“Saved by Language”…and Saving a Language, with Bryan Kirschen
ENGLISH CORNER, CON LINDA JIMÉNEZ – This week’s trivia question: What Jerusalem-based organization has helped to standardize a system of spelling for writing Ladino?
Dr. Bryan Kirschen is an American linguist who had already studied Hebrew, Spanish, ancient Greek and Arabic before discovering Ladino, or Judeo-Spanish as an M.A. student at Middlebury College. He was fascinated by the language and has since become committed to helping spread the word about Ladino and perpetuate its legacy. As a Ph.D. student in Los Angeles, he taught weekly workshops and classes in Ladino at the Skirball Cultural Center to college students and community members, and now is at Binghamton University in New York State, where he teaches a freshmen course on Judeo-Spanish languages and cultures. He helps to further publicize the language as a program organizer for both the International Day of Ladino Celebration as well as International Mother Language Day.
In 2012, Kirschen flew to Bosnia to help produce a documentary about the Sephardic community in Sarajevo that had been devastated by the Holocaust, and which tells the amazing story of one man, Moris Albahari, who survived the war thanks to Ladino, his mother tongue. The film, Saved by Language, was co-directed by Susanna Zaraysky, and was recently screened at Centro Sefarad-Israel in Madrid, where we were able to interview Dr. Kirschen about his interest in Judeo-Spanish and his work to preserve it.