dead languages

Judeo-Romance languages

Judeo-Romance languages are Jewish languages derived from Romance languages, spoken by various Jewish communities (and their descendants) originating in regions where Romance languages predominate, and altered to such an extent to gain recognition as languages in their own right.



Catalanic, or Judeo-Catalan a social Catalan dialect spoken in Catalonia and Balearic Islands before the 1492 expulsion. There is no information about when these Jews abandoned the language after this date.


Judeo-Italian varieties (sometimes referred to as Italkian, a term coined by Solomon Birnbaum in 1942) are today spoken fluently by fewer than 200 people. These speakers represent the last remnant of the widely variant Judeo-Italian dialects spoken throughout Italy, Corfu, and along the eastern shores of the Adriatic and Ionian Seas.


Judeo-Aragonese was spoken in north central Spain from the around the mid-700s until about the time of the expulsion from Spain, when it either merged with the various Judeo-Spanish dialects, or fell out of use in favor of the (by then) far more influential Judeo-Spanish dialects originating in southern Spain, especially in the areas occupied by the modern Land of Valencia, Murcia and Andalucia.

Judeo-Latin or La‘az

Technically "Vulgar Judeo-Latin" rather than "Judæo-Romance," Judeo-Latin covers a range of geographical and register varieties of Latin postulated to have been specific to Jewish communities of the Roman Empire.

Judeo-Portuguese or Lusitanic

Judeo-Portuguese is the language of the scattered Crypto-Jewish population of Portugal. Like most Jewish languages, it preserves a number of archaisms which are no longer found in Portuguese. It remains extant mostly only in vestigial forms in the speech of Crypto-Jewish communities in mainland Portugal itself, notably around Belmonte and in Algarve.

Judezmo (Judeo-Castilian)

Known by a number of names, and found in many varied regional dialects, the Judezmo language is the modern descendant of the Spanish language as spoken by the Sephardim, descendants of Spain's large and influential Jewish population prior to the expulsion from Spain.


Shuadit, or Judeo-Provençal, is the Hebrew-influenced Occitan Jewish language that developed, not only in Provence, but in all of medieval southern France. It exhibits a number unique phoneme changes in Hebrew loanwords.


Zarphatic, or Judeo-French, is a dead Jewish language of northern modern France, the Low Countries, and western Germany.

History and Development

The exact development of the Judeo-Romance languages is unclear. The two predominant theories are that they are either descended from Judeo-Latin, and that their development paralleled that of Latin's daughter languages or that they are independent outgrowths of each individual language community. Another theory adopts parts of both, proposing that certain of the Judeo-Romance languages (variously, Zarphatic, Shuadit, Italkian and Catalanic) are descended from Judeo-Latin, but that others (variously, Zarphatic, Catalanic, Ladino, Judeo-Portuguese) are the product of independent development.

Present status

Judeo-Latin, Zarphatic, Shuadit, Catalanic and Judeo-Aragonese are all now dead languages. Judeo-Latin since ancient times, Zarphatic and Judeo-Aragonese in the Middle Ages, and Shuadit, upon the death of its last speaker in 1977.

Judeo-Portuguese remain primarily only as vestiges in the speech of the Crypto-Jewish communities of the Iberian Peninsula.

Italkian, spoken only two generations ago by as many as 5,000 Italian Jews is, today, spoken by fewer than 200, mostly elderly.

Ladino is spoken by the remaining Sephardic communities of the Maghreb in northern Africa, and in the Middle East, especially in Turkey, by as many as 150,000 people, the vast majority of whom are at least bilingual.

Like most Jewish languages, the future of the Judeo-Romance languages is uncertain. Given the rise to dominance of Hebrew as a means of communication among Jewish communities in the Middle East, and the increasing prestige of English, as well as the economic importance of local vernaculars (especially Turkish), the situation appears grim.


  • Jewish Languages Project
  • Judeo-Aragonese: Revista de Filología Española (Cited as RFH:Hispánica?) 8.136-41 (1946) cited in Current Trends in Linguistics 9.1025

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