chapter  8
Recording Remnants of Judeo-Spanish: On Language Memoirs and Translated Wor(l)ds
Pages 14

In 1985, a book by French writer Marcel Cohen is published in Madrid under the title Letras a un pintor ke kreya azer retratos imaginarios por un sefardi de Turkia, ke se akodra perfektamente de kada uno de sus modeles (A Letter to a Painter Who Believes He Paints Imaginary Portraits, from a Turkish Sephardi Who Recalls Perfectly Each One of His Models). Illustrated by Antonio Saura (1930-1998), a prominent Spanish artist who also illustrated Kafka’s diaries and many other books, the text takes the form of a letter to Saura and is entirely written in Judeo-Spanish, which is also known as Ladino, Judezmo, or “djudyo,” as the author calls it (Cohen 1985, 9).1 At the very beginning, Cohen, who has never written in Judeo-Spanish before or since, announces that he will record the idiom his parents brought from the Ottoman Empire to Paris some hundred years after their respective ancestors had migrated from Spain to the Ottoman Lands.2 Cohen puts this language in writing, his childhood language, one of the languages of his family, both known and unknown at the time. He writes it down in his own incoherent spelling system, using none of the formalized ways to transcribe Judeo-Spanish in the Latin alphabet (see Quintana 2012). In the 1997 bilingual edition titled Lettre à Antonio Saura, Cohen introduces his own French translation of the Judeo-Spanish original, taking the liberty to deviate occasionally from the initial version (see Cohen 1997, 19ff). Some years later, the book comes out in English, again in a bilingual format under the added Proustian title In Search of a Lost Ladino.3 The beginning reads as follows: “Dear Antonio, I’d like to write to you in Djudyo before the language of my ancestors is completely extinguished. You can’t imagine, Antonio, what the death agony of a language is like” (Cohen 2006, 27)4.