Spain has taken steps to ensure the survival of Ladino as a language, with the country’s main Spanish language institution, the Royal Spanish Academy, announcing plans to establish a National Ladino Academy.
Darío Villanueva, president of the Association of Academies of the Spanish Language, said that the intention was for the new institution to be based in Israel.
The announcement came during a two-day international conference on Ladino, which was attended by Israeli academics, as well as Daniel Kutner, Israel’s ambassador to Spain, and the heads of several leading Judeo-Spanish organisations.
Ladino, also known as Judaeo-Spanish, was once the main language of Sephardi communities around the Mediterranean. It is still spoken by some Sephardi Jews in more than 30 different countries – and is recognised as a minority language in Israel, France and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
It is also spoken in Turkey.
With perhaps around 150,000 speakers left when once there were millions, it is considered under serious threat of extinction.
In a statement, the Royal Spanish Academy said the agreement “was a historic and emotional moment for Sephardic people from all over the world”.
David Hatchwell, president of the Hispano-Jewish foundation, described how Sephardim, "for 500 years, have made an effort to preserve a language that is the heritage of all Spanishness".
Shmuel Refael Vivante, a member of the Ladino National Authority, said the language had “served as a bridge between the Sephardim and is an element of necessary identification for this community".
Speaking at the closing session of the conference, Mr Kutner told the audience that “the creation of this academy in Israel will be an extraordinary step that will not only serve to boost philological studies on Judeo-Spanish, but will give it greater prestige in Spain, in Israel and in Spanish-speaking countries. "