In 2,000 years, there have been at least thirty Jewish languages, each reflecting unique histories of migration and resilience. However, Jewish linguistic diversity was nearly destroyed by violence in the 20th century, as ancient communities across Europe, Africa, and Asia were displaced. Today, with the exception of Hebrew and certain varieties of Yiddish, Jewish languages are spoken by aging populations, with few public resources to keep them alive. In other words, Jewish linguistic diversity—and all the history it represents—is critically endangered, with little time to safeguard it for the next generation. If not now, when?
We've teamed up with the Jewish Languages Project at Hebrew Union College and the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages to produce freely-available materials in the endangered languages of the Jewish diaspora, from video oral histories to online dictionaries. As the 19th-century revival of Hebrew teaches us, at-risk and even dormant languages can be saved by focused, community-led efforts. If you or your relatives speak a Jewish language, or you have materials that need archiving, we would love to help.VolunteerDonateOr keep reading
2,000 years ago, Hebrew went extinct as a spoken language, but Jewish communities kept it alive by folding it into the languages they adopted, creating new mother tongues in the diaspora. Yiddish, for example, emerged from the integration of Hebrew with Germanic and Slavic languages. Ladino grew from Hebrew and Spanish. So are the origins of Judeo-Arabic, Judeo-Malayalam, and many others. In the 1800s, Hebrew was revitalized as a spoken language and is the mother tongue of nearly half the world's Jewish population today. In addition, nearly two dozen languages are still natively spoken. Most are at risk or critically endangered.
The following list is not comprehensive.
The ancestral language of Jewish life, Hebrew is the mother tongue of five million people today.
Jewish Neo-Aramaic aka Judeo-Aramaic
For 2,000 years, Jewish Aramaic varieties were spoken in Mesopotamia. They are now critically endangered.
Judeo-Greek aka Yevanic, Romaniyot
Though Jewish varieties of Greek have been spoken for centuries, there are just a few dozen speakers today.
For centuries, from Yemen to Morocco, Jewish communities spoke unique varieties of Arabic, now endangered.
The endangered Jewish Iranian languages include Judeo-Persian, Judeo-Shirazi, Juhuri, Bukhari, and Lotera'i.
Judeo-Georgian is the endangered language of ancient Jewish communities from the Caucasus nation of Georgia.
Ghardaia Sign Language aka Jewish Algerian Sign Language
Once the mother tongue of deaf Jewish communities in Ghardaia, Algeria, only a handful of speakers remain.
Judeo-Qimant aka Qwara, Kayla
It is unclear how many still speak Qwara and Kayla, which grew from Hebrew and the Ethiopian language Qimant.
There are no more than 250 speakers of the Judeo-Italian languages, once widely spoken across Italy.
Judeo-Occitan aka Judeo-Provençal, Judeo-Gascon, Shaudit
Judeo-Provençal likely went extinct in 1977, but there may still be elders who speak the related Judeo-Gascon language.
Ladino aka Judezmo, Haketía, Judeo-Spanish
Ladino is the ancestral language of Sephardic Jewish communities in Southern Europe and North Africa.
The language of Central and Eastern Europe's historic Jewish communities, Yiddish is still widely learned and spoken.
There are just a few dozen speakers of Judeo-Malayalam, the traditional language of Jewish communities in Cochin, India.
There are no more than 80 speakers of Karaim, which grew from the convergence of Turkic languages and Hebrew.
Like Karaim, Krymchak emerged from the convergence of Turkic languages and Hebrew in Crimea.
Once used by Jewish communities and Amazigh peoples in North Africa, it is unclear how many speakers remain.
Israeli Sign Language
Having first emerged in the 19th century, Israeli SL is the primary mother tongue of Israelis who are deaf.
Emergent Jewish languages
In recent decades, unique varieties of English, Spanish, Amharic, and other languages have emerged.
These videos were recorded by volunteers from around the world. Right now, we're collaborating with speakers of Judeo-Malayalam, Juhuri, and Ladino, to record up to eight hours of video and audio dictionaries. As these materials are processed, we will make them available online.
CC BY-NC 4.0
CC BY-NC 4.0