Yevanic language

Romaniyot, Judæo-Greek, יעואני גלוסא
Native to Originally Greece, recently Israel, Turkey, United States
Native speakers
"A few semi-speakers left in 1987 [in Israel], and may be none now [as of 1996 or earlier]. There may be a handful of elderly speakers still in Turkey. There are less than 50 speakers (2011)."[1]
Hebrew alphabet
Language codes
ISO 639-3 yej
Glottolog yeva1238[2]
Linguasphere 56-AAA-am

Yevanic, also known as Judæo-Greek, Romaniyot,[3] Romaniote, and Yevanitika [4] is a Greek dialect formerly used by the Romaniotes and by the Constantinopolitan Karaites (In this case the language is called Karaitika or Karæo-Greek[5]).[6] The Romaniotes are a group of Greek Jews whose presence in the Levant is documented since the Byzantine period. Its linguistic lineage stems from the Jewish Koine spoken primarily by Hellenistic Jews throughout the region, and includes Hebrew and Aramaic elements. It was mutually intelligible with the Greek dialects of the Christian population. The Romaniotes used the Hebrew alphabet to write Greek and Yevanic texts. Judaeo-Greek has had in its history different spoken variants depending on different eras, geographical and sociocultural backgrounds.

Origin of name

The term Yevanic is an artificial creation from the Biblical word Yāwān referring to the Greeks and the lands that the Greeks inhabited. The term is an overextension of the Greek word Ἰωνία (Ionia in English) from the (then) easternmost Greeks to all Greeks. The word for Greece in modern Israeli Hebrew is Yavan; likewise, the word yevanit is used to refer to the modern Greek language in Hebrew.

Geographical distribution

A small number of Romaniote Jews in the United States, Israel, Greece and Turkey have small knowledge of the Judaeo-Greek language. The language is highly endangered and could completely die out. There are no preservation programs to promote or to revive the language.[7] There are about 35 speakers left in Israel, the majority are located in Jerusalem.[8]

Historical background

After the removal of the Spanish Jews in 1492, many Sephardic Jews sought protection and shelter in the Ottoman Empire. After that, major Sephardic communities were built, notable communities were located in Thessaloniki, known as the Jerusalem of the Balkans. Today, there is a monument in Thessaloniki in memory and in honor of the Greek Jews of that city who were killed in Nazi death camps.[9] The preexisting Romaniote populations mostly were assimilated into the larger population of wealthier Sephardic Ladino-speaking ones that soon was synonymous with Greek Jewry.[10]

The immigration of Italian and Spanish-speaking people into Greece in the late 15th century altered the culture and vernacular of the Greek Jews. A lot locales picked up on Judeo-Spanish language and customs, however others kept the old, so-called "Romaniote" speaking tradition and the Greek phraseology. By the early 20th century, the Jews living in places such as Ioannina, Arta, Preveza, and Chalkida still spoke a form of Greek that slightly differentiated the Greek of their Christian neighbors. These differences, semantically, do not go beyond phonetic, intonational, and lexical phenomena. It is different from other Jewish languages, in that there is no knowledge of any language fragmentation ever taking place.[11]

Current status

There are no longer any native speakers of Yevanic, or less than 50 speakers, for the following reasons:

  • The assimilation of the tiny Romaniote communities by the more numerous Ladino-speaking Sephardi Jews;
  • The emigration of many of the Romaniotes to the United States and Israel;
  • The murder of many of the Romaniotes during the Holocaust; The survivors were too scant to continue an environment in which this language was dominant. The more recent generations of the survivors have moved to new locations such as Greece, Israel, and The United States and now speak the respective languages of those countries; Standard Modern Greek, Hebrew, and English [12]
  • The adoption of the majority languages through assimilation.

The Jews have a place of note in the history of Modern Greek. They were unaffected by Atticism and employed the current colloquial vernacular which they then transcribed in Hebrew letters. The Romaniots were Jews settled in the Eastern Roman Empire long before its division from its Western counterpart, and they were linguistically assimilated long before leaving the Levant after Hadrian's decree against them and their religion. As a consequence, they spoke Greek, the language of the overwhelming majority of the populace in the beginning of the Byzantine era and that of the Greek élite thereafter, until the fall of the Ottoman Empire. There was no reason for Ladino assimilation, since the communities were either geographically apart or had different synagogues, and because their liturgies differed greatly. Rather, Ladino speakers were linguistically assimilated in Greek speaking areas and Ladino used dwindled to elderly jargon by the 50s. The term ‘Yavanitic Language’ is but a coined one.


There is a small amount of literature in Yevanic dating from the early part of the modern period, the most extensive document being a translation of the Pentateuch. A polyglot edition of the Bible published in Constantinople in 1547 has the Hebrew text in the middle of the page, with a Ladino (Judaeo-Spanish) translation on one side and a Yevanic translation on the other.[13] In its context, this exceptional cultivation of the vernacular has its analogue in the choice of Hellenistic Greek by the translators of the Septuagint and in the New Testament.[14]

See also


  1. Yevanic at Ethnologue (13th ed., 1996).
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Yevanic". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. Spolsky, B., S. B. Benor. 2006. "Jewish Languages." In Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics, 120-124.
  4. "¿Sabías que el Yevanic es una lengua clasificada como". Idiomas en peligro de extinción. Retrieved 3 April 2018.
  5. Wexler, P. Jewish and Non-Jewish Creators of "Jewish" Languages, p. 17. 2006
  6. Dalven, R. Judeo-Greek. In: Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971:426
  7. Vlachou, Evangelia, Papadopoulou, Chrysoula, Kotzoglou, Georgios. Before the flame goes out: documentation of the Yevanic dialect. 2014. Sponsored by the Latsis Foundation.
  8. "Yevanic". Retrieved 3 April 2018.
  10. "Greece's Romaniote Jews remember a catastrophe and grapple with disappearing - Jewish Telegraphic Agency". Retrieved 3 April 2018.
  12. "Holocaust - Jewish languages". Retrieved 3 April 2018.
  13. Natalio Fernandez Marcos, The Septuagint in Context: Introduction to the Greek Versions of the Bible (2000) p 180. The Greek text is published in D. C. Hesseling, Les cinq livres de la Loi (1897).
  14. Lockwood, W. B. 1972. "A Panorama of Indo-European Languages." Hutchinson. London.

Further reading

  • Balodimas-Bartolomei, Angelyn, Nicholas Alexiou. 2010. "The Inclusion of Invisible Minorities in the EU Member States: The Case of Greek Jews in Greece." In Changing Educational Landscapes, 155-182.
  • BimBaum, Soloman A. 1951. "The Jewries of Eastern Europe." In The Slavonic and East European Review, 29(73), 420-443.
  • Connerty, Mary C. Judeo-Greek: The Language, The Culture. Jay Street Publishing, 2003. ISBN 1-889534-88-9
  • Dalven, R. Judeo-Greek. In: Encyclopaedia Judaica, vol. 10, pp. 425–227, Jerusalem: Keter. 1971
  • Davis, Barry. 1987. "Yiddish and the Jewish Identity." In History Workshop, 23, 159-164.
  • Gkoumas, P. Bibliography on the Romaniote Jewry, 2016. ISBN 9783741273360
  • Gold, David L. 1989. "A sketch of the linguistic situation in Israel today." In Language in Society, 13(3), 361-388.
  • Krivoruchko, Julia G. 2011. "Judeo-Greek in the era of globalization." In Language & Communication, 31(2), 119-129.
  • Naveh, Joseph, Soloman Asher Bimbaum, David Diringer, Zvi Hermann Federbsh, Jonathan Shunary & Jacob Maimon. 2007. "Alphabet, Hebrew." In Encyclopaedia Judaica, vol. 1, pp. 689-728.
  • Spolsky, Bernard, Elana Goldberg Shohamy. 1999. The Languages of Israel: Policy, Ideology, and Practice. Multilingual Matters. UK.
  • Spolsky, Bernard. The Languages of the Jews: A Sociolinguistic History (Cambridge: CUP, 2014). Ch. 11, "The Yavanic area: Greece and Italy" (pp. 159–170; notes on pp. 295sq.).

On Judaeo-Greek

On Karaeo-Greek

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