Review: Sephardic Jews and the Spanish Language by Ángel Pulido

Sephardic Jews and the Spanish Language offers an incomparable lens into the transnational exchanges between Spanish politician, Ángel Pulido, and a handful of prominent Spanish Jews across Eastern Europe and Turkey. Pulido’s acquaintances, whom he met during his travels in the Balkans, were the descendants of the exiled Spanish Jews of the infamous 1493 Inquisition. Their families had faithfully kept the Spanish language alive for generations. At the turn of the century, however, younger generations began to turn away from their mother tongue in preference for French, English, or the language of their countries of citizenship. Nevertheless, Pulido found a curious fondness for Spain among the Sephardim, although they had never had the opportunity to visit their homeland.

Pulido published this collection of articles, private letters, parliament speeches, and documents in a mix of Spanish and Ladino in 1904. He aimed to convince the Spanish government and the larger public that establishing relations with the Sephardic Jews abroad could offer Spain many beneficial opportunities. For example, Pulido believed that literary exchange and education initiatives with the Sephardic Jews would take Spanish to other parts of the world, while progressive trade and immigration policies would jumpstart economic growth at home. Pulido’s book advocates a nationalistic, secular Spain that welcomes people of all religions. Consequently, Sephardic Jews was the vanguard for Spain’s streamlined immigration projects aimed at the Sephardim in 1923 and again in 2015. Therefore, Sephardic Jews and the Spanish Language serves as a compelling reminder that the present ever connects us to the past.

If Pulido’s original book marked a major turning point in the relationship between Spain and the Sephardic Jews since 1492, then Steven Capsuto’s English translation marks yet another. Capsuto beautifully maintains cohesion across the individual letters without losing any of the authors’ style or voice. His word choice and syntax suit the time period of the original book. Despite his modesty regarding translations of poetry from the book, Capsuto’s English renditions feel natural and are aesthetically pleasing. The quality of translation therefore speaks to the book’s significance: Capsuto gives English readers a joyful experience of their own language all while contemplating the importance of language to a people, nation, and future generations. Sephardic Jews and the Spanish Language – truly a fine example of world literature – provides vital historical insight for anyone interested in the intersections of language, national politics, history, intercultural relations, education and other issues in early twentieth-century Europe.

By Lehyla Heward

Sephardic Jews and the Spanish Language
Ángel Pulido, translated from the Spanish by Steven Capsuto
2016, Between Wanderings
ISBN: 9780997825404

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