UNESCO Conference highlights the place of Judeo-Spanish at the heart of cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue
“It is our conviction that languages are more than words and means of communication, they are the DNA of cultures and societies,” declared the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova as she welcomed participants to a conference on Judeo-Spanish languages, commonly known as Ladino, at UNESCO Headquarters on 6 June.
It is estimated that some 100,000 people around the Mediterranean and in the territories that once formed the Ottoman Empire speak the Judeo-Spanish languages, which emerged in medieval Spain and spread as far as France, the Netherlands and the UK following the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492.
“Europe would not be the same without the contribution of the Judeo-Spanish culture”, said Spain’s Ambassador and Permanent Delegate to UNESCO Juan Manuel de Barandica y Luxán, who described Judeo-Spanish speakers as itinerant Spaniards.
The Ambassador highlighted efforts by Spain to bolster the standing of Judeo-Spanish, notably by favouring the establishment of networks linking the Judeo-Spanish communities scattered around the world.
This is one of the main of objectives of the Centro Sefarad-Israel, a public body established by Spain, said its Director-General, Miguel de Lucas, who also took part in the conference. He stressed the need to raise public awareness of Jewish culture in Spain where little was known about Jews and Judaism since the expulsion.
Another key speaker at the event, Professor Paloma Díaz-Mas of Spain’s National Research Council (CSIC), outlined the history of Judeo-Spanish in her presentation to some 200 people, who attended the event.
Judeo-Spanish, is a mix of medieval Castilian with many imports from other Spanish dialects, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic as well as words from the other languages with which its speakers had contacts, notably Greek. Until the Holocaust its presence was particularly strong in the Balkans, Greece, Morocco and Turkey.
Linguistic diversity and the preservation of endangered languages are at the centre of UNESCO’s work, see this page.