Mother Tongue: Sixteenth-Century Sephardi Women's Contributions to Judeo-Spanish



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Upon their expulsion from the Iberian Peninsula, which began in 1391 and culminated in the issuing of the Alhambra Decree in 1492, the Sephardim who migrated to the Ottoman Empire continued and adjusted their cultural and religious traditions in the diaspora. A central element of the Sephardi culture's survival was the continued use of Judeo-Spanish, which descended from dialects of Ibero-Romance to become the heritage language of the Sephardi people in the diaspora. This thesis explores women's usage of Judeo-Spanish in the sixteenth century -- the first full century after the 1492 expulsion -- and their contributions to the language's preservation. The text of Rabbi Meir Benveniste's Seder Nashim (1565), as well as the thematic and lyrical content of various Ottoman Sephardi romance and kantiga ballad traditions, suggest that Sephardi women, who used Judeo-Spanish as their primary form of communication during the sixteenth century, influenced the language's cultural significance and the preservation of certain lexical and grammatical features.



Judeo-Spanish, Sephardi Judaism, women, language preservation