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  • Teaching “Ladino Language and Culture” and “Aspects of the Sephardic Tradition”: Hopes, Fruits, Experiences
  • Gloria J. Ascher (bio)

New at Tufts for Spring 2000 Ladino Language and Culture!

JS91 / SPN 192E Ladino Language and Culture

Introduction to the language known as Ladino and the culture of the Sephardic Jews who have spoken it for over 500 years. When they were expelled from Spain in 1492, Jews took this language with them, and it has been enriched through contact with languages encountered in their various lands of resettlement. Emphasis on the living language: understanding, speaking, and writing (including creatively); formal grammar to help insure correct expression. Texts will include proverbs, stories, and songs from the folk tradition as well as contemporary poems and songs, and basic language materials: grammar, verb tables, dictionary, supplementary videos and recordings. Don’t be discouraged by the Hebrew in some of these materials—we’ll be using the Ladino! Exams, papers, and presentations as needed.

Block D3 (Tues. & Thurs. 2:30–3:45)

Prerequisite: some background in Spanish or Ladino, or consent

At Tufts : counts for humanities distribution,

Judaic Studies primary course, Judaic or Hispanic culture option of the foreign language requirement. [End Page 77]

This poster, printed on vibrant orange and rose paper as well as on conventional green, blue, and white, proclaimed to the Tufts University community and to neighboring institutions—to all potential students—the advent of a very special course.

Its title reflects the main hope, the goal of the course: that the language most popularly known as Ladino together with the culture embodied in this language will, indeed, be transmitted to my students, who will, in turn, teach others, that the heritage may continue to live. The course title also reflects a problem: the very name of the language! The designation “Ladino” originally referred to the vernacular Spanish language into which Jewish religious texts were translated, and some scholars contend that this is its only proper meaning. More personally compelling for me is the fact that in my family—I was born in the Bronx, New York of parents from Izmir, Turkey, who traced their lineage to pre-Expulsion Spain—the language, our language, was called simply “Spanyol,” or, to distinguish it from “regular” Spanish, “Spanyol de mozotros,” “our Spanish,” but never “Ladino”! Yet the governmental agency established in Israel to further this language and culture is called “La Autoridad Nasionala para el Ladino i su Kultura,” and—more crucial in our present context—“Ladino” is the name by which the language is most widely known in this country. Our “Spanyol” would need explanation, and a footnoted title is far from enticing! The scholarly designation “Judeo- Spanish” (“Djudeo-Espanyol”) is just that—clear and meaningful for scholars. Other designations pose similar problems. So I opted for the popular name in the course title in the interest of clarity and recognition—I want students to take this course! But my course description already suggests the problematic nature of the name, and I intend to discuss the problems and possibilities of designation, briefly but in detail, during the first class hour. Naming the language continues to be a source of passionate contention among scholars who are also native speakers, as demonstrated at the First International Conference on Writing and Spelling Ladino sponsored by the Autoridad Nasionala and held in Jerusalem October 17–19, 1999, which I was privileged to attend. This contention, too, will afford an insight into the culture I wish to transmit, as will the obvious love for and commitment to the language and culture shared by all participants at the Conference in spite of our often passionate disagreements.

It is this love and commitment that compel me to offer this course. I grew up with the language and consider it my own, though I was discouraged, especially by my mother, from speaking it lest I appear less “American.” Since childhood I have sung our songs and recorded our sayings and proverbs, and I have since written on the Sephardic folk tradition and composed poems and songs (words and music) in our Spanyol. I have no formal training in this, my language, but I have studied English, French, and German, and...

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