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Shuadit language

Shuadit, also spelled Chouhadite, Chouhadit, Chouadite, Chouadit, and Shuhadit is the extinct Jewish language of southern France, also known as Judæo-Provençal, Judéo-Comtadin, Hébraïco-Comtadin. The language is known from documents dating to as early as the 11th century in France, and after suffering drastic declines beginning with the charter of the Inquisition in France, finally died out with the death of its last known speaker, Armand Lunel, in 1977.

Early history

The exact development and age of Shuadit is unclear to historians. Latin, as the language of commerce and administration of the Roman Empire, spread to the region following the conquest of Transalpine Gaul by Julius Caesar, completed by 50 BC. There is, however, little evidence of whether Shuadit developed through the adoption and alteration of Latin by the local Jewish community, or whether it is a descendant of the much earlier Judæo-Latin language. Another possibility is that the language developed as a result of the influence of the exegetical school at Narbonne. (For further discussion, refer to Blondheim and Banitt in References below. See also the Judæo-French article at Zarphatic.)

Varieties

Shuadit writings consist of two distinct varieties: religious texts and popular prose. As with most Jewish languages, both forms were written exclusively using modifications of the Hebrew alphabet.

Religious texts contain a significantly higher incidence of Hebrew loanwords, and reflect an overall more "educated" style, containing many words from Old French, Provençal, Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic and Latin. These texts include a fragment of a 14th century poem lauding Queen Esther, as well as a woman's siddur. This siddur contains an uncommon blessing, found in few other locations (including medieval Lithuania), thanking God, in the morning blessings, not for making her "according to His will" (she-asani kirtzono), but for making her as a woman. Even today, among the more "liberal" branches of Ashkenazi Judaism (Reform Judaism and Reconstructionist Judaism), this blessing is often worded as she-asani betzalmo ("who has made me in His image"), rather than she-asani isha ("who has made me a woman").

The extant texts comprising the collections of popular prose contain far fewer non-Provençal borrowings, and are essentially Provençal written using the Hebrew alphabet, possibly indicating a Jewish preference, prevalent at the time, for not using the Roman alphabet, regarded widely as synonymous with the oppressive Christian régimes. These texts demonstrate the extent to which the Jewish community of Provence was thoroughly familiar with Hebrew, as well as the extent to which the community was thoroughly integrated into the larger surrounding Christian culture of the region.

Phonology

Shuadit displays a number of phonological characteristics that make it unique among Jewish languages. The name "Shuadit" literally means "Jewish", and is the Shuadit pronunciation of the Hebrew word "Yehudit". This is because initial /j/ becomes /ʃ/, and /h/ is often elided between vowels, so Yehudit -> Shehudit -> Sheudit -> Shuadit (through a later vowel system change).

In words inherited from Hebrew and Aramaic, the letters samekh, sin and thav are all pronounced /f/, the same as fe. The conjecture is that the two former /s/ phonemes merged with the /θ/ phoneme, and then merged with the phoneme /f/. This observation gives particular validity to the theory that Shuadit is an outgrowth of a much older Judæo-Latin language, rather than an independent development within southern France, since the second step also occurred during the development of Latin from Proto-Italic.

In words derived from Latin, there is a tendency to diphthongize /l/ following plosives, and to de-lateralize /ʎ/ to /j/. Additionally, the phonemes /ʒ/ and /ʃ/, as well as /dʒ/ and /tʃ/, are reduced to the single phoneme /ʃ/. Thus, the Provençal words plus, filho and juge, are rendered as pyus, feyo and šuše, respectively, in Shuadit.

Evidence

A fundamental source for inferring information about the phonology of Shuadit is the comedy Harcanot et Barcanot. (See Pansier in the References section of this article.)

The earliest evidence of Shuadit as a distinguishable spoken language is probably in the comic poem, Lou Sermoun di Jusiou (The Jew's Sermon), likely written in the sixteenth century. Given its content, this poem was likely composed by a non-Jew. Numerous parodies of Jewish speech appear also in recordings of Christmas carols.

The Emperor Dom Pedro II of Brazil recorded a number of bilingual Hebrew-Shuadit religious poems .

Decline

In 1498, the Jews were formally expelled from southern France. Although the community was not finally compelled to depart until 1501, much of the community had by then become dispersed into other regions, notably Genoa and the "less-civilized" regions of Germany. However, the Comtat-Venaissin was then under the direct control of the Pope, and a small Jewish community continued to live there in relative isolation. From the time of the French Revolution, when Jews were permitted to live legally anywhere in France as full citizens, the status of Shuadit began to decline rapidly. The extinction of the language was noted in 1977, upon the death of its last known native speaker, Armand Lunel.

External links

References

  • Banitt, M. 1963. Une langue fantôme: le judéo-français. Revue de linguistique romane 27: 245-294.
  • Blondheim, D. S. 1928. Notes étymologiques et lexicographiques. Mélanges de linguistique et de littérature offerts à M. Alfred Jeanroy par ses élèves et ses amis. Paris: Champion. 71-80.
  • Pansier, P. 1925. Une comédie en argot hébraïco-provençal de la fin du XVIIIe siècle. Revue des études juives 81: 113-145.
  • Jewish Language Research website's page on Judæo-Provençal
  • omniglot.com

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