Judeo-Spanish in Istanbul: The role of education in Sephardic Jews’ loss of language, identity, and cultural heritage
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This thesis explores the relation between education and a group’s identity and cultural heritage in a multicultural and multilinguistic context. More specifically, focus is set on the small community of Sephardic Jews living in Istanbul who speak Judeo-Spanish, a language that differs a lot from the country’s official and majority one, Turkish. This community, considered from the Turkish state as a religious minority, has been living in the country since 1492, the year in which they were expelled from the Iberian Peninsula because of their religion. Notwithstanding all these centuries living in Turkey, Sephardic Jews keep experiencing discrimination in the society they live in, and are struggling to find where they fit, also because they are perceived by the majority as foreigners. Nowadays, Judeo-Spanish is mostly spoken by older Sephardic Jews, and is indeed a dying language. Turkey, despite being a highly multicultural country, in which many different languages, cultures and religions live next to each other, has adopted a very nationalistic minority regime since the foundation of its Republic in 1923. Indeed, many reasons brought to the loss of this ancient language, but this project aims at discovering whether the right to education and to learn in one’s mother tongue has actually influenced Sephardic Jews’ identity and the community’s cultural and linguistic heritage. The topic is explored through the perspectives, narrated experiences, and personal opinions of Sephardic Jews in contemporary Istanbul belonging to different generations – some of them indeed speak Judeo-Spanish, and some do not. The point of view of the minority members indeed shed light on today’s situation with regards to the role of the language in Turkish society, and the general attitudes towards it. The final objective of this thesis is to find out whether the bans in education and the consequent negative language attitudes actually had an impact on Sephardic Jews’ identity and on the shaping of it, and then it this, in the long run, also affected the group’s cultural heritage.