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  • Daniel Santacruz

Survey of Ladino mass media offers surprising views on the state of the language

By Daniel Santacruz

Professor Inés López Fernández, author of a study of mass media about Ladino on the Internet
Professor Inés López Fernández, author of a study of mass media about Ladino on the Internet (Courtesy).

It may be the most comprehensive study of mass media about Ladino on the Internet. Authored  by Inés López Fernández for her Master’s degree at the University of Oviedo, in Spain, the study, titled “El judeoespañol en Internet: usuarios y recursos” (Judeo-Spanish onthe Internet: Users and resources), analyzes several Ladino publications, radio programs, and courses from different countries. Among the publications surveyed are Aki Yerushalyim, based in Jerusalem; Los Muestros, based in Brussels; and El Amaneser, a monthly supplement to Shalom, a weekly based in Istanbul, Turkey. 

Written in Spanish, the study also analyzes associations and centers for the conservation and dissemination, and dissemination of Ladino and the role they play informing the public, such as the Buenos Aires-based Centro de Investigación y Difusión de la Cultura Sefardí, and the Autoridad Nasionala del Ladino i su Kultura in Jerusalem.   The material chosen for the study had to be exclusively in Ladino, according to López Fernández. Although it’s undeniable that other Internet resources, such as websites, contribute to the conservation of Ladino or the preservation of Sefardic culture, she says, she had to be very choosy as to what material she wanted to analyze, otherwise the survey would be very long. 

From all over Spain The introduction to the study includes an analysis of the linguistic diversity of the Jews who were expelled from Spain in 1492, who at that moment spoke Galician (the language of Galicia, in northern Spain); Catalonian (the language of Catalonia); Leonese (the language of the former kingdom of Leon); Navarro-Aragonese (heard south of the Middle Pyrenees); and Castilian (the language of Castile, in central Spain.)

Cover of "Aki Yerushalayim."
Cover of "Aki Yerushalayim."

The latter began to be associated with Spain and its people in the 15th century. Because it’s difficult to trace the origin of the expellees (there were Jewish quarters in the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon, for example), it’s safe to say that their language was not exclusively Castilian, López Fernández says.

The study devotes a section to the role of Ladinokomunita in the preservation of Ladino, a chat group headquartered in Dallas, Texas, that helped distribute the survey among its members.

Forty-two of them participated in the survey, most of whom are over 66 years of age. Several speakers are under

Front page of "El Amaneser," a Ladino publication based in Istanbul
Front page of "El Amaneser," a Ladino publication based in Istanbul.

35. Most were born in Turkey, followed by Latin American countries such as Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Cuba, among others. Some live in the United States, Israel, France, Italy, Spain and Latin America. A few live in Australia Born in Spain, López Fernández studied Philology at the Universidad de Oviedo, graduating in 1988, and in 2002 she started teaching at the Centros de Consejería de Educación of the Principality of Asturias. 

Following are excerpts of the interview with the author: Kolsefardim: You wrote the study as a requirement for your Masters in Spanish and Philology. What motivated you? Inés López Fernández: There is no specific reason why I picked Judeo-Spanish as the topic for my Masters. I am interested in different types of Spanish and one of them, Judeo-Spanish, is unique because it developed throughout the centuries despite being cut off from the mother country.

I was curious to find out what its current situation was. I saw it would be feasible to do a short analysis—I am conscious it’s just a rapprochement and nothing else—due to the several Internet resources available that show the language’s vitality. KS: How many people responded to the survey? ILF: The study, besides the analysis of the resources available on the Internet, included a survey submitted to Ladinokomunita members about the current use of the language, of whom 42 Judeo-Spanish speakers kindly responded to my request. I received three more surveys after I had finished the study. KS: The survey contains a section called Observaciones. What did the answers reveal? ILF: Several people wrote about their personal experiences with Ladino—why they speak it and with whom and, in the case of non-native speakers, how they came to be familiar with it. KS: Of all the answers, which was the most surprising? IKF: It’s difficult to pick one. Three caught my attention because they show experiences that are opposite. One person said that the only other person with whom he spoke Spanish had died recently.Two people, fortunately, had better news: one, who happens to be young, said that he spoke Ladino when he went out for drinks with friends. And the other said that he spoke it with his young children. 

The answers are two sides of the same coin: on the hand one, it seems we are seeing the decline of the language. On the other, there is the hope of new dawn. KS: How long did it take you to write the study? ILF: I started it in April 2013 and I submitted it [to the university] at the end of July. I had the idea of a survey on the fly and it became a reality at the end of May when I submitted a request to Ladinokomunita [to publish it].

From then on, until approximately mid-July, I received replies. The help and support I received from Rachel Amado [founder and moderator at Ladinokomunita] were fundamental to accomplish the task. And I can’t forget, obviously, the cooperation of those who replied as soon as they could. KS: The conclusions of the study—Ladino is going to disappear as a language of daily use—are not surprising and have been voiced by different academics for several years. How many more generations would you give Ladino as such? ILF: I am not the one to make a forecast of such significance. I am not qualified to do that. While it’s true that the only principle on which the language rests is the interest of those for whom it’s a patrimony and that other factors are against it (it’s not a language associated with a country and has no presence in the educational system, among others), I prefer to hope against hope that it will recover.

© Daniel Santacruz    February 2014

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