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Translating Hebrew into Spanish compels the translator to understand the unique history of the Hebrew language and its subsequent relationship to Spanish.
A Brief History of Spanish to Hebrew
The standard Castilian Spanish is relatively new, derived from a dialect of spoken Latin in the 15th and 16th Centuries. Classical Hebrew was used in the Old Testament.
Much of the present form of Hebrew embodies the dialect of Biblical Hebrew which was used through the 6th Century BCE. At that time, the Neo-Babylonians conquered the Kingdom of Judah destroying most of Jerusalem and sending the population into captivity in Babylon where they learned the closely related Semitic language of their Aramaic captors.
When the Jews returned to Jerusalem, a local version of Aramaic was spoken alongside Hebrew and remained the main language well into the 2nd Century CE. Hebrew, however, was regarded as the language of Israel’s religion, history and national pride, and after it faded as a spoken language, it continued to be used as a lingua franca among scholars and Jews traveling in foreign countries throughout history.
As the Jew navigated to various parts of the world, the Hebrew language acquired different pronunciations and intonations. The accepted rules of Hebrew grammar, including the current Sephardic pronunciation, were laid down in medieval Spain by grammarians such Jonah ibn Janah and Judah ben David Hayyuj in the 8th Century CE.
Here is where the languages of Hebrew and Spanish converge. In Spain, during the 15th Century, the Jews spoke Judaeo-Spanish or Ladino, which was a combination of Hebrew, Spanish and Aramaic. Judaeo-Spanish kept the phonemes of Old Castilian and added some phonemes of Hebrew. Today, the grammar of Judaeo-Spanish and its core vocabulary (approx. 60% of its total vocabulary) are basically Castilian.
It is clear that trying to translate modern day Hebrew into modern Castilian Spanish requires a deeper appreciation of the different variations of both Hebrew and Spanish spoken throughout the centuries.