April 26, 2007
Language institute helping Ladino revival
Daddo & the Ladino Voice (live)
Click the BIG ARROW for "Adio Querida (Goodbye, My Love)"
::::::::::::::::::::::::::: Even at 94 and with eyes that barely see, Angela Pipano vividly recalls her memories of life as a child in Salonika, Greece.
She remembers a city with more Jews than Greeks or Turks, the port being closed on the Jewish Sabbath and Ladino as the language heard most on the street.
The Jews who were expelled from Spain in 1492 and their descendants spoke Ladino, or Judeo-Spanish. It was a language of the Diaspora, much like Yiddish.
"There was just one [Jewish] woman in all Salonika who could speak another language," Pipano says. "All the rest of them, our mothers, spoke only Ladino."
The Nazi occupation sent Pipano fleeing from her home. A high-ranking Nazi official in the occupation forces was an old schoolmate of her German-educated husband, and the official warned them of what was to come. They fled into the mountains, then to British Mandate Palestine and finally to Spain -- Sefarad, as it is known in Ladino.
Here, in the land of her ancestors, non-Jews in Spain are undergoing a resurgence of interest in their Sephardic heritage. And with Ladino derived from medieval Castillian Spanish, the interest has spread to the government agency that promotes Spanish.
At Cervantes Institute headquarters in Madrid, academic director Jorge Urrutia shows a reporter a shelf filled with Ladino poetry.
"When I was in Istanbul some years ago, an older gentleman came up to me," Urrutia recalled. "He handed me a book of poems and he spoke to me in Ladino. It was a very personal experience of how Judeo-Spanish is a language that has survived 500 years, spanning cultures, geography and the vicissitudes of history."
The Cervantes Institute has been sponsoring Ladino readings and seminars at its branches in Tel Aviv, Istanbul, Bucharest and Sofia. Now Urrutia says the institute will create a Ladino Department with a Judeo-Spanish archive at its headquarters in Madrid. And Ladino will be the focus of a new Cervantes Institute in Salonika, which will be located next to the city's Sephardic Museum.
Today there are an estimated 200,000 Ladino speakers, mostly in Israel, according to Israel's National Ladino Authority. But most are elderly, so the tongue is in danger of extinction.
Pipano has difficulty remembering her native tongue. As she sits in her apartment and tells the story of her life, she repeatedly lapses into Spanish. The two languages are quite similar.