The Beginnings of Ladino Literature: Moses Almosnino and His Readers

By Olga Borovaya | Go to book overview

one
Ladino in the Sixteenth Century
The Emergence of a
New Vernacular Literature

During the sixteenth century, as a consequence of the 1490s expulsions and continuous mass immigration of Iberian Jews to the Ottoman lands, a new speech community emerged there. It consisted of tens of thousands of speakers whose linguistic interaction led to the formation of a new Ibero-Romance interdialect that later stabilized as the Ladino koiné. Forced conversions in Portugal and the adoption of Judaism by converts and their children upon immigration to the Ottoman Empire brought a new readership into existence: Jews with limited or no Hebrew proficiency in need of a Jewish education. This necessity led to the emergence of a vernacular literature for Sephardi Jews that had not existed in Christian Iberia where Jewish authors wrote in Ibero-Romance only for Christians, using the Latin alphabet for this purpose.1 The new vernacular audience, albeit numerically small, was more heterogeneous than ever, because it included a large spectrum of readers from barely literate Jews who had never abandoned Judaism to educated ex-conversos who were fluent in European languages. This historically unique sociocultural situation lasted only until the turn of the seventeenth century. This chapter looks at the sociopolitical processes that led to the emergence of a Sephardi community in the Ottoman lands; it discusses its linguistic makeup and examines the birth and decline of the vernacular literature that served its needs.

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