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Extinction of Shepherdic Languages



     David Pike bestrides not the universe but at least Europe. His research on the Spanish Civil War has taken him to Mauthausen, which was "home" for many Spanish victims of the Holocaust. As a recent memo reported, he went to Amsterdam to give a lecture. He writes:
     "During my recent trip to Amsterdam, it occurred to me that a dialect had disappeared with the Holocaust (no doubt one among several). When the Sephardic Jews in Spain fell victim to the limpiamiento de sangre, and left for the south, east and north, they took their language with them -- and maintained it. When, in KL-Mauthausen, certain Dutch Jews from Amsterdam met certain Greek Jews from Salonika, they conversed in a 16th century Spanish that intrigued the Spanish Republican prisoners. Hambre, for example, was pronounced fambre. Now, I fear, the dialect has been wiped out with the Sephardic Jews."
     My question: How did they pronounce j? As in French "Don Quichotte," or with the guttural as in modern Spanish? The first pronunciation was disappearing at that time. My theory is that the guttural pronunciation came from Arabic, started with the people and slowly rose to standard Spanish. This is my reply to those who say that the Arab origin is impossible, since the Moors were expelled in 1492 (well...), and the jota pronunciation did not appear until later.

Ronald Hilton - 11/25/98


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     In reply to David Pike, Tim Brown writes:
     "The Spanish of early Spain is still alive and well in some versions. When in Israel we found that prices were lower in Spanish in the market, which was conducted essentially by Sephardic Jews who must still be alive. There were even radio programs in that dialect. It had been preserved in North Africa, especially Egypt, and elsewhere in the Middle East."
     My comment: In Israel, the Sephardic Jews are resentful of the Ashkenazis, and presumably are holding on to their dialect. What about the Sephardic Jews in the U.S.? There are a lot of them. My Hoover colleague Bruce Bueno de Mesquita is one of them. Some years ago, a colleague told me he had a Sephardic student who invited him home to dinner. After dinner, the mother produced a big key, that of their old home in Toledo, which she planned to reoccupy some day! Does anyone have information about the survival of Sephardic Spanish in this country?

Ronald Hilton - 11/25/98


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