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Reviewed by:
  • Ladino-English/English-Ladino concise encyclopedic dictionary by Elli Kohen, Dahlia Kohen-Gordon
  • John M. Lipski
Ladino-English/English-Ladino concise encyclopedic dictionary. By Elli Kohen and Dahlia Kohen-Gordon. New York: Hippocrene Books, 2000. Pp. vii, 602.

A written form of Judeo-Spanish, the language of the Sephardim who were expelled from the Iberian Peninsula at the end of the fifteenth century, Ladino retains archaic varieties of Spanish throughout south-eastern Europe and the Middle East. Most Ladino documents are liturgical, principally the Old Testament and prayers, and traditional Ladino was written in the Hebrew alphabet, with vowel quality rarely indicated. Judeo-Spanish, also known as judezmo, is a spoken language without a strong written tradition; more formal spoken varieties of Sephardic Spanish are used among the communities’ elders and on ceremonial occasions. The book under review consists of a bilingual Ladino-English dictionary (approximately two-thirds of the entries are Ladino to English) and a list of Ladino proverbs with English translations. A short bibliography concludes the work.

Many of the entries are annotated to indicate non-Spanish sources (typically Turkish, Hebrew, or French), but no usage or contexts are given. In the English to Ladino section, when multiple equivalents are given, there is no indication as to differences in meaning or use. In the introduction the authors discuss the difficulties in spelling Ladino words originally written in Hebrew (e.g. choosing between phonetic representation and strict transliteration), but there is no account of the actual spelling conventions used in the entries. In fact, the entries appear to be largely derived from known pronunciation, particularly when competing phonetic variants are given (e.g. sibdad and sivdad ‘city’). Despite the title of the book, the entries apparently come from both liturgical Ladino and vernacular spoken Judeo-Spanish from different communities. The large number of colloquial expressions not appearing in any known Ladino texts confirms this impression. The bibliography contains references to written Ladino documents (most liturgical) as well as to Sephardic oral tradition, but the authors do not specify the sources of the entries nor whether particular entries represent actual Judeo-Spanish usage or the more stilted and potentially artificial written Ladino. No references to the bibliography are made in the introduction or dictionary entries, and many key studies of written and spoken Judeo-Spanish are missing from the bibliography.

The section on proverbs (Ladino to English only) contains word-for-word glosses of Sephardic Spanish expressions. Some contain additional explanations of the often opaque meaning, but many literal glosses unaccompanied by a metaphorical interpretation are meaningless to the uninitiated. [End Page 184]

The principal virtue of this dictionary is its length (containing more entries than other Judeo-Spanish glossaries) and the fact that it is the only bilingual English-Ladino dictionary available. The lack of attestations, sources, and spelling conventions renders the entries less helpful to scholars, but the scope of the dictionary will make it attractive to English speakers with an interest in understanding Judeo-Spanish. In the absence of reference to specific written texts or spoken dialects, this dictionary can provide only peripheral support for the study of actual Judeo-Spanish materials. This reference work for the nonspecialist can be used profitably as a supplement to Jewish studies materials.

John M. Lipski
Pennsylvania State University


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pp. 184-185
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