Mixed Translation Patterns: The Ladino Translation of Biblical and Mishnaic Hebrew Verbs

Ora (Rodrigue) Schwarzwald
Bar llan University, Ramat Gan, Israel

The present study is a linguistic analysis of the translations of some Biblical and Mishnaic verb forms into Ladino in Pirke Avot 'Ethics of the Fathers'. The liturgical Hebrew text includes both language layers, Biblical and Mishnaic. It is read by Sephardic Jewry from Passover to Pentecost a chapter a week, and has been translated into Ladino, the Judeo-Spanish calque-type language, in a variety of places since 1552. The article focuses on the morphological aspects of the translations. The results show that whereas Ladino translators opted for literal translations of the Biblical verses, they adopted freer renditions of the less sacred Mishnaic text. The differences stem from the difference in attitudes towards the sanctity of the two linguistic layers.

Table of contents

Pirke Avot ('Ethics of the Fathers'; henceforth PA), one of the most popular tractates of the Mishna, consists of a collection of ethical maxims and proverbs attributed to Jewish sages who lived between 300 B.C. and 200 A.D. Like the rest of the Mishna, it was composed in the post-Biblical period and consequently reflects the linguistic norms of post-Biblical literary usage. However, the Mishnaic text abounds in citations from the Biblical text furnishing the referential framework of the Mishnaic portions. Hence the language of PA includes both varieties of the Hebrew language historical layers, Biblical and Mishnaic (henceforth BH and MH), which vary in grammar and vocabulary. In particular, the verbal systems differ considerably in form, distribution and usage.

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