
e.g. prove = pobre (Old Spanish povre).
Harris, T (1994) Death of a Language, London and
Toronto: Associated University Presses.
Renard, R (1966) Sépharad: le monde et la langue
judéo-espagnol des Séhardim, Belgium: Annales
Universiatires de Mons.
A language is said to be dead or extinct when no
one speaks it any more. Languages have no
existence without people.
Although it may exist in recorded form, unless it
has fluent speakers, one would not talk of it as a
living language.
Exact amount of existing languages today is unclear.
Different sources and surveys show different
Ethnologue (13th edition, 1996): 6,703
International Encyclopedia of Linguistics (1992): 6,300
Atlas of the World's languages: 6,796
Most surveys are incomplete, and compensate for the lack
of facts by over/underestimating.
Impossible to answer this question by giving an absolute population total.
Population figures are useless without context.
In rural settings, 500 speakers could permit a reasonably optimistic
prediction, whereas in majority communities in growing cities, the chances
of 500 people keeping the ethnic language alive are minimal.
For example, in many pacific island territories, a community of 500 would
be considered quite large and stable, whereas in most parts of Europe, 500
would be far from enough.
In the Savannah zone in Africa, some linguists consider a language to be
endangered if it has less than 20,000 speakers.
8 Languages with more than 100 million speakers
(Mandarin, Spanish, English, Bengali, Hindi,
Portuguese, Russian and Japanese): 2.4 billion
Top 20 languages: 3.2 billion speakers between
them (over half of the world's population)
1. Viable Languages: Population sufficiently large to mean that
there is no threat to long-term survival.
2. Viable but small languages: More than 1000 speakers. Spoken in
isolated communities. Language a marker of identity.
3. Endangered languages: Spoken by enough people to make
survival a possibility, but only in favourable circumstances and with
a growth in community support.
4. Nearly extinct languages: Thought to be beyond the possibility of
survival. Usually spoken by just a few elderly people.
5. Extinct languages: No native speakers.
One of the main causes for language deaths is the effects of
dominant languages.
The effects of a dominant language vary in different parts of the
world, as do attitudes towards it.
Australia: English has caused the death of 90% of Australian
Russia: Russian has caused the death of 50% of languages in the
countries of the former USSR.
English and French: Africa.
Spanish and Portuguese: Latin America.
Spanish: Spain.
A common process leading to language death is
one in which a community of speakers of one
language becomes bilingual in another language,
and gradually shifts allegiance to the second
language until they cease to use their original (or
heritage) language.

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