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Q&A

What language is this (cursive) sample?

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A recent post on Language Log includes this sample of an unidentified language:

13 lines of right-justified text, maybe a numbered list

The article says this about the source:

This is from RG 84, General Correspondence of the American consulate in Tangier, Morocco. The dates of the stuff is either 1912 or 1917.

The authors, and comments on the post, offer several speculations rooted in Semitic languages. Proposals include Ladino, a form of cursive Rashi script (Hebrew), cursive Canaanite (though I wouldn't expect that in the 20th century, assuming the source info is correct), and Solitreo.

To me it looks like the writing is different in different parts of the sample, which makes we wonder about multiple scribes or multiple languages. The second and third lines and the last two look very different to me.

What language or languages are we looking at here? Can anyone help our friends at Language Log?

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2 comment threads

Ladino in Solitreo - a solid possibility (1 comment)
Google Translate auto-detect says Persian or Urdu (2 comments)

1 answer

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I will venture a guess that it is Haketia (also called Ladino Occidental) written in Solitreo ("Sephardic cursive"). That's a dialect of Ladino that had a strong local presence in Tangiers around 1912. Mainstream Ladino is another, very similar possibility. Ladino is a language mostly based on Old Spanish with a lot of Hebrew based syntax. These days they are both written mainly using the Latin alphabet, and are on the decline, but neither was the case a hundred years ago.

The dialect is colorfully described here (translated from a letter written in 1903):

The language spoken locally is a form of corrupted Spanish. It is a veritable amalgam, in which Spanish is predominant; but to this Judeo-Spanish tongue have been added Hispanized Arabic words; verbs and expressions borrowed from Arabic and Hebrew complete the bizarre mixture. This language is even more corrupted among the immigrants from the interior [Iberian Peninsula?], who have already begun to assimilate to their fellow Jews here. Their accent is deplorable and they pronounce certain letters differently. One could posit with a high degree of certainty that the Judeo-Hispanic-Arabic language is spoken by more than twothirds of the entire community. Those who know a relatively pure Spanish use it naturally in conversation, resorting to the other language when dealing with others who would not understand them were they speak correctly.

This is a base rate kind of an answer as I wasn't able to decipher the text and identify any of the presumed Romance, Hebrew and Arabic lexical contributions. The letter forms seem to mostly match other Ladino and Haketia samples (written in Solitreo) that I can find and the text has the form of a shopping list written right to left. So my focus was on languages or dialects with a strong local presence, written in the identified direction.

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1 comment thread

Thanks! (2 comments)

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