The Last Generation of Native Ladino Speakers? Judeo-Spanish and the Sephardic Community in Seattle
FitzMorris, Mary K.
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The Sephardic community in Seattle, Washington is unique not only in its relative size, but also in its cohesiveness. The community boasts two Sephardic synagogues, various religious and cultural organizations that meet regularly, and a group that convenes weekly to read texts in Ladino and discuss their experiences growing up with the language. In fact, Seattle is one of the few cities left in the world with a sizeable population of Ladino speakers. Ladino, or Judeo-Spanish, the historical language of the Sephardic Jews, was born when the Spanish-speaking Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, and they migrated to various parts of the world, particularly the Ottoman Empire, integrating elements from the local languages into their own Iberian language. A large percentage of the oldest generation of Seattle Sephardim grew up if not speaking, at least hearing, Ladino at home, but, as children of immigrants, they did not teach the language to their own children. This generation is thus the last generation of native Ladino speakers that Seattle will ever see. Using interviews and surveys with members of the previously mentioned Ladino conversation group, nicknamed "the Ladineros," this paper investigates the language shift from Ladino to English in Seattle. More specifically, the study explores this language shift through the lens of structural changes in the language and by means of the speakers' language attitudes. Bookmarking the presentation of the sociolinguistic study is information about the past and future of the language. A brief outline of the development of the language is provided, as are some of the salient characteristics of the language, especially in comparison with Modern Castilian Spanish. Two major sociolinguistic studies regarding Ladino in other areas of the world are reviewed, as is some of the key linguistic theory regarding language shift, language loss, and language death. Concluding the paper are some remarks regarding the future of Seattle Ladino, including the possibility of preservation and/or revitalization.