Jewish Language Research Website

Judeo-Greek

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Description by Julia Krivoruchko

"Judeo-Greek" refers to both ancient and modern Greek as they were spoken and written by Jews. Other names are Yevanic and Romaniote.

Ancient Judeo-Greek

Like many other peoples of the Hellenistic world, the Jews were well acquainted with the Greek language and used it as a lingua franca, a language of culture and a means of everyday communication. Ancient Judeo-Greek may be studied from epigraphic sources and Bible translations, such as the Septuagint, Aquila, etc.

When circumstances were favorable – and in Greece they were – the Jews continued to use Greek throughout late antiquity and the Byzantine period. The language relics that have reached us from this historical stage are scarce, limited mainly to Cairo Genizah fragments and solitary glosses in Hebrew/Aramaic texts.

Modern Judeo-Greek

The arrival of Italian- and Spanish-speaking newcomers in Greece at the end of the 15th century changed the socio-linguistic portrait of Greek Jewry. Many communities adopted Judeo-Spanish language and customs, but some preserved the old, so-called "Romaniote" liturgical tradition and the Greek idiom. By the beginning of the 20th century, the Jews of such communities as Ioannina, Arta, Preveza, and Chalkida still spoke a form of Greek that was somewhat different from the Greek of their Christian neighbors. Linguistically, the differences seem to be limited to phonetic, intonational, and lexical phenomena. In contrast to some other Jewish languages, no awareness of language separateness seems to have existed.

The Holocaust decimated the Romaniote communities to such an extent, that practically no competent speakers of this language variety remained alive. The survivors were not numerous enough to maintain a linguistic milieu, and the younger generation moved to Standard Modern Greek in Greece, Hebrew in Israel, and English in the USA.

No systematic research was attempted while Judeo-Greek still flourished. The only texts published in Modern Judeo-Greek were folklore and para-liturgical poetry. An edition of a manuscript and a dictionary of Hebrew/Aramaic loanwords in Modern Judeo-Greek by J. Krivoruchko are now in preparation.

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Sociolinguistic History
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