Grammars under threat

Recovering the 'hidden grammars' of Judeo-Spanish

'Grammars under threat: recording the grammatical legacy of Judeo-Spanish’ is a research project funded by the British Academy and Leverhulme Trust (SRG1819\191358).

Judeo-Spanish, the diasporic Spanish vernacular preserved through oral transmission by Sephardic communities for the last 500 years, is the rarely-used mother tongue of an ageing population of speakers living in over 30 countries. Classified as ‘critically endangered’ by UNESCO, it has little social or political infrastructure in the regions where it is spoken, even in countries where it is nominally a recognised minority language (Israel, France, Turkey, Bosnia Herzegovina). With its speakers geographically isolated and lacking local interlocutors, active use of Judeo-Spanish today is almost exclusively restricted to online communities, and transmission to younger generations has ceased.

Thus, despite a small group of researchers and community stakeholders who study and promote the language, Judeo-Spanish and its constituent dialects—principally, Judezmo, Ḥaketía, and their written counterpart, Ladino—finds itself under threat of extinction, and vulnerable to linguistic erosion by contact and imposition from neighbouring dominant language(s). Furthermore, preservation and revitalisation efforts are hampered by the lack of a grammatical ‘blueprint’ for Judeo-Spanish, information required by policymakers to evaluate its eligibility for codification, protection or officialisation.

Because most Judeo-Spanish research focuses on other aspects of the linguistic system we simply do not know what the overall grammatical landscape of Judeo-Spanish looks like. Without a detailed or accurate knowledge of what Judeo-Spanish's sentence-level grammar is, the language cannot be taught or passed on to new learners or future generations.

‘Grammars under threat’ will respond to the precarious situation of Judeo-Spanish by pursuing a programme of activities centred around three strands—linguistic theory, language documentation and language policy—in order to document and identify the ‘hidden grammars’ of Judeo-Spanish as it is spoken and written today.