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Building a Ladino Dictionary

Internet input could help create dictionary of centuries-old tongue.

by Vlasta Kovac

September 14, 2000 | 8:00 pm

The Internet may prove a valuable tool for preserving a language spoken by Jews for 500 years. Sephardi Jews from around the world could help compile a dictionary of Ladino by providing their input via the Internet, according to Winfried Busse, a professor of philology at the Berlin Free University. Making the suggestion at a recent conference in the southern Croatian city of Dubrovnik, Busse said the Internet could serve as a global workshop for people to create the dictionary.

Ladino, which is also known as Judeo-Spanish, dates back to the Spanish Expulsion of 1492, when it became a specifically Jewish language.

Several dialects are still spoken in the Balkans. In recent years, there has been a boom of interest in the language among young people, especially within Israel.

During the conference, Busse suggested that speakers of Ladino could use the Internet to provide words, sentences, phrases, proverbs, even whole stories, using Ladino.

The software for such a dictionary was created by the Philological Institute of the University of Cologne in Germany, he said, adding that it has already been used to make a dictionary of the language used on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia.

A dictionary of Ladino could take one of two forms, he said. It could include all the varieties of the language that are known in various regions. Or it could create out of all the varieties a common, standard Ladino.

He added that the choice of how to proceed would have to be made by the Alta Autoridad de Ladino - the High Authority for the Ladino Language - a body created by Israel's Knesset.

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