Discovering the language

Cultural and symbolic significance

The Judeo-Spanish taught at Inalco (also known as ladino) is a language whose cultural and symbolic significance far exceeds the current number of speakers: both within Judaism (due to the prestige of medieval Spanish Judaism and the symbolic weight of the extermination of Europe's Judeo-Spanish communities during the Shoah) and outside (due to its conservatory aspects of Spanish culture, its dynamism in the former Ottoman Empire and, finally, its exceptional, world-renowned sung heritage).

History and scope

In the Ottoman Empire, Judeo-Spanish, the language of the Jews expelled from Spain in 1492, established itself from the 17th century onwards as the language of all Jewish communities from ex-Yugoslavia to Albania, Bulgaria, Cairo and Jerusalem, via Greece and Turkey. Judeo-Spanish was also spoken in Bucharest, and the largest center of Judeo-Spanish publishing was Vienna in the late 19th century. Salonika was massively Judeo-Spanish-speaking before its Jewish community was wiped out in the Holocaust. Because of their knowledge of French, the language of instruction in AIU Jewish schools in the former Ottoman Empire and Morocco, many Judeo-Spaniards emigrated to France from the late 19th century onwards. Now an endangered language, Judeo-Spanish is still spoken and written in Turkey as well as in Israel and the diaspora (Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Brussels, Athens, Sofia, Montreal, Atlanta city, Miami, Mexico City, Buenos Aires..., for the main communities that maintain clubs, associations or publications). The haketiya is another variety of Judeo-Spanish, originating in Morocco, whose origin, linguistic base and literary and cultural heritage are in part common with the Judeo-Spanish of the former Ottoman Empire.

Current issues

Judeo-Spanish has been classified (along with Yiddish) by the Council of Europe as a deterritorialized minority language requiring protection (1998) and recognized as a language of France by the DGLF-LF (2002). In 1998 the National Authority for Ladino was created in Israel to federate contributions to the defense and promotion of the language and culture (along with Yiddish). In 2002 the Unesco symposium Judeo-Spanish/Ladino: Intangible Heritage drew up a list of conservation measures, of which teaching the language and culture is one. In 2005, the FR TUL (CNRS) in partnership with the DGLF-LF commissioned Inalco to compile an inventory and corpus of spoken Judeo-Spanish for conservation purposes (oral archives). It is collected and put online by students of Judeo-Spanish.

Particularities and impact

Inalco's specialty is not to detach the teaching of languages from the culture that produces them and their historical context. The teaching of Hebrew and Judaism presupposes that of the cultures of the Jewish diaspora, largely taken care of by Jewish language courses.

Since 1967, Inalco has provided the only comprehensive teaching of Judeo-Spanish, not only in France2 but in Europe3. The presence of this teaching at the CNED enables us to reach an audience beyond our borders.

University institutions in France, Spain, Switzerland, Germany and Israel call on Inalco's specialists for training, consultancy or expertise assignments.

The Manuel de judéo-espagnol - Langue et culture published by Asiathèque and supported by Inalco is now in its 3rd edition. It has been translated into English by the University of Maryland (USA) and into Bulgarian (on the initiative of the Sofia Jewish community eager to recover and maintain its language).

Judeo-Spanish is of interest to several of Inalco's departments and research centers (Middle East, Turkey, Balkans). It enables us to study diasporic identity phenomena across the board, and the effects of language contact. It is a key to understanding cultural exchanges in the Mediterranean.

Inalco organizes study days, participates in all international colloquia in the field and is a partner of the Spanish-Jewish Summer University in Paris (scientific committee, conferences and language workshops), which reaches a wide audience. Currently 2 masters and 2 theses in progress concern Judeo-Spanish history, language or culture.


This is cutting-edge teaching that appeals to a variety of audiences outside Hebrew students.

Judeo-Spaniards themselves, who have no other way of studying their own language and turn to us, at any age. Inalco provides teaching materials and teachers to associations.

Researchers: specialists in Jewish and/or Ottoman history (reading original documents and manuscripts); Hispanists: through its ancient state of language and rich original textual culture, stemming from the Spanish Middle Ages; linguists: Romance language in contact with Hebrew (Semitic language), Turkish (agglutinative language), Arabic (in Morocco).

Inalco is also sought after by singer-performers of the so-called "Sephardic chant" repertoire, which is a major market, and by ethnomusicology researchers.


A priori none, but Judeo-Spanish is a rare, so-called niche teaching. Contrary to popular belief, the effort invested in learning it is worthwhile. All the students who have done so have been able to put that extra edge on their CVs. Editors, for example, appreciate the acuity developed in mastering several spellings (Latin and Hebrew). Judeo-Spanish is a rare specialty and therefore sought-after in libraries, documentation and archives.

The projects developed at Inalco in the Judeo-Spanish field: oral archives (collecting and putting online), cataloguing collections, working on manuscripts, editing texts, databases, are formative and qualifying in terms of professional experience and attract foreign trainees (Spain; Germany). The knowledge and skills acquired have enabled our students to integrate easily into the world of work (as examples: bookshop; museum; SNCF archives; library; publishing).

(Report drawn up on 7-07-2013 by prof. M. Ch. Bornes Varol)

[1] The registration record is unsatisfactory and does not tally with the actual number of students: passports not counted or mislabeled; certificates not, little or poorly defended by the institution (insufficient information; difficulties when registering); absence of certification of these EUs alone for specialists who only study Judeo-Spanish.

[2] There are only two UEs in Judeo-Spanish civilization as part of the Hebrew DU at the University of Aix Marseille.

[3] A discontinuous teaching of the language as part of Romance Studies at Bales, Hamburg and Tubingen and a philologically oriented course in Madrid. Inalco provides further training for Spanish doctoral trainees. A complete course comparable to ours exists (in Hebrew) in 3 Israeli universities, 2 of which have exchange agreements with Inalco.

It's a great pleasure to meet you!


Judeo-Spanish is taught at Inalco in a comprehensive program (language, literature and civilization) that is unique in Europe. Three levels, also available at CNED, are offered as part of the Hebrew license options, plus a compulsory civilization UE in license 1. Judeo-Spanish shares a transversal seminar (with the other Jewish languages) in the master's program.

Current enrolment is around 22 students across the 3 levels (CNED included)1.

Three bilingual certificates exist in-house: Judeo-Sp. / Hebrew; Judeo-Spanish/Turkish; Judeo-Spanish/Modern Greek.

As part of the PRES, Judeo-Spanish/Spanish (and Yiddish/German) certificates have been designed with Paris 3 and endorsed by this university but not (yet) by Inalco. They provide an opening to other audiences (cf. infra utility).

Find out more

The Judeo-Spanish of the East - Langues O' no 3