Ladino, the endangered Judeo-Spanish language, is to enjoy greater protection after the Spanish Royal Academy (RAE), the institution responsible for safeguarding the Spanish language, announced plans for its conservation.
The RAE, founded in 1713 in Madrid, plans to add a Judeo-Spanish branch in Israel to its existing Association of Academies of the Spanish Language (ASALE).
The Ladino branch will become the association’s 24th academy. The branches work with the RAE to ensure that the Spanish language, while allowing for evolution and adaptation, does not break its essential unity.
More than 500 years after the expulsion of Jews from Spain, Ladino, once spoken by hundreds of thousands of Sephardi Jews with Spanish origins, is now in severe danger of becoming extinct. The language, a blend of medieval Spanish, Hebrew and other Middle East languages, is considered by UNESCO to be “severely endangered.” Yiddish is, by comparison, considered “endangered.”
In an interview with The Guardian, Dario Villaneuva, the director of the RAE, said, “the idea isn’t to absorb Ladino into modern Spanish, it’s the opposite: to preserve it.”
Villaneuva described the language as “an extraordinarily important cultural and historical phenomenon.”
The Israel-based Ladino branch will join other Spanish-language academies which have primarily been established across Latin America. An academy for Equatorial Guinea was created in 2013. Initially, nine Israeli Ladino specialists will assist the RAE in the establishment of the academy.
Today, according to estimates, there are only between 50,000 to 80,000 Israeli citizens with some knowledge of Ladino. Numbers are decreasing rapidly despite Israeli government efforts, including the establishment of the National Authority of Ladino in 1997.
In 2015, the Spanish government legislated to grant automatic citizenship to the descendants of Sephardi Jews exiled in 1492, if they can prove their ancestry and demonstrate a basic knowledge of Spain and its culture.
The law was considered an attempt to correct the historical wrong of 1492. The establishment of the RAE’s newest academy will be welcomed as another step in that process.