Like the Romaniote Jews, Sephardi Jews adopted the local language of their diaspora environment and developed it into a distinct dialect, adding Hebrew (and later Turkish and Greek) loanwords. This Judeo-Spanish language is called Ladino and was maintained by Jews originating in the Iberian peninsula after their forced exodus in the various countries to which the emigrated.

As Ladino was ubiquitous in the Ottoman Empire, it came to be associated with Jewish ethno-religious identity to such an extent that the Ottomans called it yahudice (“Jewish”). On the other hand, Romaniote Jews were linguistically closer to the Christian Greek-Orthodox because they also spoke Greek (rumca), which in the Ottoman context was understood to be the equivalent of Christian. In an odd twist of terms, Romaniote Jews thus spoke “Christian” and not “Jewish” in the Ottoman connotation of the terms.

Like Yevanic, Ladino is written with Hebrew letters and printed in a specific style of script that originated in Spain. There were several translations of the Bible into Ladino, and a corpus of liturgical and secular literature developed. From the second half of the 19th century, a rich Ladino press was testament to the prominent role played by Jews in Ottoman society.

Because Sephardi Jews also spoke Ladino in everyday communication, they did adopt standard Greek at a relatively late stage in their history, when some of them, in places like Thessaloniki, became citizens of the Greek state.

Photo 1
Source: public domain

Photo 2, 3, 4
Source: public domain

The Ladino Ferrara Bible, 1553

Advertisement for multi-language dictionary from Thessaloniki

Ladino newspaper La Epoca from Thessaloniki

Passover Haggadah from Thessaloniki, 1905

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