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Judeo-Romance in Italy and France (Judeo-Italian, Judeo-French, Judeo-Occitan)free

Judeo-Romance in Italy and France (Judeo-Italian, Judeo-French, Judeo-Occitan)free

  • Laura MinerviniLaura MinerviniUniversità degli Studi di Napoli Federico II


The linguistic history of the Italian, French, and Occitan Jewish communities may be reconstructed thanks to the survival of both written records and modern dialects. The situation of the three groups, however, sharply diverges in terms of quality and quantity of the available sources and retention of their linguistic identity after the medieval period. For the Jewish communities of the Italo-Romance area, there is a corpus of medieval and modern texts, mostly in Hebrew script, and with several dialectological inquiries for modern and contemporary dialects. As for the Jewish communities of Northern France, only a limited corpus of medieval written sources exists, because the French-speaking Jews were linguistically assimilated to their respective environments after the 1394 expulsion from the kingdom of France. On the other hand, the records of the Occitan-speaking Jews are scanty for both the medieval and the modern periods, when they apparently maintained a certain amount of linguistic distinctiveness.


  • Historical Linguistics
  • Language Families/Areas/Contact
  • Sociolinguistics

1. Languages and Texts of the Romance-Speaking Jews

In medieval and early modern Europe, Jews wrote most of their texts in Hebrew characters, Latin literacy being extremely limited in Jewish milieu because of practical and symbolic reasons. The language more commonly used for all kind of texts was Hebrew—religious poems, commercial records, chronicles, biblical commentaries, medical treatises, and so on. To a lesser extent, other languages were used too, among them Romance languages (Heb. la‘az),1 that the Jews supposedly employed in daily speech in the Romance-speaking world. Romance texts written in Hebrew script are what scholars today call “Judeo-Romance texts,” but it is important to keep in mind that this label does not imply the existence of a linguistic variety specific to the Jews, a “communal dialect” similar to those recorded in the Arabic-speaking urban centers (Khan, 2018, pp. 161–168). Indeed, Jewish texts usually display some peculiar linguistic features, mostly at the lexical level, but it is questionable whether such features always make up a Jewish language or dialect in its own right. Much depends on what the words “language” and “dialect” stand for: whether some lexical items, possibly with unfamiliar phonemes or phones, are enough to prove the existence of an autonomous language or dialect, or whether salient structural differences are needed—that is, major differences in phonetic or phonological inventories or distribution, in morphology and syntax, and/or in the historical evolution of these components.2 All in all, it is very difficult to gauge the degree of Jewish linguistic distinctiveness centuries ago without a precise knowledge of the sociolinguistic contexts in which verbal interactions took place and of the elements defining the various speech communities.

The use of Hebrew script, though not a linguistic feature by itself,3 affects both the writing and the interpretation of the texts; it has both advantages and disadvantages when compared to Latin script. On the one hand, Romance texts written in Hebrew characters are scarcely influenced by the Latin graphic tradition, whose propensity for etymological writing often conceals the underlying phonetic reality (Bannitt, 1963, p. 293; Varvaro, 1979, pp. 200–201). On the other hand, new graphic traditions were created for such texts, which soon became conventional and therefore may hardly be considered a “free” and intuitive rendering of the speakers’ phonological systems. Moreover, the use of the Hebrew alphabet lacks clear and unequivocal sound–letter correspondence in the area of alveolar and palatal consonants, and the scribes often omitted the punctuation—namely, the system of diacritics placed above, underneath, or inside the Hebrew consonantal letters—that is needed in order to distinguish between /e/, /i/, and /j/; /o/, /u/ and /w/; /p/ and /f/; /b/ and /v/; simple and double consonants, and so on. Therefore, interpretation of Judeo-Romance texts often raises serious problems at the grapho-phonetic level, whereas it is rather straightforward at the morphological, syntactic, and lexical levels. However, the translations of the Holy Text and of rituals, which amount to the greater part of Judeo-Romance textual corpus, frequently use a hyper-literal technique, slavishly following Hebrew syntax; their lexicon is often unusual and/or archaic, as it belongs to an ancient lexical thesaurus documented exclusively or primarily in a Jewish environment.

On the whole, it can be maintained that most Judeo-Romance texts are closely linked to Hebrew texts: besides direct translations—not only in the field of religion but also in those of science, philosophy, grammar, for example—one has to consider poems shaped after or against Hebrew patterns, sermons assembled from Hebrew excerpts, and legal texts where Hebrew and Romance are intertwined, to name a few. Dependence on Hebrew texts is evident in the case of vernacular glosses inserted by Jewish scholars into their exegetical writings in order to provide the correct interpretation of Hebrew words and sentences.

Accordingly, Judeo-Romance texts—just as texts written in Latin script in the very same regions or towns in a Christian setting—are not supposed to directly reflect the spoken language of those who wrote, read, or listened to them. Rather, they attest to the existence of a written literary register rooted in a venerable cultural tradition; as long as this tradition was perceived as prestigious, the Jews turned to it whenever they had to write artistic or “solemn” texts—that is the reason why most of these texts show a certain degree of resemblance in spite of the differences due to their geo-linguistic diversity. The few texts devoid of any formal ambition—such as the account registers from Vesoul and Marseilles (see “3.1 Judeo-French Texts in the Middle Ages” and “3.2 Judeo-Occitan Texts in the Middle Ages”)—allow glimpses of more colloquial varieties, thus providing an extremely valuable contribution to our understanding of the linguistic reality of the Romance-speaking Jews.

It is thus not an easy task to connect the Judeo-Romance medieval and early modern texts with the dialects recorded (almost) up to the present day in Italy and Southern France: not only are there some missing links in the chain, as not all chronological phases are equally and satisfactorily documented, but also, and foremost, one has to rely on different kinds of sources representative of different discursive traditions. As a commonality, Hebrew (or Hebrew-Aramaic) constitutes an important part in both the written literary texts (11th–16th centuries) and the modern spoken dialects.

Over the centuries, the Holy Tongue was a lexical reservoir for all Jewish languages, providing a great number of loanwords and calques belonging to different semantic fields, especially to the religious and legal ones. Moreover, in traditional Jewish communities Hebrew played a cultural role roughly comparable to that of Latin in Christian milieu: the linguistic repertoire of the Jews may be conceived as a diglossic system where Hebrew functioned as the High Language—endowed with great prestige, used in formal contexts and in written communication, learned in school—and the Romance (as well as other) vernaculars as Low Languages—the speakers’ native tongue, commonly used in daily life, acquired as children.4 This is a somewhat simplified view of a more complex and dynamic situation, and it is intended for the group as a whole: on the individual level, things could vary. Jewish communities were often stratified from the social and educational standpoints, so that their members’ repertoires were far from uniform; knowledge of languages other than Hebrew and the local vernacular was not unusual because of the mobility of individuals and the cultural heritage of Judeo-Arabic Spain and Sicily (see article “Judezmo (Ladino, Judeo-Spanish)”); women were normally precluded from learning Hebrew, although they could understand and use some words and sentences. Finally, the historical changes that had taken place in Europe since the late 18th century deeply affected traditional Jewish lifestyle—once citizens of the new national states, the Jews did not dwell anymore in special quarters, attend their own schools, or exercise a limited number of professions; they experienced forms of sociocultural interaction hitherto unknown, modifying their linguistic habits and the values associated to each language. Thus, during the 19th and 20th centuries, Judeo-Italian and Judeo-Occitan dialects lost much of their social functionality and viability—the linguistic heritage of French-speaking Jews had vanished many centuries beforehand.

2 Judeo-Romance in Italy

2.1 Judeo-Italian Texts in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Period

Whereas Sicilian Jews were usually Arabic speaking up to the 13th century—their linguistic Romanization proceeded by degrees and was not yet completed in the late 15th century, when cultural and professional elites still mastered written (and probably also spoken) Arabic (Minervini, 2014)—the Jews of the Italian Peninsula have been using Romance vernaculars in writing since the 11th century. Their texts and records, commonly labeled “Judeo-Italian,” constitute a large and diverse corpus (see Baglioni, 2020; Debenedetti Stow, 2016, pp. 260–271; Roth, 1925, pp. 63–66; and Rubin, 2015, pp. 300–320, for lists and references; and Ferretti Cuomo, 1983; Mayer Modena, 2003; Moriggi, 2008; and Ryzhik, 2018, for a critical overview of the sources). It comprises:

Words inserted into Hebrew texts, integrated into the Hebrew syntax, and used as technical terms—among the most ancient, those found in the Sefer ha-Yaqar by Šabbetay Donnolo (10th century) and in the Chronicle of Aḥima‘as (11th century)

Glosses in Hebrew texts explaining Hebrew words (11th–16th centuries), such as those written in the margins of a Mišnah manuscript from Salento (in Apulia, late 11th century) and those included in the Hebrew-Aramaic dictionary Sefer ‘Arukh by Nathan ben Yeḥiel of Rome (early 12th century)

Glossaries, dictionaries, and word lists (13th–17th centuries), such as the philosophical glossary by Moses of Salerno (13th century) and the Hebrew-Arabic-Italian biblical dictionary Maqré Dardeqé by Perez Tabot, printed in Naples in 1488

Translations of biblical texts, prayer books, and Haggadot (13th–17th centuries), both handwritten and printed

Other translations of Hebrew works, such as Moses of Rieti’s Filosofia naturale (a compilation of various Hebrew philosophical sources, ca. 1460) and Yedidya ben Moses Recanati’s Erudizione dei confusi (Maimonide’s Guide of the Perplexed, 1581)

Original poetry, such as the Elegy for the 9th of Ab (13th century), the Elegy for the martyrs of Ancona (16th century), a hymn for the Šabbat (early 17th century), and several Purimic poems

Sermons, such as those by Mordekhay Dato (16th century) and Jacob ben Mordekhay Poggetto (16th century)

Secular texts, such as grammatical treatises, medical recipes, and transcriptions of Italian literary works

The Hebrew script was commonly used, but texts in Latin characters may be found from the 16th century on, such as a partial translation of a collection of Midrašim on the Pentateuch (Pesiḥeta Rabati, early 16th century) or Leone Sommo’s poetic translation of 35 psalms (mid- or late 16th century).5 The practice of writing vernacular texts in Hebrew script apparently decreased after the late 16th century and ceased during the 18th century, together with the linguistic medium peculiar to the literary tradition of Italian Jewries. Thus, in this case, there is a clear (though not absolute) connection between writing systems and linguistic features—typically, Judeo-Italian sources in Latin script are written in an unmarked, literary Italian and intended also for a non-Jewish readership, whereas those written in Hebrew script, hence directed to an exclusively in-group audience, are linguistically characterized in terms of local vernacular features to varying degrees. At their own pace, the Jews of Italy joined the general trend that brought from the multiplicity of medieval dialects to the common Italian language (based on the Tuscan dialect)—in writing the change took place during the 16th century; afterward using dialects in written texts had a precise stylistic and ethnographic flavor.

On the whole, the medieval and early modern Judeo-Italian corpus may be quantitatively compared only to the Judeo-Spanish (Judezmo or Ladino) one, whereas the other Judeo-Romance traditions offer a much smaller number of written sources. The bulk of the Judeo-Italian written corpus is dated to the 15th–16th centuries and consists of translations of the Bible and rituals; the two actually overlap, as excerpts from biblical texts are included in prayer books. These texts had a primarily didactic purpose, because in Jewish schools pupils were taught to read the Hebrew Bible using oral, word-for-word vernacular translations; such translations were later written down for the sake of the uneducated members of the community, in the first place, women.

Most medieval Judeo-Italian written sources originated in the Southern and Central areas of the Italian Peninsula, and their linguistic features bear witness to their geographical provenance. However, a linguistic characterization of these writings is far from easy because of their often composite nature—the process of copying handwritten texts implied some degree of accommodation to local dialects, at least at the grapho-phonetic level, whereas morphology, syntax, and lexicon were more stable. Medieval manuscripts often exhibit this kind of “linguistic stratification,” all the more so in the case of Judeo-Italian texts because of the frequent resettlement of Jewish individuals and groups from the South to the Center and, later on, to the North of the Peninsula.

The center of gravity of Jewish Italian cultural life, which in the 9th–12th centuries was located in Apulia, gradually shifted toward Rome and its surroundings. In 1492, Sicilian and Southern Italian Jews were involved in the Spanish expulsion decree, although its enforcement took 50 years to be completed; some exiles rallied in several Central and Northern Italian towns while some chose to flee the country. The destination of the latter was often the Ottoman Empire, where they established new communities, later culturally and linguistically assimilated by the Sephardic refugees. Only in the island of Corfu, under Venetian rule, the Jews of Apulia preserved their own dialect, documented in various 17th- and 18th-century texts (Sermoneta, 1990). Thus the geography of Jewish settlements greatly varied from the medieval to the modern period (Caffiero, 2014, pp. 17–21) and Judeo-Italian texts mirror this variation. There is no better example of this than the Elegy for the 9th of Av, a 13th-century poetic text of great quality preserved by two 14th-century manuscripts (and once also by an 18th-century folio in Latin script), whose main linguistic features may be ascribed to different Southern and Central Italian dialects, with a weak shade of Northern Italian dialects (Natale, 2018, pp. 114–122).

Judeo-Italian texts are not linguistically homogeneous, but they often share an original blend of linguistic features belonging to different Italian regional dialects. This blend may be considered a literary artifact, and its relationship with speech was not straightforward—however, a relationship existed, as is implied by the long-term persistence of some features in modern Judeo-Italian dialects (see “2.2. Judeo-Italian Dialects in the Modern and Contemporary Ages”). What is more, being associated with an authoritative textual corpus, mainly on religious topics, it acquired in the 15th century the status of an implicit norm for the vernacular literary tradition of the Italian Jews, as first argued by Cassuto (1929, pp. 375–376), later criticized by several scholars, and finally recovered and nuanced, among others, by Mancini (1992) (see Galli de’ Paratesi, 1992, and Moriggi, 2008, on the history of Judeo-Italian scholarship). Thanks to its prestigious standing, especially within the large community of Rome, it spread to texts written or copied further North (Mancini, 1992, pp. 118–121). The process of Tuscanization, which in the 16th century affected most Judeo-Italian written records, gradually deleted their linguistic peculiarities, leaving Hebrew or literary Italian as the only feasible options for Jewish writings (Ferretti Cuomo, 1995; Guetta, 2012b).

Among the phonetic and morphological features shared by most medieval and early modern Judeo-Italian sources, it is worth mentioning:

št for st in forms such as caništru ‘basket’, caštello ‘castle’, chištu/quišto ‘’, crištiani ‘christians’, fošti ‘be.prf.2sg’, gattivaštivo ‘go into exile.prf.2pl’, murašti ‘build.prf.2sg’, noštro ‘our’, olucaštu ‘sacrifice’, onorašti ‘honor.prf.2sg’, ošti ‘army’, paštinaca ‘parsnip’, paštori ‘shepherds’, štante ‘’, štabbio ‘manure’, štandardi ‘banners’, štesso ‘same’, štella/štilla ‘star’, teštemoniu ‘witness’, trišto ‘’, vešte ‘dress.prs.3sg’, and so on (Debenedetti Stow, 1990, I, p. 179; II, pp. 271–272; Duberti et al., 2015, p. 18; Ferretti Cuomo, 1977, pp. 205, 239; Mancini, 1992, p. 81; Natale, 2018, pp. 136–137; Ryzhik, 2008, p. 532; Schirru, 2020, p. 277; Sermoneta, 1967, pp. 89, 94; 1974, p. 55; 1990, pp. 152, 166, 436; 1994, pp. 4–5, 22–25)

-mm- < -mb- and -nn- < -nd-, in forms such as amanno ‘love.ger.’, bammace ‘cotton wool’, comanno ‘order.prs.1sg’, commatte ‘fight.prs.3sg’, domannanzi ‘requests’, essenno ‘be.ger’, fonnamento ‘foundation’, fronnuto ‘leafy’, gammali ‘greaves’, grannezze ‘greatness’, mannaro ‘send.prf.3pl’, onnata ‘tide’, palommi ‘doves’, prefonno ‘’, quanno ‘when’, segonno ‘second’, sprennore ‘splendor’, temenno ‘fear.ger’, vennero ‘sell.prf.3pl’, and so on. (Cassuto, 1930, pp. 267, 271; Debenedetti Stow, 1990, I, pp. 128; II, pp. 36, 125; Ferretti Cuomo, 1985, p. 82; 2008, p. 334; Mancini, 1992, p. 81; Natale, 2018, p. 136; Pasternak, 2005, p. 268; Rubin, 2015, p. 341; Ryzhik, 2008, pp. 532, 537; Sermoneta, 1967, p. 98; 1974, pp. 56, 81; Schirru, 2020, p. 277)6

Retention of -l- in consonantal clusters, in forms such as adenpliti ‘’, bleti ‘chards’, clamai ‘call.prf.1sg’, clavello ‘nail’, clavica ‘sewer’, fibla ‘buckle’, flamma ‘flame’, flomo ‘river’, ienocclo ‘knee’, lenticcla ‘lentil’, occli ‘eyes’, pesclu ‘peach tree’, plano ‘lowland’, planto ‘cry’, plazzi ‘squares’, ploggia ‘rain’, plù ‘more’,sclatti ‘lineages’, soffli ‘blow.sbj.3sg’, templo ‘temple’, and so on (Cassuto, 1930, p. 271; Debenedetti Stow, 1990, I, pp. 11, 39, 55, 99–200; II, pp. 16, 162; Ferretti Cuomo, 1977, pp. 231, 248, 250, 265; 2008, p. 335; Natale, 2018, pp. 136–137; Rubin, 2015, p. 338; Ryzhik, 2008, p. 532; Sermoneta, 1974, pp. 79, 85, 86, 89, 100).

Palatal glide /j/ < ge/i-, dj-, j-, -ge/i-, -dj-, -jj-, in forms such as arientu ‘silver’, ‘already’, ielato ‘’, iemelli ‘twins’, ienere ‘kind’, iente ‘people’, ientili ‘’, iesso ‘clay’, iettai ‘throw.prf.1sg’, iodiço ‘judgement’, iornu ‘day’, iudicare ‘judge.inf’, iunco ‘cane’, maiuro ‘’, raiu ‘ray’, and so on (Debenedetti Stow, 1990, pp. 55–56, 59; Ferretti Cuomo, 1977, pp. 229, 234, 252; 1985, pp. 84, 87; 2008, pp. 334, 336; Mancini, 1992, p. 81; Natale, 2018, pp. 136; Rubin, 2015, p. 338; Sermoneta, 1974, p. 101; 1994, pp. 14–15, 20–21)7

-i ending (instead of -e) for feminine plural nouns, adjectives and articles, in forms such as crapi ‘goats’, donni ‘women’, festi ‘feasts’, flambi ‘flames’, porti ‘doors’, štradi ‘roads’, terri ‘lands’, trizzi ‘braids’, molti carti ‘many letters’, pietri preziosi ‘precious stones’, li bestii ‘the beasts’, li balistrati ‘the jambs’, li carrozzi ‘the chariots’, li casi ‘the houses’, li cordi ‘the strings’, li cossi toi ‘your thighs’, li colonni ‘the columns’, li nozzi ‘the wedding’, li paroli ‘the words’, li rosi ‘the roses’, li sorori ‘the sisters’, li vogli ‘the desires’, and so on (Cassuto, 1930, pp. 269, 271; Duberti et al., 2015, p. 7; Ferretti Cuomo, 1977, p. 250; 2008, p. 334; Hijmans Tromp, 1991, pp. 413, 416, 421; Mancini, 1992, pp. 83, 88; Natale, 2018, pp. 136, 138; Pasternak, 2005, p. 268; Rubin, 2015, pp. 338, 341; Sermoneta, 1974, pp. 88, 98–99, 101; 1994, pp. 20–23)8

-ti ending (instead of -te) for 2pl of the present, future, and imperative, in forms such as adopereti ‘act.imp.2pl’, annonziariti ‘announce.fut.2pl’, aspettati ‘wait.prs.2pl’, avereti ‘have.fut.2pl’, aveti ‘have.prs.2pl’, audiriti ‘hear.fut.2pl’, beviti ‘drink.imp.2pl’, curriti ‘run.imp.2pl’, domandati ‘ask.imp.2pl’, fareti ‘make.fut.2pl’, guardeti ‘beware.imp.2pl’, inbriachiti ‘get drunk.imp.2pl’, leviti ‘arise.imp.2pl’, mannechiti ‘eat.imp.2pl’, nascereti ‘teach.fut.2pl’, penseti ‘think.prs.2pl’, puniti ‘put.imp.2pl’, seti ‘be.prs.2pl’, teneti ‘take.imp.2pl’, vedeti/vediti ‘see.imp.2pl, veniti ‘come.imp.2pl’, and so on (Ferretti Cuomo, 2008, p. 333; Hijmans-Tromp, 1992, pp. 413, 419, 422, 430, 432; Mancini, 1992, p. 81; Rubin, 2015, p. 338; Ryzhik, 2010, pp. 164–165; Sermoneta, 1967, pp. 81, 91; 1974, pp. 80, 94–95; 1994, pp. 18–19).9

As for the general documentation of the above mentioned features:

/ʃt/ is attested in modern Italian dialects of Abruzzo, Molise, and Northern Apulia (Loporcaro, 2009, p. 142); it is not found in written texts, as palatalization of /s/ in pre-consonantal position is not noted in Latin characters.

The assimilation of /nd/ > /nn/, /mb/ > /mm/ first arose in the dialects of Central Italy, from where it spread (/nn/ more than /mm/) to the Southern regions in the late Middle Ages; it is well documented in medieval texts written in Central Italian dialects—included the dialect of Rome—but attestations are also found in Southern and Sicilian texts (Varvaro, 1979).

Consonantal clusters with /l/ are regularly preserved in medieval texts from Lazio, Abruzzo, and Marche, but they are not infrequent also in those from Naples, Sicily, Calabria, and Salento; palatalization, however, was already underway at the time (Barbato, 2005).

/j/ is commonly found in medieval texts written in Central and Southern Italian dialects (vs. Tuscan /dʒ/ and Northern Italian /dz/) (Formentin, 1995, pp. 142, 148).

-i feminine plurals are usual in areas with the Sicilian vowel system, where only /u i a/ are found in word-final position. Besides Sicily, Southern Calabria, and Salento, -i feminine plurals are supposedly an extension of the masculine -i plurals, documented unsystematically in medieval texts from Tuscany, Lazio, and Campania as well as from different Northern Italian regions (Rohlfs, 1968, II, pp. 25–27).

-ti ending is well attested in medieval texts from both Southern and Northern Italy but is occasionally documented also in Central Italy (Barbato, 2013, pp. 15–16, 21; Maiden, 1996, pp. 165–167). Different stressed vowels are found in texts as a result of different neutralizations of the I, II, and III verbal classes (Barbato, 2013).

The Bible was traditionally translated by means of “calque translation,” where the practice of closely following the Hebrew pattern casted the Italian syntax into the Hebrew mold. As a result, the normal word order and verbal government are modified, repetitions and omissions are found, and so on. Thus, for example:10







As is customary in most Jewish languages, the lexical component of Judeo-Italian texts is particularly interesting, comprising, beyond a bulk of common words shared by various medieval Italian dialects, a certain amount of lexical items used only or mainly in texts directed to a Jewish readership. The contribution of Hebrew is not limited to Hebrew loanwords—such as berakhah ‘blessing’, corban/qorban ‘sacrifice’, dam ‘blood’, darom ‘south’, din ‘justice’, dor ‘generation’, galut ‘exile’, ḥerem ‘excommunication’, nefeš ‘soul’, ṣaddiq ‘righteous’, šabbat ‘Saturday’, ṣafon ‘north’, and šofeṭ ‘judge’ (Ferretti Cuomo, 1985, pp. 85–86; 2008, p. 334; Mancini, 1992, pp. 84, 88; Mayer Modena, 2001, pp. 332, 335; Roth, 1925, pp. 54, 76; Sermoneta, 1974, pp. 60, 93; 1994, pp. 26–27)—but includes new forms, adapting Hebrew consonantal roots to the Italian morphology, such as the verbs akhlare ‘to eat’ (Heb. ’akhal), batlare ‘to invalidate’ (Heb. baṭal), darsciare ‘to preach’ (Heb. daraš), and maḥlare ‘to forgive’ (Heb. maḥal) (Ferretti Cuomo, 1985, p. 86; Mayer Modena, 2001, pp. 340, 342; Rubin, 2015, p. 324; Ryzhik, 2008, p. 539).11 Such new forms are documented from the 16th century on.

Among the words of Latin origin that are characteristic of Judeo-Italian texts, one can mention adempito/adenplito/adinchitu ‘entire, perfect’, cattivamento/gattivanza ‘exile’, cudimento ‘foreskin’, (de)sfigliato ‘childless’, meldare/meltare ‘to study’, moltitudene ‘plenty’, nescire ‘to teach’, podestare ‘to dominate’, rentiamento ‘spray’, scomperatore ‘redeemer’, semonire/simonire ‘to corrupt’, and so on (Cassuto, 1930, pp. 267, 271, 275; Ferretti Cuomo, 1985, pp. 83, 88; 2008, p. 333; Mayer Modena, 2001, p. 340; Natale, 2018, pp. 136, 138; Rubin, 2015, p. 341; Ryzhik, 2008, pp. 535, 539–540; 2010, pp. 164–166; Sermoneta, 1974, pp. 61, 62, 64, 94, 99, 105; 1994, pp. 26–27).12 Some have their counterparts in other Judeo-Romance written traditions, hence the hypothesis of a common textual ancestry for medieval vernacular Jewish Bibles.13

2.2 Judeo-Italian Dialects in the Modern and Contemporary Ages

Since the second half of the 16th century, the number of Judeo-Italian texts sharply decreased in connection with their linguistic Tuscanization. In the meantime, the Jewish communities of the Peninsula experienced more forced migrations and, in the cities and towns where their presence was tolerated, were usually segregated in special neighborhoods, the ghettos: the first one was that of Venice (1516), followed by those of Rome (1555), Florence and Siena (1571), Verona (1600), Padua (1603), and so on—the last ghetto was established in Correggio (Emilia Romagna) in 1779. Seclusion in ghettos had heavy consequences on the social, economic, and cultural fabric of Jewish life (Bonfil, 1988, 1996, pp. 419–424; Ruderman, 2011, pp. 59–65); as for the language, segregation probably helped the process of focusing around sets of linguistic norms that shaped modern Judeo-Italian dialects. However, the label “ghetto dialects,” which combines with an attitude overemphasizing the conservative features of these dialects, is misleading: these dialects cannot be considered a direct outcome of the new ghetto condition—as there is earlier evidence of some degree of Jewish linguistic distinctiveness—and arose also outside the ghetto, like bagitto, the Jewish dialect of Livorno (Leghorn), where no ghetto was ever established. In a different perspective, it is also possible to stress the more “Italianized” character of some Jewish dialects (Natale, 2014, pp. 30–33; Terracini, 1962, pp. 274–275).

Modern Judeo-Italian dialects are documented in several urban centers of Central and Northern Italy: cities such as Rome, Florence, Livorno, Turin, Modena, Mantua, Ferrara, Verona Venice, Trieste, and so on, but also small towns such as Pitigliano, Finale Emilia, Lugo di Romagna, Moncalvo, Casale Monferrato, and so on. Documentation regarding these dialects is mostly dated to the 19th and early 20th centuries, and consists of both literary works written by native speakers—usually bilingual in Italian and the local dialect—and dialectological inquiries, often undertaken by amateurs. Among the literary works, it is worth mentioning the poems by Crescenzo Del Monte (1868–1935) and Annibale Gallico (1876–1935) that provide a sympathetic portrait of Jewish traditional life—including its linguistic facet—in Rome and Mantua; and the humorous play Gnora Luna (1932), written by the children of the renowned Biblical scholar Umberto Cassuto, an interesting specimen of the Jewish dialect of Florence. Unlike Judeo-Italian medieval texts, conceived as written artifacts in the framework of an ancient literary tradition, these modern texts—always in Latin script—aim at reproducing Jewish contemporary speech; in order to reach their goal, they often pile up a very great number of linguistic stereotypes, that is, phonetic and grammatical features or lexical items perceived as markers of Jewishness. The result may sound unnatural and has to be seen as an attempt to record and commemorate spoken dialects whose use was waning, as a side effect of the 19th-century Jewish emancipation.

Together with these in-group sources, one has to consider the texts written by gentiles, often with an aggressive and malevolent attitude, where the Jews are linguistically characterized (and hyper-characterized) as speakers of their own dialects. Their remote ancestor may be found in the Renaissance multilingual theater, representing on the scene—together with many others—the character of the Jew with his own vernacular, usually replete with Hebrew loanwords (Baricci, 2010). Out-group sources are sometimes of the utmost importance for our knowledge of Judeo-Italian dialects: thus, for example, the anonymous poem Betulia liberata in dialetto ebraico (1832), the first extensive witness of Livorno’s bagitto; or a few lyrics of the great Roman poet Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli (1791–1863), particularly sensitive to all kind of dialectal variation in his hometown.14

On the whole, Judeo-Italian dialects reflect the linguistic diversity that is characteristic of Italo-Romance, each Jewish dialect resembling more or less closely a regional or local Italian dialect (Colasuonno, 2018; Mayer Modena, 1997, pp. 944–963; Rubin, 2015, pp. 325–334; Ryzhik, 2018, pp. 97–102, 109–111). The features distinguishing Judeo-Italian dialects are often limited to the lexical component, but they may also involve phonology and morphology, as is the case of Judeo-Roman and bagitto. It is noteworthy that some features found in medieval and early modern Judeo-Italian texts survive in modern dialects; thus, for example, the -i feminine plural ending is well documented in the Jewish dialects of Rome, Florence, Livorno, Mantua, Ferrara, and Moncalvo: cifolli, donni, nozzi, paroli, scuoli, storielli, i ciaf, i manghi, i spili, li brachi, li cassi, li faccendi, li fémini, li gambi, li ròti, tropi peni, sui spali, and so on (Kedem, 1932, pp. 551–552; Colombo, 1970, p. 439; Colorni, 1970, p. 116; Franceschini, 2007, pp. 184, 187, 191, 193; Terracini, 1962, pp. 270, 283, 286).15

The existence of a Judeo-Roman (or Southern-Italian) linguistic substrate in different Judeo-Italian dialects—the case of Judeo-Ferrarese is the most noticeable (Terracini, 1962, p. 272; Ryzhik, 2018, pp. 110–111)—has been interpreted as a linguistic trace of earlier migratory shifts: over the centuries the community of Rome received a great number of Jewish refugees from the South, but was also a starting point for those moving further North, hence working as “linguistic capital”—absorbing, processing, and spreading throughout the Peninsula a set of peculiar linguistic features (Mancini, 1992, pp. 118–122; Terracini, 1962, p. 276).16

Most Judeo-Italian dialects share a common lexicon, or more precisely a common lexical basis variously adapted to the phonological system of each dialect. There are plentiful Hebrew loanwords belonging to all semantic fields and with all kind of semantic shifts (specializations, trivializations, actualizations, etc.).17 The pronunciation of the Hebrew ‘ayn letter—originally corresponding to a voiced pharyngeal fricative /ʕ/—has a velar, palatal, or alveolar nasal realization in Italian Jewish communities, hence forms such as gnanì/nganì ‘poor’ (Heb. ‘ani), gnarel/narel/ngarelle ‘non-circumcised, and Christian’ (Heb. ‘arel), gnarvid/narvit/ngarvidde ‘evening prayer’ (Heb. ‘arvit) (Aprile, 2012, pp. 22–24, 234, 248, 275). Formation of Italian verbs, nouns, and adjectives with Hebrew material is a highly interesting process, documented as early as 16th-century texts, for example, cascer(i)are/caserare ‘to make a food kosher’ (Heb. kašer), catagnèlo/chetanèllo/chetannètto ‘short (of man’s stature)’ (Heb. qatan), dabrar(e)/dabberare ‘to speak’ (Heb. dabber), gan(n)aviar(e)/ganavar ‘to steal’ (Heb. gannav ‘thief’), hadanëssa/hadanesa/hatanessa ‘bride’ (Heb. ḥatan ‘bridegroom’), pahadozo/pahadoso ‘a coward person’ (Heb. paḥad ‘fear’), and smaz(z)alato/smazzallato ‘unlucky’ (Heb. mazzal ‘fate’) (Aprile, 2012, pp. 42, 153, 188, 230, 235–236, 249–250).18

Among the words of Latin origin, scola is found in most Judeo-Italian dialects for ‘synagogue’—in standard Italian the diphthongized form scuola ‘school’ is used (Aprile, 2012, p. 268).

The lexicon of Judeo-Italian dialects embodies some loanwords from (Judeo-)Spanish and/or (Judeo-)Portuguese. Apart from the widespread negro ‘unfortunate, inexpert, sad, ugly’, they are a landmark of bagitto, because of the demographic weight of the Sephardic Jews within the Livorno community, for example, agora ‘now’, bariga ‘belly’, bobo ‘stupid’, cabeza/cabesa ‘head’, comadre ‘midwife’, and nada ‘nothing’ (Aprile, 2012, pp. 154, 155, 157, 195, 289, 292).19 Among the few borrowings from Yiddish, the most successful is yortsayt ‘anniversary of a death’, adapted in many Judeo-Italian dialects as orsai, ursai, orzai, jorzai (Aprile, 2012, pp. 41, 173).

3. Judeo-Romance in France

3.1 Judeo-French Texts in the Middle Ages

The Jews of Northern France—called in medieval Jewish sources Tsarfat20—have left a vast array of written testimonies to their use of Old French dialects (11th–15th centuries) (Fudeman, 2010, pp. 155–158; Kiwitt, 2013, pp. 15–27, 361–368; Zwink, 2017, pp. 15–22).21 They can be grouped in different typologies:

Glosses inserted in Hebrew texts, mostly commentaries on the Bible and the Talmud, prayer books or liturgical collections—among the oldest and most authoritative, those by the renowned champenois scholar Rabbi Šelomoh Yitsḥaqi (Raši, 1040–1105)

Hebrew-French glossaries and dictionaries, organized according to different criteria (textual, alphabetical, onomasiological, etc.)—among the most complete, the Basel Glossary (13th century) and the Leipzig Glossary (13th or 14th century)

Poems, such as the Troyes Elegy, a dirge commemorating the Jews slaughtered in 1288 (late 13th century); two bilingual Hebrew-French wedding song (13th–14th centuries); five religious hymns (13th–14th centuries), and so on

Fragments of sermons and prayers (ca. 1300)

Practical secular texts, such as Fevres (a medical treatise translated primarily from Hebrew, late 13th century), the Hebrew lapidary by Berakhyah ben Natronay, with the names of the stones in French (ca. 1200), the Hebrew-French account registers from Vesoul (1300–1318), a Hebrew-French textbook (early 14th century), and so on

To this textual corpus, written in Hebrew script and addressed to a Jewish readership, one has to add the Old French translation of Abraham ibn Ezra astrological treatise Re’šit Ḥokhmah ‘The Beginning of Wisdom’, made by Hagin (Ḥayyim) le Juif and written down in Latin characters by the scribe Obert de Montdidier—both were working in Malines (Mechelen) in 1273 for the Flemish philosopher and astronomer Henry Bates (Levy & Cantera, 1939); and the recently discovered text of Jewish history and apologetics composed in 1244 by Moses ben Abraham and presented to the bishop of Paris William of Auvergne—among its sources, the Sefer Yosippon, a Hebrew medieval adaptation of Flavius Josephus’s works (Rachetta, 2020).

On the whole, the Judeo-French corpus is particularly rich in the area of glosses and glossaries, while there are not many texts, most of them very short. Although the practice of glossing “difficult” Hebrew words and sentences in French is first documented in the 11th century and persisted up to the early 14th century, the composition of glossaries, poems, and so on was carried out mainly in the 13th century. Some texts were written or copied even after the expulsion of the Jews from French soil, that took place in various steps—Jews were banned from the Duchy of Brittany in 1240, from the Duchy of Gascony in 1287, from the Counties of Anjou and Maine in 1289, from the Kingdom of France in 1306, 1322, and 1394, from the County Provence in 1484, when it was incorporated into the French royal domain. Also the expulsion of the Jews from England in 1290 has to be considered, since medieval English Jewry was largely French speaking.22 The last Judeo-French texts are dated to the late 15th century; afterward, the collective identity of the French Jews waned, and their linguistic tradition was definitively lost (Einbinder, 2009, pp. 156–161; Marcus, 2014).

The geographical origin of most Judeo-French records may be determined from direct evidences or indirect clues, but a few remain without a reliable ascription. The regions involved are Champagne, Lorraine, Alsace, Franche-Comté, Picardy, Normandy, Burgundy, and Flanders; some glosses suggest that in Norman England Jewish scholarship followed the continental tradition of vernacular explications (Bos & Zwink, 2010; Trotter, 2015). The prevalence of eastern regions is probably due to the contact with Ashkenazi cultural tradition, that blossomed in the medieval period in the Rhineland—the above mentioned Raši, for example, studied in Worms and Mainz, before founding his own yešivah (academy) in Troyes. The deep cultural affinity between West German and Northern French Jewish communities is proven by the frequent use of the name Aškenaz for both (Marcus, 2002, pp. 449–450); moreover, manuscripts produced in northern France and Germany, because of their common codicological and paleographical features, cluster together into the so called “Ashkenazi scribal entity” (Beit-Arié, 1992, p. 29). Connections with German scholarship and bookmaking were clearly closer in the East than anywhere else in France,23 but one has to acknowledge that this is not a completely satisfactory explanation for the scarcity of Judeo-French records from Jewish settlements elsewhere. However, our acquaintance with the written production of the French Jews is hindered by the loss of a large amount of texts, possibly the majority; others are in libraries and archives, still waiting to be edited and studied.

On the whole, Judeo-French texts reflect the dialect of the region where they have been written down—Champenois, Lorrain, Burgundian, Anglo-Norman, and so on. More precisely, one may refer to what philologists call a scripta, that is a regional written variety, a sort of go-between linking the local spoken dialect with the supra-regional written tradition (Glessgen, 2012). The process of homogenization of the written language according to the pattern of Central French (françois) began in the second half of the 13th century and caused the weakening and finally the disappearing of the various scriptae. Most Judeo-French documents, however, were written before the spread of the Central French norm, and their main regional features are still detectable. Glosses and glossaries raise special problems, as vernacular counterparts of Hebrew words and sentences often passed from one manuscript to another under the forces of inertia—both form and content usually remained unaltered, the outcome being a text including different diachronic and diatopic layers.

The linguistic divergence between Judeo-French texts and French texts written in the same area and period is minimal at the phonetic or phonological level, as reflected in the orthography. A noticeable feature is the deletion of nasal consonants in syllable coda, in forms such as alos for alons ‘go.prs.1pl’, amounteret for amonterent ‘go up.prf.3pl’, coduit for conduit ‘’, copli for compli ‘perform.imp.2sg’, cornet for cornent ‘play the horn.prs.3pl’, diet for dient ‘tell.sbjv.3pl’, efant for enfant ‘child’, firet per firent ‘do.prf.3pl’, furet for furent be.prf.3pl’, gigembre for gingembre ‘ginger’, loages for loanges ‘praises’, meitenir for meintenir ‘maintain.inf’, mezos for maisons ‘houses’, mo cors for mon cors ‘my body’, niet for nient ‘nothing’, oroizos for oraisons ‘prayers’, and so on (Bannitt, 1972, p. 42; 1993, p. 179; Blondheim, 1926, p. 30; Fudeman, 2008, pp. 197–201; 2010, pp. 95, 108–109, 117, 166, 173; Kiwitt & Dörr, 2015, p. 155; Loeb, 1884b, p. 194; Pflaum, 1933, p. 413; Vitale-Brovarone, 1984, pp. 32, 36). Nasal deletion is not general in Judeo-French texts, but it is very frequent since the 13th century. It points to the spread of nasality from the syllable-final consonant to the preceding vowel—a well-known assimilatory process in French that ended up in the phonologization of nasal vowels and the deletion of nasal consonants in coda position, supposedly completed in the early modern period (Buridant, 2019, p. 45; Posner, 1997, pp. 230–242). Judeo-French data might suggest that either the process was more advanced in the speech of Eastern-French Jews, or (more plausibly) Jewish sources were more liable to record colloquial or “sub-standard” speech features.

The latter interpretation is supported by the frequent occurrence, in Judeo-French texts, of /s/ deletion in pre-consonantal position, in forms such as acotumeie for acostumee ‘’, chatel for chastel ‘castel’, degate for degaste ‘ruin.prs.3sg’, detruira for destruira ‘destroy.fut.3sg’, ecriz for escriz ‘’, eprit for esprit ‘spirit’, eterlins for esterlins ‘sterlings’, Etienne for Estienne ‘Stephen’, futes for fustes ‘be.prf.2pl’, juque for jusque ‘until’, juté for justé ‘justice’, oté for osté ‘’, requete for requeste ‘request’, senetre for senestre ‘’, and so on (Bannitt, 1993, p. 180; Blondheim, 1926, pp. 27, 31; Fudeman, 2010, pp. 165, 166; Loeb, 1884a, p. 192; 1884b, pp. 23, 193; Pflaum, 1933, pp. 403, 407, 408; Vitale-Brovarone, 1984, p. 32; Zwink, 2017, pp. 396, 488). Deletion of pre-consonantal /s/ is well documented in non-Jewish sources in Latin script from the 13th century on; and the process started for word-internal codas before voiced consonants by the mid-11th century, affecting later on /s/ before voiceless consonants and in word-final position (Bourciez & Bourciez, 1967, pp. 162–165; Posner, 1997, p. 285).

Also worth noting is for Dieu ‘God’, a lexicalized form resulting from the palatalization /dj/ > /dʒ/ (Bannit, 1972, pp. 41–42; Blondheim, 1926, pp. 26, 33; Fudeman, 2008, pp. 198–201). Together with , the form is also found in Judeo-French texts in order to refer to God (Bannitt, 1993, pp. 179, 180; Fudeman, 2006, pp. 166, 169; Pflaum, 1933, pp. 402, 408, 409, etc.), but although is well documented in non-Jewish texts in Latin script (Gossen, 1970, p. 56; Short, 2013, pp. 98, 148), is not attested elsewhere. Palatalized forms such as djè, djeu, and (in curses) parjeu, padjê, odjé are documented in modern French dialects, mostly of the northern and eastern regions (FEW III, 57); possibly they were used also in the past, but they were not written down.

On the morpho-syntactic level, Judeo-French sources may be characterized according to their relation to Hebrew sources and to the influence exerted by the Hebrew model. Thus, in glosses verbal prefixation is often used in order to replicate the Hebrew verbal patterns: verbs preceded by de- and por- are considered the French counterparts of the Hebrew intensive pi’el and reflexive hitpa’el conjugations, so that, for example, derompre corresponds to Heb. pireq ‘to tear off’ (hif’il of paraq ‘to remove’), and porvanter corresponds to Heb. hithallel ‘to praise’ (hitpa’el of halal ‘to be boastful’) (Kiwitt, 2013, pp. 108–109, 341, 428).

Literal translations of Biblical excerpts and prayers replicate their sources, establishing a one-to-one correspondence with Hebrew words and phrases:24



Word order may include repetition of articles and use of prepositions according to the Hebrew grammar:



In some cases, the relationship between Judeo-French and Hebrew texts was weaker, and the morphology and syntax of Judeo-French texts do not notably vary from those of contemporary non-Jewish French texts belonging to same discursive tradition. Thus, for example, the medical treatise Fevres, although mainly translated from Hebrew, does not show any remarkable feature at the morphological and syntactic levels (Zwink, 2017, pp. 162–164).

The vocabulary is the most notable feature of Judeo-French texts, where the religious and cultural distinctiveness of the writer and his audience is more clearly perceivable. Most lexical items in Judeo-French texts and glosses are indeed part of the medieval French vocabulary shared by Jews and Christians alike; but a certain number of words are found exclusively or mainly in texts and glosses by Jewish authors, as a peculiar cultural legacy of the French speaking Jewry.

In the first place, Hebrew words are often scattered in Judeo-French texts: not only words referring to Jewish tradition, such as ’avot ‘ancestors’, galut ‘exile’, ḥatan ‘spouse (man)’, kallah ‘spouse (woman)’, kohen ‘priest (in reference to Aharonic priesthood)’, miškan ‘tabernacle’, Pesaḥ ‘Passover’, šofar ‘ram’s horn (used for religious purpose)’, sofer ‘scribe’, tosafot ‘medieval commentaries on the Talmud’, and so on, but also some common words devoid of religious meaning, such as ma‘arav ‘west’, mizraḥ ‘east’, peloni ‘someone’, raša‘ ‘wicked person’, ša‘ah ‘hour, time’, etc. (Bannitt, 1972, pp. 39, 41; 1993, p. 179; Blondheim, 1926, pp. 19, 22, 25, 28, 33; Fudeman, 2008, pp. 198–200; 2010, pp. 49, 165, 166; Pflaum, 1933, pp. 406, 413, 417, 418; Zwink, 2017, p. 557). Secondly, one finds a group of words of Latin origin, whose use is apparently restricted to the Jewish milieu, such as acomençal ‘beginning’, aïgier ‘to build’, avigier ‘to give life, reinvigorate’, charigle ‘chariot’, jubler ‘to play a trumpet’, lede ‘pot’, me(l)der ‘to study (the Law)’, plenure ‘plain, lowland’, poestant ‘dominant’, senbletune ‘similarity, appearance’, and serpillie ‘reptiles’ (Aslanov, 2000, pp. 427, 442; Bannitt, 1993, pp. 179, 180; Blondheim, 1926, pp. 26; Fudeman, 2008, pp. 198, 204; Kiwitt, 2013, pp. 306–307, 313–314, 338; Levy & Cantera, 1939, pp. 50, 60, 78; Pflaum, 1933, p. 417; Zwink, 2017, p. 487).25 These lexical items are often paralleled by cognate forms in other Judeo-Romance languages, pointing to a common translating tradition of the Holy Text. Finally, a few words of various origin may be mentioned—Arabic loanwords such as haldrube ‘hump’ or hadie ‘sacrifice’, onomatopoeic words such as herope ‘hoopoe’, and so on (Bos et al., 2009, pp. 83, 89–90; Fudeman, 2006, pp. 169–170; Kiwitt, 2014, pp. 47–48).

3.2 Judeo-Occitan Texts in the Middle Ages

The Jews’ written use of Occitan dialects is documented since the 11th century in different kinds of sources (see Baricci, 2013, pp. 73–75; Mensching, 2015, pp. 244–251; Strich & Jochnowitz, 2015, pp. 518–522, for a survey of medieval Judeo-Occitan sources). The inventory of the Occitan records in Hebrew script comprises:

Vernacular words scattered in Hebrew texts, such as the scientific translations from Arabic by Mošeh ben Šemu’el ibn Tibbon (13th century) or the parodic works for the Purim holiday by Levi ben Geršon (Gersonides, 14th century)

Glosses included in Hebrew texts, such as the exegetical works of Raši (cf. § 2.1.) and Yosef ben Abba Mari (14th century) or the lexicographical works of David Qimḥi (13th century) and Yosef Caspi (14th century)26

Medico-botanical glossaries and word lists (13th–15th centuries), such as those by Šem Tov ben Yiṣḥaq of Tortosa (13th century)

Two fragmentary poems on the biblical story of Esther (14th century)—the longest one (448 verses) written by the physician Crescas Caslari (or de Caylar), the shortest (193 verses) of unknown authorship27

A prayer book for the daily prayers (siddur) (15th century)

A Hebrew-Occitan account book from Marseilles (1374)

Five bilingual Hebrew-Romance wedding songs, written in the 14th century but copied in two 15th-century manuscripts, show both Catalan and Occitan linguistic features: they may be conceivably ascribed to a Catalan author, with a later intervention of Occitan-speaking scribes (Baum, 2016).

On the whole, the Judeo-Occitan corpus is relatively small but particularly rich in the area of medico-botanical glossaries; this is due to the importance of Southern France in the domain of medicine and to the presence of a prominent Jewish scholarship, bolstered by migrations from the Iberian Peninsula.28 These glossaries may be considered a faraway offspring of the Hispano-Arabic textual tradition, that Jewish authors adapted to their new linguistic contexts, explaining the Arabic vocabulary by means of Hebrew and Romance equivalents. Although research in this field has greatly advanced in the last decades, most manuscripts are still unedited and have not been studied yet (Bos & Mensching, 2015). It is also worth noticing the relevance of the story Esther and generally speaking of Purimic para-liturgical texts in the Hebrew and vernacular literature of the Occitan Jews—a real hallmark of their cultural tradition up to the modern times (cf. 3.3. Judeo-Occitan Dialects in the Modern and Contemporary Ages).

Judeo-Occitan records are not linguistically uniform, as is expected given the dialectal diversity of the medieval Occitan domain—the so called “troubadour koinè,” insofar as it existed and is not a modern myth (Chambon, 2012; Perugi, 2003), did not affect the Jewish literary production. However, most linguistic features point to the southern Occitan dialects, namely Lengadocian and Provençal; this can easily be explained considering the importance of the Jewish settlements in Marseilles, Narbonne, Avignon, Arles, Aix, Montpellier, Carpentras, Béziers, Lunel, and so on. The Jews gathered in Provence after their expulsion from the kingdom of France (1306), which in 1271 had got hold of the County of Toulouse, that is, of the Languedoc region (Iancu-Agou, 2004, pp. 182–186). Since most Judeo-Occitan sources are dated to the 14th and 15th centuries, the Provençal imprint is not surprisingly strong.

The degree of distinctiveness from the general Occitan dialects documented in the same regions and periods is extremely low and concerns mainly the graphic (and maybe phonetic) level and the lexicon, involving grammar only in the case of the calque translations found in the siddur. In the first place, one can observe some interesting features of the Judeo-Occitan writing system: in both glosses and texts, epenthetic vowels are sometimes inserted in consonantal clusters in forms such as autere for autre ‘other’, burun for brun ‘brown’, desobere for desobre ‘above’, folor for flor ‘flower’, peren for ‘take.prs.3sg’, purunas for prunas ‘plums’, toroberon for troberon ‘find.pret.3pl’, etc. (Baricci, 2013, pp. 266, 369; Bos et al., 2011, p. 52; Silberstein, 1973, pp. 102–103).29 These epenthetic vowels were probably only a graphic device used by scribes accustomed to writing Hebrew, where such consonantal clusters were not allowed;30 moreover, in both Esther poems the pronunciation of the epenthetic vowels would always add an additional syllable to the verses, making them hypermeter. The same graphic feature is found in Judeo-Romance texts from Italy and Spain (Minervini, 1992, I, p. 47; 2014, p. 1148) and, although passe-partout explanations are usually regarded with suspicion, it could actually be the case that scribes facing similar problems were finding similar answers.

An extremely archaizing feature is the general use of the dalet letter—that is d—for /z/ < Lat.<br/>-D- in forms such as auzi ‘hear. prf.3sg’, benezet ‘bless.’, crezes ‘believe.sbjv.prs.3sg’, juzieus ‘Jews’, lauzada ‘’, moltuduze ‘plenty’, obezir ‘obey.inf’, resclauza ‘dam’, sezer ‘sit.inf ‘, vezer ‘see. inf’, etc. (Aslanov, 2001, p. 42; Baricci, 2013, pp. 207, 274, 278, 368, 370; Silberstein, 1973, pp. 152, 153, 165). The weakening of the dental plosive (/d/ > /z/) in Occitan dialects is dated to the 12th century, arriving to the loss in some areas (Glessgen, 1995, p. 429; Pfister, 1958, pp. 331–334; Wüest, 1995, pp. 444–445). That the pronunciation of dalet was actually [z] and not [d] or [δ‎] is confirmed by the use of the same letter in forms such as cauza ‘thing’, cozent ‘’, (e)spoza ‘bride’, feizans ‘pheasants’, mezel ‘leprous’, pauzadas ‘’, razin ‘grape’, razon ‘reason’, salvizenas ‘venisons’, sazon ‘season, time’, etc., where /z/ < Lat. Ce,i, Ge,i, TJ, -S- (Aslanov, 2001, p. 41; Baricci, 2013, pp. 272, 275, 368; Bos et al., 2011, pp. 132, 158; Silberstein, 1973, pp. 152, 156, 154, 163).

Another archaizing feature is the use of the ṭeṭ letter—commonly used in Judeo-Roman writings for t—in word-final position in forms such as ardiment/ardaiment ‘boldment’, avinent ‘charming.m’, blastemament ‘blasphemy’, comandament ‘order’, cozent ‘’, denant ‘in front of’, forment ‘wheat’, mantenent ‘now’, medecinant ‘’, parlament ‘speech’, respont ‘answer.prs.3sg’, and so on (Aslanov, 2001, pp. 17–19, 42, 63–64; Baricci, 2013, pp. 278, 370; Bos et al., 2011, p. 132; Lazar, 1970, pp. 581, 582, 583, 585; Silberstein, 1973, pp. 152, 153, 158). The loss of /t/ in word-final position after nasal consonant is first documented in Occitan in the 12th century and the process is generally completed in the 14th century (Glessgen, 1995, p. 430; Pfister, 1958, p. 352). Thus the graphic notation of -t in 14th and 15th centuries Judeo-Occitan texts seems the legacy of an ancient writing system, established in the 12th century or even earlier.

As for the grammar, the only notable features are found in the siddur, unfortunately only partially edited. The translation is very faithful to the Hebrew text, the result being an extremely marked Occitan syntax. Thus, for example, the present participle is used as a finite verbal form:31


Noun-clauses with absence of copula are frequently found:


The article may be repeated before both the noun and the adjective it qualifies:


The demonstrative follows rather than precedes the noun:


The siddur is also a rich source for the special lexicon of the Occitan Jews: together with Hebrew loanwords, such as ḥassid ‘pious’, mizraḥ ‘east’, šabbat ‘saturday’, ṣiṣit ‘knotted ritual fringes’, tefillin ‘phylacteries’, yom ṭov ‘holyday’, etc., sometimes morphologically integrated, as daršar ‘to interpret’ (Heb. daraš), it presents a few typical Judeo-Romance words, such as maudar ‘to teach’, moltuduze ‘plenty’, plasteraia ‘doorpost’, podestar ‘to dominate’, and preonzinas ‘deepness’ (Baricci, 2013, p. 138; Lazar, 1970, pp. 579, 581–585).32 The verb podestar is found, in the participial form podestant (pozestant in Silberstein, 1973, p. 153, transcription) in the longest Esther poem, showing that some lexical items were actually used, at least in writing, out of the traditional biblical translations they were created for.

3.3 Judeo-Occitan Dialects in the Modern and Contemporary Ages

No Judeo-Occitan texts are found in the 16th and 17th centuries; the documentation resumes in the 18th century, in Hebrew and (mainly) in Latin script, and bears only a weak resemblance to earlier records. In the meantime, the Jews experienced new exiles and resettlements: most refugees from the County of Provence, annexed to the kingdom of France in 1481, were received in the small papal enclave comprising Avignon and the Comtat Venaissin, and since 1624 restricted to a single quarter (carrière) in the cities of Avignon, Perpignan, Isle-sur-Sorgue, and Cavaillon.33

In this new stifling social reality a Judeo-Occitan (or more precisely Judeo-Comtadin) dialect took shape, known among scholars of Jewish languages as chuadi(t) (possibly an adaptation of Heb. yehudit ‘Jewish.f’)—but this glottonym was never used by its speakers.34 The documentation is meager and often unreliable: it consists of an Esther tragedy, composed in the late 17th century by the rabbi Mardochée Astruc but first published in 1774 by the rabbi Jacob de Lunel, and of a comedy in Alexandrine verses, Harcanot et Barcanot, written (ca. 1825) by the lawyer Israël Bédarrides, who was not a native speaker. Some satirical texts of Christian authorship, mostly dated to the 19th century, make fun of the Jews, using their presumed Judeo-Occitan speech: Christmas carols, mock sermons, parodic plays, and so on. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, both amateurs and scholars working on the Occitan linguistic and cultural traditions noticed some peculiarities of the vanishing Jewish speech and assembled lists of “typical” words.

To this relatively consistent group of sources 10 bilingual Hebrew-Occitan liturgical poems in Hebrew script might be added: written in the second half of the 17th century, most of them by the above-mentioned Mardochée Astruc, they are preserved by six 18th-century manuscripts and two printed books (1765, 1767) (a survey of modern Judeo-Occitan sources is provided by Jochnowitz, 2018, pp. 132–139; Nahon, 2020; Strich & Jochnowitz, 2015, pp. 522–530; Szajkowski, 2010, pp. 61–98; Viguier, 1989, pp. 238–239).

There is a clear linguistic divide between Astruc’s Esther tragedy and liturgical poems on the one hand, and all later sources on the other. This divide could suggest that the emergence of the Comtadin Jewish dialect only took place in the 18th century, but one cannot rule out the possibility that our 17th-century literary sources belong to a different discursive tradition that did not aim at mirroring the local daily speech, but at preserving a dignified Judeo-Occitan cultural tradition.

Be that as it may, the linguistic distinctiveness of Comtadin Jewries is often noticed and described by both in-group and out-group observers in the 19th century. As is often the case with stereotyped representations of a group’s parlance, the lexicon has the greatest share, but a few significant phonetic features are also present: thus, for example, /tʃ/ < /dʒ/ in forms such as chaune for jaune ‘yellow’, chamai for jamai ‘never’, chen for gent ‘people’, chour for jour ‘day’, courache for courage ‘bravery’, and gorche for gorge ‘throat’; or stressed /e/ < /a/ in word-final position, in infinitive verbal forms such as arresté for arresta ‘to arrest’, levé for leva ‘to raise’, parlé for parla ‘to speak’, passé for passa ‘to pass’, and prouteché for proteja ‘to protect’ (Nahon, 2020; Viguier, 1989, pp. 244–246, 251–254).35 The latter is probably due to interference with French, showing that the process of francisation, which involved, in the 19th century, most Occitan speakers, was faster among the Comtadin Jews, or at least it was perceived to be so (Szajkowski, 2010, pp. 54–55). The former—that is, devoicing of /dʒ/—is not a common feature in the Occitan domain, although documented in some Lengadocian dialects, such as that of Montpellier and Béziers (Oliviéri & Sauzet, 2016, p. 326; Sumien, 2009, p. 17). Another interesting (though not general) feature is the simplification of the /str/ consonantal cluster in the possessive adjectives noste ‘our’ and voste ‘your’ that is found also in 17th-century texts (Lazar, 1963, pp. 310, 320; Nahon, 2020; Sabatier, 1877, pp. 5, 49; Viguier, 1989, p. 251). This development is widely attested in Gascon dialects that tend to avoid post-consonantal /r/ (Allières, 1995, pp. 451–452; Sumien, 2009, p. 18).

As for the lexicon, Hebrew loanwords are plentiful in 18th- and 19th-century texts, whereas they are almost lacking in earlier records—besides place names and personal names, Torah is the only Hebrew word found in the Occitan part of the bilingual liturgical poems (Lazar, 1963, p. 332), and no Hebraisms are found in Astruc’s Esther tragedy. The peculiar pronunciation of Hebrew by Occitan-speaking Jews is reflected in most borrowings, where the Hebrew letters samekh, śin, and tav in word-final position, are transcribed with f, šin with s, zayin with v, ḥet and kaf between vowels with r: afurim ‘prisoners’ (Heb. ’asurim), arvif ‘evening prayer’ (Heb. ‘arvit), bef ‘house’ (Heb. bet), berif ‘covenant’ (Heb. berit), hafur ‘the Rock’ (Heb. ha-ṣur), Ifrael ‘Israel’ (Heb. Yiśra’el), melarin ‘kings’ (Heb. melakhim), mevuvof ‘doorposts’ (Heb. mezuzot), radas ‘new’ (Heb. ḥadaš), salon allaren ‘the peace be with you’ (Heb. šalom ‘alekhem), and so on. (Nahon, 2020; Szajkowski, 2010, p. 116; Viguier, 1989, pp. 251, 254). New forms were also created using Hebrew consonantal roots with Occitan morphology, for example, acalé/arralé ‘to eat’ (Heb. ’akhal), darssa ‘to preach’ (Heb. daraš), deberé ‘to speak, to say’ (Heb. dabber), and ganaouta ‘to steal’ (Heb. ganav ‘to steal’ or gannav ‘thief’) (Nahon, 2020; Viguier, 1989, pp. 251–252, 254).

Finally, mention has to be made of another group of Occitan-speaking Jews with their peculiar dialect: the Jews of Portuguese and Spanish origin dwelling in Bordeaux, Bayonne, and other towns and villages of the Aquitaine region. They arrived as New Christians in the south-western corner of the kingdom of France during the 16th and early 17th centuries, escaping from the Iberian Peninsula, where the Inquisition was relentlessly hounding them. Their settlement was authorized in 1550 by the lettres patentes of King Henry II, renewed by his successors up to 1776: the presence of these experienced merchants was considered profitable for the local economy, whereas their loyalty to the ancestral religion was felt as irrelevant, as far as it was not overtly exhibited. Only in the 18th century was it possible for the Portuguese Nation (i.e., the community of Western Sephardic Jews) to be officially recognized as Jewish, although synagogues, schools, baths, cemeteries, and community institutions existed beforehand (Nahon, 1994).

The linguistic repertoire of this group was particularly rich and complex: originally native speakers of Portuguese and/or Spanish, in the course of time these Jews were linguistically assimilated to the Gascon linguistic environment while maintaining a strong attachment to their Iberian legacy. Spanish was used, together with Hebrew, as a written language for administrative, liturgical, and literary purposes, and was accordingly regarded as highly prestigious. In the meantime, relationships with communities of the Western Sephardic diaspora—primarily Amsterdam and Livorno—and of Comtat Venaissin further enhanced the heterogeneous character of the lexicon. In the 19th century, the general process of francisation weakened the use of all Occitan dialects but was apparently delayed among the Gasconian Jews—this is probably due to the role played by Spanish as a High Language, thus inhibiting the expansion of French in some key linguistic domains. However, in the 20th century Gascon was definitively superseded by French also in the Jewish milieu, leaving a strong imprint at the lexical level (Nahon, 2018).

The sources for the study of Judeo-Gascon are particularly scanty: they are all dated to the 19th and early 20th centuries and consist of a few satirical works in verse and prose—among them a poem written in 1837 for the opening of a new monumental synagogue in Saint-Esprit, a suburb of Bayonne36—three short religious songs, and a calendar (Calende yudiu) with the names of the Jewish holidays and their dates for the year 1928. All texts are printed in Latin characters, and their authors are Jews as well as non-Jews. The widespread notation é for e could point to a phonetic peculiarity of Bayonne’s Judeo-Gascon, that is the realization as [e] of stressed and unstressed /e/, commonly pronounced [œ] in Western Gascon (so called gascon negre) (Oliviéri & Sauzet, 2016, p. 322; Sumien, 2009, pp. 18–19): apréss ‘after’, aquét ‘this’, asséduts ‘sit.’, aoutémént ‘otherwise’, déts ‘ten’, héyt ‘do.’, réligioun ‘religion’, yambié ‘January’, and so on (Nahon, 2018, pp. 46, 47, 50–51, 58, 60, 66, 78).

It is the lexicon, however, that more clearly characterizes Judeo-Gasconian texts, with a limited contribution of Hebrew loanwords, adapted to the local pronunciation, such as haroche/harocho ‘unpleasant’ (Heb. ḥaroset ‘a sweet paste eaten at the Passover dinner’), sabbat ‘Saturday’ (Heb. šabbat), vécimento ‘blessed!’ (Heb. be-siman ṭov lit. ‘under a good sign’, that is ‘good omen’), etc.; and significant amount of Ibero-Romance loanwords, such as bobo/bobou ‘stupid’, bueno ‘good’, casamiento ‘wedding’, enridou ‘tangle’ (Sp./Pt. enredo), fastidioso ‘annoying’, nada ‘nothing’, and roñoso ‘stingy’, including short phrases, such as calla-tè ‘shut up!’, loco dé contento ‘crazy of joy’, por Dios ‘my God!’, and por supuesto ‘of course’ (Nahon, 2018, pp. 46, 58, 60, 62, 73, 75). Some of these words are preserved today in the French speech of a few Jews of Gasconian origin in the forms besimantob, bobe, casamiente, enrède, nade, rharoche (Nahon, 2018, pp. 137, 141, 153–154, 176–177, 229, 263–266).


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  • 1. From the biblical hapax me-‘am lo‘ez (Psalms 114:1), meaning ‘from the people speaking a foreign language (that is, other than Hebrew)’. Medieval exegetes used the word la‘az, derived from the present participle lo‘ez, referring to Latin and to Romance vernaculars (Aslanov, 2001, pp. 108–114).

  • 2. See the discussion in Aslanov (2014), Baumgarten (2003), Benor Bunin (2008, 2009, 2016), Fishman (1985), where reference may be found to previous phases of the debate; the basic criteria for defining “new languages” are provided by Weinreich (1968, pp. 69–70).

  • 3. PaceHary and Wein (2013), who consider the use of Hebrew characters the first and most apparent feature of Jewish varieties—so-called “religiolects”.

  • 4. The author of this article assumes the broader interpretation of the notion of diglossia, originally introduced by Ferguson (1959) in a narrower sense; see Hudson (2002).

  • 5. This translation is still in manuscript (Guetta, 2012a); on the extraordinary personality of Leone Sommo (1527–1592) within the Italian Jewish context see Bonfil (1996, pp. 457–472).

  • 6. Gemination in these forms is reconstructed, but never graphically expressed.

  • 7. Written notation of /j/ is not always distinguishable from that of /dʒ/, as in Hebrew script yod yod is used for both, but for /dʒ/ a diacritic is added; scribes, however, often dropped diacritics, so the written notation of this feature is always uncertain.

  • 8. Only Hebrew texts with vocalization may be taken into account, as the letter yod is used for both /i/ and /e/.

  • 9. As before, only vocalized Hebrew texts may be taken into account.

  • 10. Citing transliterated Hebrew materials and glossing it, the author of this article sticks by the common practice in Jewish studies of hyphenating definite articles, prepositions, and conjunction, without this implying any claims as to their categorization as affixes vs clitics. As for n. 1, note that in the Judeo-Italian tradition, the Tetragrammaton is always translated with domedeth/domeded/dumedet < lat. DOMINUS DEUS (Cassuto, 1930, p. 266). As for n. 2, the Judeo-Italian sperando ho sperato (gerund + present perfect of the verb sperare ‘to hope’) translates the Hebrew infinitive absolute used before the finite verb in order to strengthen the verbal idea. As for n. 3, the form va-yehi (consecutive vav + imperfect of the verb haya ‘to be’) is used in biblical narrative to introduce a new section (‘and it came to pass’), an instance of the rule that the narrative is introduced by a perfect and continued by means of imperfect with consecutive vav; be-yad, lit. ‘into the hand of’, means ‘into the power of, into the possession of’; le’mor is an infinitive construct (preposition le + infinitive verbal form amor), completing the sentence introduced by va-yehi. As for n. 5, Heb. mayim ‘water’ has a plural form.

  • 11. The Hebrew verbal forms quoted are past tense 3sg. According to Aprile (2012, p. 38), one has to conceive a noun as a go-between from Hebrew to Italian verbal forms, thus Heb. daraš ‘preach.INF’ > J.It. daraš ‘sermon’ > J.It. darsciare ‘preach.inf’.

  • 12. Lat. MELETARE (> meldare, meltare) is a loanword from Greek μελεταν‎.

  • 13. The pioneering work of Blondheim (1925) is still a necessary reference when working with common Judeo-Romance lexicon, but a new examination of the problem would be very welcome. For critical remarks to Blondheim proposal, see, for example, Bannitt (1963) and Cassuto (2017).

  • 14. The author of the Betulia was probably Luigi Duclou, professor of French and geography in Livorno (Franceschini, 2011, p. 107); for Belli’s use of giudeo-romanesco, see Mancini (1987, pp. 87–90, 96). Stereotypes of the Jewish speech are also found in Roman clerical newspapers, see Lorenzetti (2017, pp. 50–57).

  • 15. Cifolli is a Judeo-Livornese form for It. cipolle (/p/ > /f/ is a typical feature of this dialect); I ciaf, i manghi, i spili are Judeo-Mantuan forms for It. le chiavi, le maniche, le spille; tropi peni, and sui spali are Judeo-Piedmontese forms for It. troppe pene and sulle spalle. However, -i is the common plural feminine marker in South-Eastern Piedmontese dialects, so in the case of Judeo-Piedmontese the existence of the traditional Judeo-Italian grammatical morpheme helped to preserve a feature of the local dialects, or vice versa (Duberti et al., 2015, pp. 14–15, 17).

  • 16. The medieval dialect of Rome was itself a Southern Italian dialect, whose Tuscanization took place in the 15th and 16th centuries.

  • 17. The process of assimilation and adaptation of Hebrew loanwords into Judeo-Italian dialects has been carefully examined by Aprile (2012, pp. 70–83).

  • 18. Hebrew dabber is a 2sg imperative or infinitive form.

  • 19. For the polysemic adjective negro and its rich phraseology see Aprile (2010, pp. 28–34; 2012, pp. 193–194, 196).

  • 20. The word is a biblical hapax (Obadia 1:20) and may be also transcribed as Tsarefat, Tsarǝfat, Zarfat, Ṣarfat, and so on.

  • 21. An inspiring appraisal of the cultural relationships between Jewish and Christian intellectual élites is offered by Liss (2011).

  • 22. On the expulsions of the Jews from England and France, their motivations and implementation see Jordan (1998, 2008). Brown (1991) casts doubt on the expulsion of 1322, whose evidence is fragmentary and contradictory.

  • 23. From the political point of view, the Duchy of Lorraine was part of the Holy Roman Empire up to 1766.

  • 24. Note that, in n. 7, Heb. va-yedabber […] le-’mor is pleonastic construction with an infinitive construct (le + ’amor) used as an adverb to introduce direct speech; as for n. 8, neither transcription in Hebrew characters nor photographs are provided by the editor; Areset sefatenu is a Hebrew prayer in the Roš ha-Šanah service (Aškenazi rite).

  • 25. Blondheim (1925) discusses all the above-quoted forms, with the exception lede; the verb jub(i)ler is used in Old French with the meaning ‘to exult’.

  • 26. The difference between vernacular glosses and vernacular words inserted in Hebrew texts is stressed by Mensching (2015, pp. 246, 248).

  • 27. But it is tentatively attributed to the Provençal philosopher Qalonimos ben Qalonimos (1286–post-1328) by Baricci (2014, pp. 29–31).

  • 28. For the cultural identity of the Occitan Jews and the role played by the Andalusian lore, see Ben-Shalom (2017); in medieval Hebrew sources, Provinṣah refers to a wide area from the Alps to the Pyrenees (cf. Ben-Shalom, 2017, p. 276).

  • 29. In all the above quoted forms, a mater lectionis—that is a full vowel yod or vav—is inserted in unvocalized texts; the case of a schwa punctuation in vocalized texts is much more frequent, indicating either the absence of vowel or a mid-central vowel /ə/.

  • 30. The reference here is to pre-modern Hebrew, whereas in the modern language the situation is different.

  • 31. In n. 12, sant e benezet ‘the Holy One, blessed be He’ (Heb. ha-qadoš barukh hu’) is found, which in the Judeo-Occitan tradition is used to translate the Tetragrammaton.

  • 32. The lexical basis of maudar, podestar, and preonzinas is analyzed by Blondheim (1925) in his comparative study of Judeo-Romance biblical translations; for plasteraia, see Ryzhik (2013, pp. 238–239).

  • 33. The Comtat Venaissin was a papal territory from 1274 to 1791, whereas the city of Avignon was the seat of the papacy (1309–1377) and afterward administrated by a pontifical legate until the French Revolution.

  • 34. The term chuadi(t) appears in an 1803 manuscript of the satiric work Lou pès enleva and was first used by Szaikowski (2010, p. 55), although very cautiously (“une nouvelle langue que [. . .] les Juifs comtadins appelaient peut-être chuadit, chuadi”); excerpts of the text are found in Szaikowski (2010, p. 121). Skepticism toward the effective use of the word and its proposed etymology is expressed, among others, by Strich and Jochnowitz (2015, p. 532) and Nahon (2020).

  • 35. Latin script writing for /tʃ/ may be ch or tch. In Harcanot et Barcanot, Occitan infinitival verbal forms with -a are always found, for example, mounta, troubla, and so on (Nahon, 2020).

  • 36. For his bitter recriminations about the liberal attitude of King Louis Philip I, its author, the Christian baker André de Fatou, was prosecuted and sentenced to prison (Nahon, 2018, pp. 43–52).