Since 1999, the language of the Eastern Sephardim (called Judeo-Spanish, Judeoespañol, Judenspanisch, Ladino, Judesmo, Spaniolisch…) constitutes an important research topic of the linguistic section at the Ibero-Romance Seminar of the University of Basel. Our research interest focuses primarily on the investigation and documentation of the modern Judeo-Spanish language in order to investigate how it had been applied orally and in written form by the descendants of the Jews expelled in 1492 from the Iberian Peninsula. We are essentially studying the language of the Sephardic communities in the former Ottoman Empire during the second half of the 19th century and first decades of the 20th century.
My main contribution in the field of Sephardic studies is my PhD thesis on conditionality and concessivity in written, modern Judeo-Spanish. I analyzed different conditional and concessive structures, as well as concessive conditionals and adversatives, in a representative text corpus of modern Judeo-Spanish texts: the Corpus MemTet. The corpus has a total number of approximately half a million of words and contains texts of very different sorts published between 1880 and 1930 in the Eastern Mediterranean region. My findings contribute to our detailed knowledge of the Judeo-Spanish variety of Spanish from a primarily morphosyntactic perspective. Like this, my work complements the many phonetic and lexical studies on Judeo-Spanish, and highlights the importance of grammatical works to understand the internal characteristics of Hispanic varieties, as well as its history and language contacts.
Recently, I have been working on the language ideology of a well-known Sephardic journalist, play-writer and poet: Abraham Aaron Cappon (Ruse, 1853 - Sarajevo, 1930). In his texts, he uses a Judeo-Spanish heavily influenced by Castilian, which shows his desire to bring the Judeo-Spanish variety closer to the Peninsular Spanish. For instance, Cappon adopts typical Castilian phonetic patterns and uses numerous lexical items of clear Hispanic origin (for instance, to replace loanwords from languages such as Turkish or Hebrew, very common in Judeo-Spanish). Lesser known are Cappon’s morphosyntactic preferences. However, when I analyzed several numbers of his newspaper La Alvorada (Sarajevo) published in 1901 and his play El Angustiador (Sarajevo, 1914), I found a series of grammatical structures that make us think of a Castilian model: some uses of verb moods and tenses in the conditional clauses or some conjunctions with concessive or adversative functions.
As well, together with Beatrice Schmid, I have been studying the importance of linguistic glosses in Sephardic newspapers (1880-1990) with regard to the modernization of Judeo-Spanish, especially through the introduction of neologisms (for instance, technicisms). We published a book chapter where we show that the glosses are an important symbol of linguistic instability and renovation, and that they allow us to study the ongoing sociopolitical transformations (published in De Beni and Hourani Martín 2021, Peter Lang). One example is the semantic field of Philology and Literature, where occidental neologisms are introduced in the Judeo-Spanish press, accompanied by and explained with traditional terms of Hebrew or Turkish origin. These neologisms do not increase the Judeo-Spanish lexicon, but do clearly modernize it via the substitution of traditional vocabulary by technicisms taken from Western European languages (for example, introducción glossed with the Hebraism hacdamá). Finally, the use of glosses also helps to understand the language ideologies and attitudes of the authors; indeed, the typology and the frequency of the glosses found in the different newspapers vary considerably.
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