Jewish Language Research Website

Judeo-Provençal

Researchers

Description by George Jochnowitz

Judeo-Provençal is also known as Judéo-Comtadin, Hébraïco-Comtadin, Shuadit, Chouadit, Chouadite, Chuadit, and Chuadite. The age of the language is a matter of dispute, as is the case with other Judeo-Romance languages. Blondheim maintained that the Judeo-Romance languages go back to a common Judeo-Latin. Banitt has argued that in the 11th and 12th centuries, the Jewish communities of Western Europe were influenced by the Languedoc school of exegesis with Narbonne at its center and that the similarities among West European Jewish languages date from that period.

Judeo-Provençal documents fall into two categories: religious texts, written in Hebrew characters but quite similar to Provençal, and popular writings that reflect the spoken language. The relationship of these two categories to each other is also a matter of dispute, once again reflecting similar disputes among scholars of other Jewish languages.

Religious texts include a fragment of a 14th-century poem about Queen Esther and a woman's prayer book, perhaps about the same age. The prayerbook includes a unique blessing: "Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who made me a woman."

In words of Hebrew-Aramaic origin, the letters שׂין, סמך and תו are all pronounced [f]. Presumably, there was an earlier stage when תו was a voiceless interdental fricative. Later סמך and שׂין merged with this sound, which then became the acoustically similar [f].

In words of Romance origin, we find the spellings pius instead of plus ('more'), feyo instead of filho ('son'), and chuche instead of juge ('judge'). An important source of information about the spoken language is the comedy Harcanot et Barcanot, edited by Pansier. The first reflection of the spoken language may be a comic poem by a non-Jew. It is entitled Lou Sermoun di Jusiou ('the sermon of the Jew') and was probably composed in the 16th century. There were also parodies of Jewish speech in Christmas carols (Noué jusioou). There is an edition of bilingual Hebrew-Shuadit religious poems by the Emperor Dom Pedro II of Brazil.

Jews were expelled from southern France in 1498, although they didn't have to leave until 1501. The area of the Comtat-Venaissin, however, belonged to the Pope, and Jews could live there in relative isolation. After the French Revolution, it was legal for Jews to live anywhere in France, and the language began to disappear. The last known speaker was Armand Lunel, who died in 1977.

Selected Bibliography (* = Basic References)