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College of Arts & Sciences
Jewish Studies Program

Linguistics Program Colloquium with Travis G. Bradley

Friday, September 11, 2015 - 3:30pm

A Look at Judeo-Spanish:

Insights from an Endangered Language into Sound Change and Language Contact

Travis G. Bradley, UC Davis

Location: Gambrell Hall, Room 151


Judeo-Spanish (JS) is an Ibero-Romance language spoken by the Sephardic Jews who were expelled from Spain in 1492 and have emigrated throughout Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and the United States. Because it retains many features that have been lost from other Spanish varieties, JS gives linguists an indirect window into the structure of Medieval Spanish and other pre-Expulsion varieties of Ibero-Romance. Having evolved in relative isolation from the Iberian Peninsula and often in contact with other languages spoken in the areas of Sephardic settlements, JS also presents structural innovations that set it apart from non-Sephardic Spanish. Despite its preservation for over four hundred years, JS is currently in a state of general decline. Already by the early 1990s, there were estimated to be only sixty thousand proficient speakers of JS, very few fluent speakers under the age of fifty-five, and no surviving monolingual speakers.

 As a linguistically hybrid system with both retentions and innovations, JS is in a unique position to further our understanding of sound change and language contact. In this talk, I outline some of the archaic and novel features of the JS sound system. I show how phonetic, phonological, and morphological data from Sephardic Spanish have informed recent work in contemporary linguistic theory. I also discuss ongoing efforts to maintain the endangered language, such as the Yahoo correspondence circle Ladinokomunita and its electronic multilingual dictionary.


Sponsored by the University of South Carolina Linguistics Program,  Jewish Studies Program, Spanish Program, and the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures.