Judeo-Italian languages

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Pronunciation[dʒuˌdɛoitaˈljaːno], [(ʔ)italˈkit]
Native speakers
200 in Italy, 250 in total (2022)[1]
Very few speakers are fluent as of 2007[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3itk
Linguasphere51-AAB-be & -bf
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

Judeo-Italian (or Judaeo-Italian, Judæo-Italian, and other names including Italkian) is an endangered Jewish language, with only about 200 speakers in Italy and 250 total speakers today.[2] The language is one of the Italian languages.[3] Some words have Italian prefixes and suffixes added to Hebrew words as well as Aramaic roots.[4]

The term Judeo-Italian[edit]

The glottonym giudeo-italiano is of academic and relatively late coinage. In English, the term was first used (as Judæo-Italian) by Lazaro Belleli in 1904 in the Jewish Encyclopedia,[5] describing the languages of the Jews of Corfu.[6] In Italian, Giuseppe Cammeo referred to a gergo giudaico-italiano ('Judaico-Italian jargon') in a 1909 article.[7] That same year, Umberto Cassuto used the term giudeo-italiano, in the following (here translated into English):[8]

Actually, while the existence of a Judeo-German dialect is universally known, almost nobody beyond the Alps suspects that the Italian Jews have, or at least had, not to say a dialect of their own, but at least a way of speaking with peculiar features. True, in practice its importance, limited to the everyday use of some thousand people, is almost nothing versus that of Judeo-German, spoken by millions of individuals that often do not know any other language, and has its own literature, its own journalism, its own theater, and thus, almost the importance of a real language .... It is almost nothing, if you will, even compared with other Jewish dialects, Judeo-Spanish for instance, that are more or less used literally; all this is true, but from the linguistic point of view, Judeo-German is worth as much as Judeo-Italian [giudeo-italiano], to name it so, since for the glottological science the different forms of human speech are important in themselves and not by its number of speakers or the artistic forms they are used in. Moreover, a remarkable difference between Judeo-German and Judeo-Italian [giudeo-italiano], that is also valuable from the scientific point of view, is that while the former is so different from German as to constitute an independent dialect, the latter by contrast is not essentially a different thing from the language of Italy, or from the individual dialects of the different provinces of Italy .... [I]t was natural that the Judeo-Italian jargon [gergo giudeo-italiano] would disappear in a short while ....

Other designations[edit]

  • Historically, Italian Jews referred to their vernaculars as la`az (לעז), Hebrew for 'foreign language', 'non-Hebrew language').[9] The Italian Jewish rite is sometimes called minhag ha-lo'azim, and linguists use lo'ez as a description of words of Romance origin in Yiddish.[a] This may be connected with the Germanic use of the word *walhaz (literally, 'foreign') and derived cognates, for Romance peoples and languages and sometimes Celtic peoples and languages (as in English terms Walloons, Wallachians, and Welsh): the Italian and Sephardic Hebrew script for Torah scrolls is known in Yiddish as Velsh or Veilish.
  • In 1587, David de Pomis used the word italiano in reference to the Italian glosses in his trilingual dictionary. The Hebrew title of the 1609 Venice Haggadah uses the word italiano or italyano (איטליאנו) for the language of Leone Modena's translation (u-fitrono bi-leshon iṭalyano, ופתרונו בלשון איטליאנו).[10]
  • Other historic descriptions are latino and volgare, both of which were commonly used in the Middle Ages to mean early Italian dialects in general, i.e. Vulgar Latin varieties.[11]
  • After the institution of the Ghetto forced Jewish communities throughout Italy into segregation, the term ghettaiolo was identified with local Jewish varieties of regional dialects.
  • Another native name type is giudeesco (e.g., Judeo-Florentine iodiesco; < Latin *IUDÆĬSCU[M], or an assimilation of the hiatus /aˈe/ *giudaesco < *IUDAĬSCU[M]).
  • The English neologism Italkian was coined in 1942 by Solomon Birnbaum, who modelled the word on the modern Hebrew adjective ית-/אטלקי italki[t], 'Italian', from the Middle Hebrew adjective איטלקי (< ITALICU[M]), 'Italic' or 'Roman'.[12]

Influence on other Jewish languages[edit]

According to some scholars, there are some Judeo-Italian loan words that have found their way into Yiddish.[3] For example, the word in Judeo-Italian for 'synagogue' is scola, closely related to scuola, 'school'. The use of words for 'school' to mean 'synagogue' dates back to the Roman Empire. The Judeo-Italian distinction between scola and scuola parallels the Standard Yiddish distinction between shul/shil for 'synagogue' and shule for 'school'. Another example is Yiddish iente, from the Judeo-Italian yientile ('gentile', 'non-Jew', 'Christian'), as differentiated from the standard Italian gentile, meaning 'noble', 'gentleman'[13] (even if the name can come from Judeo-French and French as well).

There are also several loanwords from Judeo-Italian dialects in Judeo-Gascon, due to the migration of a few Italian families to the Sephardi communities in Gascony during the 18th and 19th centuries.[14]


Judeo-Italian regional dialects (ghettaioli, giudeeschi), include:

At least two Judeo-Italian varieties, based on the Salentino and Venetian languages, were also used in Corfu[15](see relevant section in Corfiot Italians).


All of the spoken Judeo-Italian varieties used combination of Hebrew verb stems with Italian conjugations (e.g., אכלר akhlare, 'to eat'; גנביר gannaviare, 'to steal'; דברר dabberare, 'to speak'; לכטיר lekhtire, 'to go'). Similarly, there are abstract nouns such as טובזה tovezza, 'goodness'. This feature is unique among Jewish languages, although there are arguably parallels in Jewish English dialect.

Also common are lexical incorporations from Hebrew, particularly those applicable to daily life. Terms from other Jewish languages such as Yiddish and Judeo-Spanish were also incorporated. Bagitto, spoken in Livorno, is particularly rich in loanwords from Judeo-Spanish and Judeo-Portuguese.

It was claimed by Cassuto that most Judeo-Italian dialects reflect the Italian dialect of places further to the south, due to the fact that since the expulsion of the Jews from the Kingdom of Naples, the general direction of Jewish migration in Italy had been northward.[8]

Use in works and publications[edit]

One of the most accessible ways to view the Judeo-Italian language is by looking at translations of biblical texts such as the Torah and Hagiographa. For example, the Judeo-Italian language is represented in a 1716 Venetian Haggadah, a Jewish prayer book typically used during a seder, some samples of which are available online.[16]

Today, there are two locations, the Oxford Bodleian Library, and the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, in which many of these texts have been archived.[17]

ISO and Library of Congress classifications[edit]

The International Organization for Standardization language code for Judeo-Italian / Italkian in the ISO 639-3 specification is itk; the ISO 639-2 collective language code roa (for Romance languages) can also apply more generally.

"Italkian" is not used by the US Library of Congress as a subject heading, nor does it figure as a reference to Judeo-Italian. The authorized subject heading is "Judeo-Italian language". Subheadings are:

  • Judeo-Italian language: Glossaries, vocabularies, etc.
  • Judeo-Italian language: Grammar.
  • Judeo-Italian language: Italy Livorno Glossaries, vocabularies, etc.
  • Judeo-Italian language: Texts.

The subject reference is: Judeo-Italian dialect.
LC-MARC uses the following language code: Judeo-Italian.
Assigned collective code: [ita] (Italian).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ La'az or lo'ez is also used for the French or other Romance words used in Rashi's Biblical and Talmudic commentaries to explain the meanings of obscure Hebrew or Aramaic words.


  1. ^ a b Judeo-Italian at Ethnologue (25th ed., 2022) closed access
  2. ^ "A language of Italy". Ethnologue. Retrieved 27 April 2016.
  3. ^ a b Jochnowitz, George. "Judeo-Italian: Italian Dialect or Jewish Language?". George Jochnowitz. Retrieved 27 April 2016.
  4. ^ Waldman, Nahum (1989). The Recent Study of Hebrew. Hebrew Union College Press: 1989 Hebrew Union College. pp. 174–175. ISBN 0-87820-908-5.
  5. ^ Belleli, Lazaro (1904). "Judæo-Greek and Judæo-Italian". Jewish Encyclopedia. Vol. 7. pp. 310–313.
  6. ^ "JUDÆO-GREEK AND JUDÆO-ITALIAN - JewishEncyclopedia.com". www.jewishencyclopedia.com. Retrieved 2022-05-08.
  7. ^ Cammeo, Giuseppe (1909). "Studj dialettali". Vessillo Israelitico (in Italian). 57: 169.
  8. ^ a b Cassuto, Umberto (1909). "Parlata ebraica" [Hebraic speech]. Vessillo Israelitico. 57: 255–256. Infatti, mentre è universalmente nota l'esistenza di un dialetto giudeo-tedesco, quasi nessuno sospetta oltr'alpe che gli ebrei italiani abbiano pure, o almeno abbiano avuto, non dirò un loro dialetto, ma almeno una loro parlata con peculiari caratteri. Certo, praticamente l'importanza di essa, limitata all'uso quotidiano di poche migliaia di persone, è pressoché nulla di fronte a quella del giudeo-tedesco, il quale è parlato da milioni di individui che bene spesso non conoscono altra lingua, ed ha una propria letteratura, un proprio giornalismo, un proprio teatro, sì da assumere quasi l'importanza di una vera e propria lingua a sé .... è pressoché nulla, se si vuole, anche a paragone di altri dialetti giudaici, del giudeo-spagnuolo ad esempio, che sono più o meno usati letterariamente; è vero tutto questo, ma dal punto di vista linguistico tanto vale il giudeo-tedesco, quanto il giudeo-italiano, se così vogliamo chiamarlo, giacché di fronte alla scienza glottologica le varie forme del parlare umano hanno importanza di per sé e non per il numero di persone che le usano o per le forme d'arte in cui vengono adoperate. Piuttosto, una notevole differenza fra il giudeo-tedesco e il giudeo-italiano, che ha valore anche per il riguardo scientifico, è che, mentre quello è tanto diverso dalla lingua tedesca da costituire un dialetto a sé stante, questo invece non è essenzialmente una cosa diversa dalla lingua d'Italia, o dai singoli dialetti delle varie provincie d'Italia .... [E]ra naturale che il gergo giudeo-italiano in breve volger di tempo sparisse ....
  9. ^ Katz Nelson, Itzhak (2008). "Yiddish Language". Encyclopaedia iudaica.
  10. ^ de Pomis, David (1587). Tsemaḥ David: Dittionario novo hebraico, molto copioso, dechiarato in tre lingue. Venice: Apud Ioannem de Gara – via Google Books and National Library of Naples. In Latin and Hebrew.
  11. ^ "Judeo-Italian". JewishLanguages.org. Retrieved 29 September 2019.
  12. ^ Birnbaum, Solomon (1944). "Jewish Languages". In Epstein, I.; Levine, E.; Roth, C. (eds.). Essays in Honour of the Very Rev. Dr. J. H. Hertz, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Empire, on the Occasion of His Seventieth Birthday, September 25, 1942 (5703). London: E. Goldston. pp. 63, 67.
  13. ^ www.jochnowitz.net
  14. ^ Nahon, Peter (2018), Gascon et français chez les Israélites d'Aquitaine. Documents et inventaire lexical, Paris: Classiques Garnier, ISBN 978-2-406-07296-6, see pp. 24-25, 353-355.
  15. ^ [1][dead link]
  16. ^ "Seder Haggadah Shel Pesah". Archived from the original on 26 January 2020. Retrieved 21 April 2020 – via Bauman Rare Books.
  17. ^ Rubin, Aaron D.; Kahn, Lily (2015). Handbook of Jewish Languages. "Brill's Handbooks in Linguistics" series. Vol. 2. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill. pp. 297–299. ISBN 978-90-04-21733-1.


  • Ferretti Cuomo, Luisa (1982). "Italchiano versus giudeo-italiano versus 0 (zero), una questione metodologica". Italia: Studi e ricerche sulla storia, la cultura e la letteratura degli Ebrei d'Italia (in Italian). 3 (1–2): 7–32.
  • Fortis, Umberto (2006). La parlata degli ebrei di Venezia e le parlate giudeo-italiane (in Italian). Firenze: La Giuntina. ISBN 88-8057-243-1.
  • Fortis, Umberto; Zolli, Paolo (1979). La parlata giudeo-veneziana. "Collana di cultura ebraica" series (in Italian). Vol. 13. Assisi/Rome: B. Carucci. ISBN 88-85027-07-5.
  • Gold, David L. (1980). "The Glottonym Italkian". Italia: Studi e ricerche sulla storia, la cultura e la letteratura degli Ebrei d'Italia. 2 (1–2): 98–102.
  • Jochnowitz, George (2002). Pugliese, Stanisalo G. (ed.). Judeo-Italian: Italian Dialect or Jewish Language?. Greenwood Press – via Jochnowitz.net. {{cite book}}: |work= ignored (help)
  • Levi, Joseph Abraham (Spring 1998). "La Ienti de Sion: Linguistic and Cultural Legacy of an Early Thirteenth-century Judeo-Italian Kinah". Italica. 75 (1): 1–21. doi:10.2307/479578. JSTOR 479578. Archived from the original on 13 November 2008 – via Orbis Latinus.
  • Massariello Merzagora, Giovanna (1977). Giudeo-Italiano. "Profilo dei dialetti italiani" series. Vol. 23. Pisa: Pacini.
  • Mayer Modena, Maria Luisa (1997). "Le parlate giudeo-italiane". In Vivanti, Corrado (ed.). Storia d'Italia: Gli ebrei in Italia, Vol. II: Dall'emancipazione a oggi [History of Italy: The Jews in Italy, Vol. II: From Emancipation to Today]. Turin: Einaudi. pp. 939–963.
  • Mayer Modena, Maria Luisa (2022). Vena Hebraica nel Giudeo-Italiano. Dizionario dell'Elemento Ebraico negli Idiomi degli Ebrei d'Italia. Milano: LED.

External links[edit]