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Extensive Definition

Ladino is a Romance language with a vocabulary derived mainly from Old Castilian, Hebrew, Turkish, and some French and Greek. Speakers are currently almost exclusively Sephardi Jews, for example, in (or from) Thessaloniki, Istanbul and Izmir.
Ladino has kept the postalveolar phonemes /ʃ/ and /ʒ/ of Old Castilian, which both changed to the velar /x/ in modern Castilian; Ladino also has an /x/ phoneme taken over from Hebrew. In some places it has also retained certain characteristic words, such as muestro for nuestro (our). Its grammatical structure is close to that of Castilian, with the addition of many terms from the Hebrew, Portuguese, French, Turkish, Greek, and Bosnian depending on the geographic origin of the speaker.
Ladino is in serious danger of extinction because many native speakers today are elderly as well as elderly olim (immigrants to Israel), who have not transmitted the language to their children or grandchildren. However, it is experiencing a minor revival among Sephardic communities, especially in music. In some countries, especially expatriate communities in Latin America, there is also a danger of extinction due to the risk of assimilation by modern Castilian.


The name Ladino is a variant of Latin. The language is also called Judæo-Spanish, Judæo-Espagnol, judeoespañol, Sefardi, Djudio, Dzhudezmo, Judezmo, and Spanyol or español sefardita; Haquitía (from the Arabic haka حكى, "tell") refers to the dialect of North Africa, especially Morocco. The dialect of the Oran area of Algeria was called Tetuani, after the Moroccan town Tétouan, since many Orani Jews came from this city. In Hebrew, the language is called Spanyolit.
According to the Ethnologue,
The name 'Dzhudezmo' is used by Jewish linguists, 'Judeo-Castellano' or simply 'Djudio' by Turkish Jews; 'Judeo-Castilian' by Romance philologists; 'Ladino' by laymen, especially in Israel; 'Hakitia' by Moroccan Jews.
The derivation of the name Ladino is complicated. In pre-Expulsion time of the area known today as Spain the word simply meant 'Castilian' or 'Romance': literary Castilian as distinct from dialect, and Romance in general as distinct from Arabic. (The first European language grammar and dictionary, of Castilian, refers to it as "nostro Latin," or 'lengua ladina'. In the Middle Ages, the word 'Latin' was frequently used to mean simply 'language', and in particular the language one understands: a 'latiner' or 'latimer' meant a translator.) Following the expulsion, Jews spoke of 'the Ladino' to mean the traditional oral translation of the Bible into archaic Spanish. By extension it came to mean that style of Castilian generally, in the same way that (among Kurdish Jews) Targum has come to mean Judaeo-Aramaic and (in Arab countries) sharħ has come to mean Judaeo-Arabic. For this reason, authors like Haim Vidal Sephiha reserve "Ladino" for the very Hebraicized form of the language used in religious translations such as the Ferrara Bible, which was based on the traditional oral version.


At the time of the expulsion from the area today known as Spain, the day to day language of Castilian Jews was little if at all different from that of other Castilians. There was however a special style used for purposes of study or translation, featuring a more archaic dialect of Castilian, a large number of Hebrew and Aramaic loan-words and a tendency to render Hebrew word order literally (ha-laylah ha-zeh, meaning "this night", was rendered la noche la esta instead of the normal Spanish esta noche). As stated above, some authorities would confine the term "Ladino" to this style.
Following the expulsion, the daily language was increasingly influenced both by the language of study and by the local non-Jewish vernaculars such as Greek and Turkish, and came to be known as Dzhudezmo: in this respect the development is parallel to that of Yiddish. However, many speakers, especially among the community leaders, also had command of a more formal style nearer to the Spanish of the expulsion, referred to as Castellano.
The Judaeo-Castilian dialect of Northern Morocco, known as Haketia, is the subject of a separate article.


The grammar of Ladino, and its core vocabulary (approx. 60% of its total vocabulary), are basically Castilian. However, the phonology of the consonants of Ladino and part of its lexicon are in some respects closer to Portuguese than to modern Castilian, because both retained characteristics of medieval Ibero-Romance which Castilian later lost. Compare for example Ladino aninda ("still") with Portuguese ainda and Castilian aún, or the initial consonants in Ladino fija, favla ("daughter", "speech"), Portuguese filha, fala, Castilian hija, habla. The Ladino pronunciation of s as "sh" before a "k" sound or at the end of certain words (such as seis, pronounced "sesh", for six) is also shared with Portuguese but not with Spanish. See also Judeo-Portuguese.
Archaic features retained by Ladino are as follows:
  • Modern Spanish z (c before e or i), pronounced as "s" or /θ/ (as the English "th" in "think"), according to dialect, corresponds to two different phonemes in Old Castilian: ç (c before e or i), pronounced "ts", and z (in all positions), pronounced like an English "z". This distinction has been retained in Ladino: korason/coraçon, "heart" (modern Spanish corazón) versus dezir, "to say" (modern Spanish decir). (The cedilla in the character ç was invented in Spanish to represent the former of the two phonemes, though it is not used in modern Spanish.)
  • Modern Spanish j (g before e or i), pronounced /x/, corresponds to two different phonemes in Old Castilian: x, pronounced /ʃ/ (English "sh"), and j (g before e or i), pronounced /ʒ/ ("zh"). Again the distinction has been retained: basho/baxo, "low" or "down" (modern Spanish bajo) versus mujer, "woman" or "wife".
  • In modern Spanish, the choice between b and v is made in accordance with Latin etymology: both letters are pronounced as the same bilabial phoneme (realized either as an English "b" or as [β] according to position). In Old Castilian and in Ladino the choice is made phonetically: bivir, "to live" (modern Spanish vivir). In Ladino v is a labiodental "v" (as in English) rather than a bilabial.


The following systems of writing Ladino have been used or proposed.
  1. Traditionally Ladino was written in the Hebrew alphabet (especially in Rashi script), a practice that was very common, possibly almost universal, until the 19th century (and called aljamiado, by analogy with the equivalent use of the Arabic alphabet). This occasionally persists today, especially in religious use.
  2. The Greek and Cyrillic alphabets have been employed in the past, but this is rare or nonexistent nowadays.
  3. In Turkey, Ladino is most commonly written in the Turkish variant of the Latin alphabet. This may be the most widespread system in use today, as following the decimation of Sephardic communities throughout much of Europe (particularly in Greece and the Balkans) during the Holocaust the greatest proportion of speakers remaining were Turkish Jews.
  4. The Israeli Autoridad Nasionala del Ladino promotes a phonetic transcription into the Latin alphabet from the traditional Hebrew script, making no concessions to Spanish orthography. The songs Non komo muestro Dio and Por una ninya, below, and the text in the Sample paragraph, are written using this system.
  5. There are also those who, with Iacob M Hassán, maintain that Ladino should adopt the standard orthography of modern Castilian, the official language of Spain. For the reasons set out in the section on phonology, this would fail to reflect the actual sounds of Ladino.
  6. Perhaps more conservative and less popular, others along with Pablo Carvajal Valdés suggest that Ladino should adopt the orthography used during the time of the Jewish expulsion of 1492 from Spain. This system is used below in the transcription of the song Adio querida. (Quando el melekh Nimrod is in a mixture of this and the Israeli system.)

Arguments for and against the 1492 orthography

The Castilian orthography of that time has been standardized and eventually changed by a series of orthographic reforms, the last of which occurred in the 18th century, to become the spelling of modern Spanish. Ladino has retained some of the pronunciation that at the time of reforms had become archaic in standard Castilian. Adopting 15th century Castilian orthography (similar to the modern orthography of Portuguese) would therefore closely fit the pronunciation of Ladino.
  • The old spelling would reflect
    • the /s/ (originally /ts/) - c (before e and i) and ç (cedilla), as in caça,
    • the /s/ - ss, as in passo, and
    • the /ʃ/ - x, as in dixo.
  • The spelling g (before e or i) and j would be retained, but only in instances, such as mujer, where the pronunciation is /ʒ/ in Ladino.
  • The spelling of /z/ (originally /dz/) as z would be restored in words like fazer and dezir.
  • The difference between b and v would be made phonetically, as in Old Castilian, rather than in accordance with the Latin etymology as in modern Spanish. For example Latin DEBET > post-1800 Castilian debe, would return to its Old Castilian spelling deve.
Some old spellings could be restored for the sake of historical interest, rather than to reflect Ladino phonology:
  • The old digraphs ch, ph and th (today c/qu - /k/, f - /f/ and t - /t/ in standard Castilian respectively), formally abolished in 1803, would be used in words like orthographía, theología.
  • Latin/Old Castilian q before words like quando, quanto and qual (modern Spanish cuando, cuanto and cual) would also be used.
The supporters of this orthography argue that classical and Golden Age Castilian literature might gain renewed interest, better appreciation and understanding should its orthography be used again.
It remains uncertain how to treat those sounds which the spelling of Old Castilian failed to render phonetically.
  • The s between vowels, as in casa, was probably pronounced /z/ in Old Castilian and is certainly so pronounced in Ladino. The same is true of s before m, d and other voiced consonants, as in mesmo or desde. Supporters of Valdés' proposal are unsure about whether this should be written s as in Old Castilian or z in accordance with pronunciation.
  • The distinctive Ladino pronunciation of s as /ʃ/ before a /k/ sound, as in buscar, cosquillas, mascar and pescar, or in is endings as in séis, favláis and sois, is probably derived from Portuguese: it is uncertain whether it occurred in Old Castilian. It is debated whether this should be written s as in Old Castilian or x in accordance with the sound.
  • There is some dispute about the Spanish ll combination, which in Ladino (as in many areas of Spain) is pronounced like a y. Following Old Castilian orthography this should be written ll, but it is frequently written y in Ladino to avoid ambiguity and reflect the Hebrew spelling. The conservative option is to follow the etymology: caballero, but Mayorca.
  • On this system, it is uncertain how loanwords from Hebrew and other languages should be rendered.


During the Middle Ages, Jews were instrumental in the development of Castilian into a prestige language. Erudite Jews translated Arabic and Hebrew works (often translated earlier from Greek) into Castilian and Christians translated again into Latin for transmission to Europe.
Until recent times, the language was widely spoken throughout the Balkans, Turkey, the Middle East, and North Africa, having been brought there by Jewish refugees fleeing the area today know as Spain following the expulsion of the Jews in 1492.
The contact among Jews of different regions and tongues (including Catalan, Leonese and Portuguese) developed a unified dialect, already different in some aspects of the Castilian norm that was forming simultaneously in the area know today as Spain. The language was known as Yahudice (Jewish language) in the Ottoman Empire. In late 18th century, Enderunlu Fazıl (Fazyl bin Tahir Enderuni) wrote in his Zenanname: "Castilians speak the Jewish language but they are not Jews."
The common Ladino and Castilian favoured trade among Sephardim (often relatives) ranging from the Ottoman Empire to the Netherlands and the conversos of the Iberian Peninsula. Over time, a corpus of literature, both liturgical and secular, developed. Early Ladino literature was limited to translations from Hebrew. At the end of the 17th century, Hebrew was disappearing as the vehicle for Rabbinic instruction. Thus a literature in the popular tongue (Ladino) appeared in the 18th century, such as Me'am Lo'ez and poetry collections. By the end of the 19th century, Sephardim in the Ottoman Empire studied in schools of the Alliance Israelite Universelle. French became the language for foreign relations (as it did for Maronites), and Ladino drew from French for neologisms. New secular genres appeared: more than 300 journals, history, theatre, biographies. Interaction with French also gave way to the creation of a new language named judeo-franyol.
Given the relative isolation of many communities, a number of regional dialects of Ladino appeared, many with only limited mutual comprehensibility. This is due largely to the adoption of large numbers of loanwords from the surrounding populations, including, depending on the location of the community, from Greek, Turkish, Arabic, and, in the Balkans, Slavic languages, especially Bosnian, Bulgarian and Serbo-Croatian. The borrowing in many dialects is so heavy that up to 30% per cent of Judeo Spanish is of non-Spanish origin.
Ladino was the common language of Salonika during the period of Ottoman rule. The city became part of the modern Greek Republic in 1912 and subsequently renamed to its original historical name Thessaloniki. Despite a major fire, economic oppression by Greek authorities, and mass settlement of Christian refugees, the language remained widely spoken in Salonika until the deportation and murder of 50,000 Salonikan Jews in the Holocaust during the Second World War.
Ladino was also a language used in Donmeh rites (Dönme in Turkish meaning convert and referring to adepts of Sabbatai Tsevi converted to the Moslem religion in the Ottoman empire). An example is the recite Sabbatai Tsevi esperamos a ti. Today, the religious practices and ritual use of Ladino seem to be confined to elderly generations.
The Castilian colonization of Northern Africa favoured the role of polyglot Sephardim who bridged between Castilian colonizers and Arab and Berber speakers.
From the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, Ladino was the predominant Jewish language in the Holy Land, though the dialect was different in some respects from that spoken in Greece and Turkey. Some Sephardi families have lived in Jerusalem for centuries, and preserve Ladino for cultural and folklore purposes, though they now use Hebrew in everyday life.
An often told Sephardic anecdote from Bosnia-Herzegovina has it that, as a Spanish consulate was opened in Sarajevo between the two world wars, two Sephardic women were passing by and, upon hearing a Catholic priest speaking Spanish, thought that — given his language — he was in fact Jewish!
In the twentieth century, the number of speakers declined sharply: entire communities were eradicated in the Holocaust, while the remaining speakers, many of whom migrated to Israel, adopted Hebrew. The governments of the new nation-states encouraged instruction in the official languages. At the same time, it aroused the interest of philologists since it conserved language and literature which existed prior to the standardisation of Castilian.
Ladino is in serious danger of extinction because many native speakers today are elderly olim (immigrants to Israel), who have not transmitted the language to their children or grandchildren. Nevertheless, it is experiencing a minor revival among Sephardic communities, especially in music. In addition, Sephardic communities in several Latin American countries still use Ladino. In these countries, there is an added danger of extinction by assimilation to modern Castilian Spanish.
Kol Yisrael and Radio Nacional de España hold regular radio broadcasts in Ladino. Law & Order showed an episode, titled "A Murderer Among Us," with references to Ladino language. Films partially or totally in Ladino include Novia que te vea and Every Time We Say Goodbye.
The Jewish community of Bosnia-Herzegovina in Sarajevo and the Jewish community of Belgrade still chants part of the Sabbath Prayers (Mizmor David) in Ladino. The Sephardic Synagogue Ezra Bessaroth in Seattle, State of Washington (US) was formed by Jews from Turkey and the Island of Rhodes and they use Ladino in some portions of their Shabbat services. The Siddur is called Zehut Yosef and was written by Hazzan Isaac Azose.


Folklorists have been collecting romances and other folk songs, some dating from before the expulsion.
Many religious songs in Ladino are translations of the Hebrew, usually with a different tune. For example, Ein k'Eloheynu looks like this in Ladino:
Non komo muestro Dio,
Non komo muestro Sinyor,
Non komo muestro Rey,
Non komo muestro Salvador.
Anachronistically, Abraham - who in the Bible is the very first Jew and the ancestor of all who followed, hence his appellation "Avinu" (Our Father) - is in the Ladino song born already in the judería, the Jewish quarter. This makes Terach and his wife into Jews, as are the parents of other babies killed by Nimrod. In essence, unlike its Biblical model, the song is about a Jewish community persecuted by a cruel king and witnessing the birth of a miraculous saviour - a subject of obvious interest and attraction to the Jewish people who composed and sang it in Medieval Spain.
The song attributes to Abraham elements from the story of Moses's birth (the cruel king killing innocent babies, with the midwives ordered to kill them) and from the careers of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who emerged unscathed from the fiery furnace. Nimrod is thus made to conflate the role and attributes of two archetypal cruel and persecuting kings - Nebuchadnezzar and Pharaoh. For more information, see Nimrod.
It is also suggested that the song borrows from the Christian nativity story: for example the miraculous light that signalled the birth, the birth in a manger and the massacre of the innocents.
Jennifer Charles and Oren Bloedow from the New York-based band Elysian Fields released a CD in 2001 called La Mar Enfortuna, which featured modern versions of traditional Sephardic songs, many sung by Charles in Ladino. There are a number of groups in Turkey that sing in Ladino, notably Janet - Jak Esim Ensemble, Sefarad, Los Pasharos Sefaradis, and the children's chorus Las Estreyikas d'Estambol. There is Brazilian-born singer of Sepharadic origins called Fortuna that researches and plays Ladino music.
Adío, querida
Tu madre cuando te parió Y te quitó al mundo, Coraçon ella no te dió Para amar segundo. Coraçon ella no te dió Para amar segundo.
Adío, Adío Querida, Non quero la vida, Me l'amargates tu. Adío, Adío Querida, Non quero la vida, Me l'amargates tú.
Va, búxcate otro amor, Aharva otras puertas, Aspera otro ardor, Que para mi sos muerta. Aspera otro ardor, Que para mi sos muerta.
Adío, Adío Querida, No quero la vida, Me l'amargates tu. Adío, Adío Querida, No quero la vida, Me l'amargates tú.


El djudeo-espanyol, djudio, djudezmo o ladino es la lingua favlada por los sefardim, djudios ekspulsados de la Espanya enel 1492. Es una lingua derivada del espanyol i favlada por 150.000 personas en komunitas en Israel, la Turkia, antika Yugoslavia, la Gresia, el Maruekos, Mayorka, las Amerikas, entre munchos otros.
El judeo-español, djudio, djudezmo o ladino es la lengua hablada por los sefardíes, judíos expulsados de España en 1492. Es una lengua derivada del español y hablada por 150.000 personas en comunidades en Israel, Turquía, la antigua Yugoslavia, Grecia, Marruecos, Mallorca, las Américas, entre muchos otros.
O judeu-espanhol, djudio, djudezmo ou ladino é a língua falada pelos sefarditas, judeus expulsos da Espanha em 1492. É uma língua derivada do espanhol e falada por 150.000 pessoas em comunidades em Israel, na Turquia, e na antiga Iugoslávia, Grécia, Marrocos, Maiorca, as Américas, entre muitos outros.
Judeo-Spanish, Djudio, Djudezmo, or Ladino is the language spoken by the Sephardi Jews, who were expelled from Spain in 1492. It is a language derived from Spanish and spoken by 150,000 people in communities in Israel, Turkey, the former Yugoslavia, Greece, Morocco, Majorca, the Americas, among many others.



  • Hemsi, Alberto: Cancionero Sefardí
  • Molho, Michael: Usos y costumbres de los judíos de Salónica (1950)
  • Markus, Shimon, Ha-safa ha-sefaradit-yehudit (the Judeo-Spanish language): Jerusalem, 1965
  • Габинский, Марк А. Сефардский (еврейской-испанский) язык (M.A. Gabinsky. Sephardic (Judeo-Spanish) language, in Russian). Ştiinţa: Chişinău, 1992.
  • Kohen, Elli; Kohen-Gordon, Dahlia. Ladino-English, English-Ladino: Concise Encyclopedic Dictionary. Hippocrene Books: New York, 2000

Sources for Further Studies

Lleal, Coloma (1992): "A propósito de una denominación: el judeoespañol" (en Cervantes Virtual)
judezmo in Afrikaans: Ladino
judezmo in Tosk Albanian: Ladino
judezmo in Amharic: ላዲኖ
judezmo in Aragonese: Chodigoespañol
judezmo in Arabic: لادينو
judezmo in Asturian: Xudeoespañol
judezmo in Breton: Ladinoeg
judezmo in Catalan: Judeocastellà
judezmo in Czech: Ladino
judezmo in Danish: Ladino (sprog)
judezmo in German: Sephardische Sprache
judezmo in Modern Greek (1453-): Ισπανοεβραϊκή γλώσσα
judezmo in Esperanto: Judhispana lingvo
judezmo in Spanish: Idioma judeoespañol
judezmo in Basque: Ladino
judezmo in Finnish: Ladino (espanja)
judezmo in French: Ladino (langue)
judezmo in Hebrew: לאדינו
judezmo in Hungarian: Ladino nyelv
judezmo in Interlingua (International Auxiliary Language Association): Ladino
judezmo in Indonesian: Bahasa Ladino
judezmo in Italian: Lingua giudeo-spagnola
judezmo in Japanese: ジュデズモ語
judezmo in Georgian: ლადინო
judezmo in Korean: 라디노어
judezmo in Ladino: Idioma djudeo-espanyol
judezmo in Dutch: Ladino (sefardische taal)
judezmo in Norwegian Nynorsk: Ladino
judezmo in Norwegian: Ladino
judezmo in Occitan (post 1500): Judeocastelhan
judezmo in Ossetian: Ладино
judezmo in Pennsylvania German: Ladino
judezmo in Polish: Ladino (dialekt judeo-hiszpański)
judezmo in Portuguese: Judeu-espanhol
judezmo in Romanian: Limba ladino
judezmo in Russian: Сефардский язык
judezmo in Sardinian: Ladinu
judezmo in Simple English: Ladino language
judezmo in Slovak: Ladino
judezmo in Swedish: Ladino
judezmo in Thai: ภาษาลาดิโน
judezmo in Turkish: Ladino
judezmo in Chinese: 拉迪諾語
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