Notes on Haketia or Moroccan Judeo-Spanish
Haketia is the variety of Spanish historically spoken by the Jews of Morocco. It is similar to Ladino (another variety of “Judeo-Spanish”), but with a more significant component borrowed from Arabic. This is reflected in the name ‘Haketia’ itself, derived from the Arabic حكى ḥaká “to tell; to speak” (cf. the similarly-named ḥakī māl yahūd or “speech of the Jews,” the autonym referring to Baghdadi Judeo-Arabic).
I was curious to see how much Haketia I’d be able to understand as a speaker of Spanish, which I learned growing up in southern California. How different is Haketia from dominant varieties of Spanish? Some “Jewish languages” are truly distinct from their gentile counterparts. Yiddish, the paradigmatic example, differs from German in everything from Hebrew script and loanwords to phonology and morphology, reflecting the historical isolation of Jewish communities in Europe.
But scholars like Ella Shohat have called into question the very category of “Jewish languages,” arguing that it imposes the paradigm of Yiddish onto languages with very different characteristics and histories. Indeed, not all “Jewish languages” are so Jewish. For example, the Endangered Language Alliance presents a Tajik speaker who is Jewish as speaking “Bukhori, the language of the Bukharian Jews.” His speech is utterly indistinguishable from that of Muslim Tajiks. It’s as if Larry David were being presented as speaking Judeo-English, a rare language in need of preservation. I’ve also heard music supposedly in Ladino that just sounded like perfectly ordinary Castilian to my ears.
So how distinct is Haketia? To find out, I decided to watch a video of a Haketia speaker in New York: Alicia Sisso Raz, recorded by the Endangered Language Alliance.
Conclusion: I could understand nearly every word she said. Perhaps I was aided by also knowing Arabic and Hebrew, but I think any Spanish speaker would have understood 90-95% or more. Nevertheless, there are certainly plenty of interesting distinctions that make this different from standard Spanish. These are evident from her very first sentences: me llamo Alicia Sisso Raz “my name is Alicia Sisso Raz” (no difference from standard); yo nací en Marruecos, ma me pují en Israel “I was born in Morocco, but I grew up in Israel.”
Ma “but” is easy to guess; mas is used in literary Spanish, and ma exists in Ladino (and Italian). But pujarse is more interesting. Rather than “push (oneself),” the context immediately makes it clear that it means “grow up.” She also has [ʒ] here rather than the standard [x].
What follows are my notes on other things that stood out. These are far from conclusive—just scattered observations.
gan eden “paradise” (garden of Eden), from Hebrew גן עדן gan ʿeden (also used in Ladino)
ʿada “custom,” from Arabic عادة ʿāda
derej-eres “good manners, etiquette,” from Hebrew דרך ארץ derekh erets (lit. ‘way of the land’)
mehrés “hammer,” from Arabic مهراس mihrās “pestle,” from the root h-r-s “to crush, pound.”
jarcóm “turmeric,” from Arabic كركم kurkum or Hebrew כורכום kurkum (or possibly Spanish cúrcuma). I wonder why the initial /k/ became [x] here.
meʿará “cemetery.” It would seem to be from Hebrew מערה meʿará “cave” or Arabic مقبرة maqbara “cemetery”—I actually wonder if this is the right word or if the speaker could have confused the two.
hadrear “to speak”, from Moroccan Arabic هدر hdar “to speak,” classical Arabic هذر haðara “to babble, blab.” Haketia seems to maintain the initial /h/ in Arabic loans like this, in contrast to Latin-derived vocabulary where it’s dropped as in hablar [ablar].
jalwiyín “confectioners,” from Moroccan Arabic حلويين ḥalwiyīn.
ersalá “remittances,” perhaps from Moroccan Arabic الرسالة ar-risāla “the letter” or another word from the root r-s-l “to send.”
berajót “blessing” (sing. berajá), from Hebrew ברכה brakhá.
jam(m)ear “to think,” from Moroccan Arabic خمّم khammam “to think”, from classical Arabic خمّن khammana “to guess, surmise.”
shlijím “messengers,” from Hebrew שליחים shliḥim, and shadarím “broadcasters,” from Hebrew שדרים shadarim. I got the sense these were not necessarily loanwords but perhaps instead a case of codeswitching by the speaker who is bilingual in Haketia and Hebrew.
ʿad “until” from Hebrew עד ʿad.
ritspa “floor,” from Hebrew רצפה ritspa. This also seemed like codeswitching.
wili “woe is me!”, from Moroccan Arabic ويلي wīlī, from classical Arabic ويلي waylī.
Divergences from standard Spanish
asín “thus; like this” (standard así). Cf. Ladino asina, Portuguese assim.
muncho “much” (standard mucho). Also present in Ladino.
mosotros “us” (nosotros); mos “us” [indirect object pronoun] (nos). These are present in Ladino as well.
ferte “strong” (23:49, standard fuerte); fera “outside” (37:24, standard fuera). These forms are surprising to me.
ferazmal, from fuera (>fera) de mal, “outside of harm,” a blessing and term of endearment. Comparable in construction to the Yiddish קינעהאָרע.
shavonar “to wash, lather,” from Old Spanish xabon “soap” (cf. Ladino shavón).
pascua “holiday.” In standard Spanish it refers to Easter or Passover, but the speaker notes that in Haketia it is generalized to all holidays, eg. la pascua de Rosh Hashana.
costumbre “custom” is normally feminine, but here treated as masculine (un costumbre, 2:55; uno costumbre, 28:23). The latter example is also strange for its use of uno rather than un as the indefinite article before a noun.
fuen “they were” (standard fueron). Maybe just a slip of the tongue?
cigdad “city” (standard ciudad).
lavijo “washing” (standard lavaje).
buraco “hole” (cf. Portuguese buraco, apparently also used in Argentina and Uruguay).
esnoga, esnogita “synagogue” (standard sinagoga). Used in Ladino, too.
cenilla ? (ceniza “ash”? semilla “seed”?)
mis hijos los gusta (standard a mis hijos les gusta)
Other sociolinguistic observations
The speaker explains that people from Tangiers, Chefchaouen, and Asilah were more open to Arabic, more cosmopolitan, and therefore their dialects have more Arabic influence than the Haketia of her native Tétouan.
She also describes the mutual intelligibility of Ladino and Haketia. Her parents and their Turkish (Ladino-speaking) neighbor in Israel spoke without problems, each leaving the Arabic or Turkish words aside, respectively.
Her ʿayin is slightly idiosyncratic: left out, for example, in gan eden (influenced by modern Hebrew?), but usually pronounced clearly in ʿada. I’m not sure if it’s actually pronounced at 16:40 in las ʿadas or if it’s dropped and the first vowel in ʿada is simply extralong to compensate. Her use of this phoneme is similar to its function among native Hebrew speakers of Mizrahi descent in Israel, for whom the pharyngeals ʿayin and ḥet are inconsistently maintained as sociolinguistic markers of identity.
The speaker clearly also knows Castilian and at times has to make an effort to choose forms that are specific to Haketia. For example, twice she starts to say trabajar and then cuts herself off and uses the more marked word laborar. She also says pero before self-correcting to ma. Despite such efforts, this spoken monologue seems to depart less from standard Spanish than in the written Haketia texts prepared by the same speaker (see below under further reading). One wonders as well whether the modern Hebrew she grew up with in Israel has impacted her Haketia speech.
Introduction to the History of Spanish
Introdução à fonologia da hakitía (in Portuguese)
Annotated Haketia text (from the same speaker, with greater divergences from standard Spanish)
Another annotated Haketia text (also from the same speaker and with greater divergences from standard Spanish)
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