LANGUAGE(S) OF THE SEPHARDIC TOMBSTONES DECIPHERED THROUGH
THE CONCEPTUAL BLENDING THEORY
GIRNE AMERICAN UNIVERSITY
DEPARTMENT OF TRANSLATION AND INTERPRETING
e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com
Fauconnier and Turner (1998) developed the theory of Conceptual Blending in order to interpret
metaphors and metonymies correctly. This theory demonstrates how we can understand texts
full of metaphors, such as caricatures and poems.
Sephardim came to the Ottoman Empire in 1492, after the Spanish Queen Isabelle had expelled
them, and today they are the citizens of the Republic of Turkey. They have several scientific,
economic, and cultural contributions to the Turkish society.
In this study, I intend to analyze the poetic and metaphoric language of the Sephardic
tombstones, found in the Sephardic cemeteries in the region of Marmara of Turkey. When all
the metaphoric words in the writings of these tombstones are interpreted correctly, we obtain a
lot of information, regarding the family, profession, friends, languages spoken by the dead
person, and the reasons why s/he died.
Besides, these tombstones were written in several languages, such as French, Judeo-Spanish,
Turkish, or in a mixture of these languages. The language(s) in which the tombstones were
written demonstrate us the period in which the dead person lived and died. A Sephardi can use
Judeo-Spanish before 2000s. However, today Turkish is used in tombstones, if the dead is
young, and did not learn Judeo-Spanish as her / his native language. Additionally, Turkish is
used also by those who lived in the period of the Administrative Reforms in the Ottoman
Empire. Moreover, the tombstones written in French belong to the period in which l’Alliance
Israélite Universelle was effective in the education of the Jews in the Ottoman Empire. Some
words in all of these languages are metaphoric; one has to possess sufficient linguistic and
cultural knowledge in order to interpret them. In this case, Conceptual Blending Theory is very
Briefly, I intend to explain the meanings of the linguistic and cultural metaphors in Sephardic
tombstones of the region of Marmara of Turkey within the framework of Conceptual Blending
Theory, developed by Fauconnier and Turner (1998). When we analyze the language(s) of these
tombstones, we decipher various elements belonging to a culture that involves both Spanish and
Turkish values and traditions full of symbolic activities to be understood via a semiotic analysis.
In deciphering these, Conceptual Blending Theory is very useful.
Key Words: Conceptual Blending Theory, Sephardic Culture, Tombstones, Metaphors
This study deals with the metaphoric language use in the Sephardic tombstones. As Sephardim
have lived in various countries, after having been expelled from Spain, their language, thus, the
Judeo-Spanish language involves elements belonging to each land where they have lived: some
symbols, some metaphors, and some words entered Judeo-Spanish, a language formed as a
result of being in-between various cultures.
After we will have mentioned how we gathered our data, we will explain what the Conceptual
Blending Theory is, and we will analyze the inscriptions on Sephardic tombstones within the
framework of the Conceptual Blending Theory.
1. 1. Methodology
In this study, the symbolic language of the Sephardic tombstones will be analyzed within the
framework of the Conceptual Blending Theory of Fauconnier and Turner (1998) in order to
understand the effects of the interaction of different cultures on language change and culture.
First, we will explain how we gathered our data, and second, we will talk about the Conceptual
Blending Theory in this section.
1. 1. 1. Data
We obtained our data, which consist of various inscriptions on Sephardic tombstones from the
Sephardic researcher Sibel Bicaci who is from Istanbul. She gathered these inscriptions from
different tombstones in Jewish cemeteries in the Marmara Region of Turkey.
1. 1. 2. Conceptual Blending Theory
Conceptual blending or conceptual integration is a process that occurs in our mind when we
compare two different situations one of which is a real event and the other of which is used
metaphorically. The similarities between these events are blended in the formation of the latter
metaphorical event description:
Conceptual Blending is a general theory of cognition. According to this
theory, elements and vital relations from diverse scenarios are "blended" in a
subconscious process known as Conceptual Blending, which is assumed to be
ubiquitous to everyday thought and language. Insights obtained from these
blends constitute the products of creative thinking, though conceptual blending
theory is not itself a theory of creativity, inasmuch as it does not illuminate the
issue of where the inputs to a blend actually come from. Blending theory does
provide a rich terminology for describing the creative products of others, but
has little to say on the inspiration that serves as the starting point for each
The theory of Conceptual Blending was developed by Gilles Fauconnier and
Mark Turner. The development of this theory began in 1993 and a
representative early formulation is found in their online article Conceptual
Integration and Formal Expression. Mark Turner and Gilles Fauconnier cite
Arthur Koestler´s 1964 book "The Act of Creation" as an early forerunner of
conceptual blending: Koestler had identified a common pattern in creative
achievements in the arts, sciences and humor that he had termed "bisociation of
matrices" - a notion he described with many striking examples, but did not
formalize in algorithmic terms. Conceptual Blending theory is also not
formalized at the level of algorithmic detail, but its various optimality
principles provide some guidance for those building computational models
(“Conceptual Blending,” 2008).
Furthermore, “the theory of conceptual blending has been applied in cognitive neuroscience,
cognitive science, psychology, linguistics, music theory, poetics, mathematics, divinity,
semiotics, theory of art, psychotherapy, artificial intelligence, political science, discourse
analysis, philosophy, anthropology, and the study of gesture and of material culture” (“Blending
and Conceptual Integration,” n. d.). According to this theory, Input 1 consists of the real event,
whereas Input 2 of the metaphorical event description; the qualities of both events are
contrasted in the generic space, and then the similarities lead to the formation of blends, as we
see this in the following scheme from “Blending and Conceptual Integration” (n. d.):
Figure 1. Spaces in the Conceptual Blending Theory (from: “Blending and Conceptual
Integration,” n. d.)
1. 1. 3. Literature Review
Freemann (2005) demonstrates that “Fauconnier and Turner’s conceptual integration network or
‘blending’ theory can provide an integrated and coherent account of the cognitive mechanisms
by which poetry is constructed and construed. Taking as its example Sylvia Plath’s poem ‘The
Applicant,’ a poem already analyzed by Elena Semino from the perspectives of discourse,
possible worlds, and schema theories,” Freemann (2005) indicates that “a complex blending of
conceptual metaphors in the poem that reveal the poet’s own conflicted attitudes about marriage
and the empty promises of a consumer society just four months before her suicide” (p. 25).
Moreover, Moschovakis (2006) defends that topical identifications appear as conceptual blends
“in an authors mind, an actor's, or those of audiences and/or later critics” (p. 127).
These researches lead us to a study about the Sephardic tombstones that has never been
conducted previously. As Sephardic tombstones involve inscriptions that have a poetic
language, we thought that it would be interesting to work on these inscriptions mainly in Judeo-
Spanish. However, we encounter other inscriptions in some other languages.
Talking about the languages used in Sephardic tombstones in the Marmara region of Turkey, it
is convenient to introduce the Judeo-Spanish language to other researchers.
2. Judeo-Spanish and Language Change
The Judeo-Spanish language has various other names, including Ladino, Sefardi, Djudio,
Dzhudezmo, Judezmo, and Spanyol (“Ladino Language,” 2007, Name of Language, para. 1).
The development of the Judeo-Spanish language can be divided into five diverse stages, which
are listed in the following subsections.
2. 1. The Period of Pure Judeo-Spanish or Castilian
Kahane (1973), Perles (1925), Révah (1964, 1970), Lazar (1972), Sephiha (1971, 1973), and
Malinowski (1979) defend that the Spanish language spoken by the Jews before their expulsion
from Spain in 1492 was the same as that spoken by the Christians of Spain; however, Wagner
(1930), Blondheim (1925), Benardete (1982), and Marcus (1962) suggest that “the language of
the Jews in Spain was already different in certain aspects of its lexicon, morphology, and
phonology from that of the Christians by the Middle Ages” (as cited in Harris, 2005, p. 99).
Wexler (1977) mentions that the speakers of Judeo-Spanish tended to use Arabic and Hebrew
expressions rather than the Latin ones, and this fact shows that there was a ‘Jewish variant of
Spanish’ before the expulsion of 1492 (as cited in Avcıkurt, 1991, p. 45). Besides, Clewlow
(1990) argues that the Sephardim used to say, ‘el Dio’ (‘the God’) instead of ‘Dios,’ (‘Gods’) as
the plural noun ending with ‘-s’ refers to the Trinity, and ‘alhad’ in place of ‘domingo,’
(‘Sunday’) as the word alludes to Christianity (p. 86). The Spanish noun ‘domingo’ derives
from the Latin noun ‘domus’ (‘house’); the word refers to the cathedral where the Christians go
to pray on Sundays.
2. 2. After 1492
Jews came to the Ottoman Empire after their expulsion from Spain in 1492. In Turkey, the
Jews, coming from Spain, were speaking Spanish, those from Portugal Portuguese, and some
were speaking Greek, since it was the language of Byzantines (Shaul, 1994, p. 12).
Additionally, in Turkey there were Venetians and Genovans, who could speak Italian (Shaul,
1994, p. 12). The words of all of these languages together with those of Turkish entered the
language in the Ottoman Empire.
2. 3. After the Declaration of the Chief Rabbi of Istanbul in 1840
During the period of Tanzimat (Administrative Reforms - between 1839 – 1876), in 1840, the
chief Rabbi of Istanbul, Moshe Fresko proposed that Turkish should have been learnt by each
Jew, who has been living in the Ottoman Empire (Besasel, 1999, p. 151).
2. 4. The Period of l’Alliance Israélite Universelle
L’Alliance Israélite Universelle was established in Paris in 1860 for protecting the Jews all
around the world; in 1865, its first school was opened in Istanbul; by 1912, there had been 115
Alliance schools in Turkey (Sephiha, 1977, p. 43). After the arrival of the Alliance Israélite
Universelle, several French words were borrowed by Judeo-Spanish, since French had been the
language of education since the establishment of this universal alliance (Shaul, 1994, p. 13).
2. 5. After the Establishment of the Turkish Republic
The Turkish Republic was proclaimed in 1923; Turkish became the compulsory language of
education in all the primary schools (Altabev, 2003, p. 63).
Today some children whose grandparents are native speakers of the Judeo-Spanish learn the
language from them, or they attend language courses. Additionally, some Judeo-Spanish music
concerts have been held all around the world, and Hülya Deniz’s short story ‘Sabra’, written in
Judeo-Spanish won the Cervantes Institute’s Mediterranean Literature prize in 2006 (Bakır,
2006). Several journals have been published in this language, such as El Amaneser and Aki
2. 6. Blends Formed by Inscriptions on Tombstones
In this section, we will analyze French and Judeo-Spanish tombstones within the framework of
the Conceptual Blending Theory. The blends demonstrate that the mental constructions of
metaphors are culture-specific.
2. 6. 1. Tombstones in French
The following tombstone is from the European side of Istanbul
Tu fus pour nous un père
Devoue, tendre et sincere
Tu nous traitant avec amour
Malgré ton âge tu souriais à la vie
Dans un court de temps
À nous tu fus ravi
Dors en paix cher papa
Dors à côté de maman
Car il n'ya pas eu de père
Aussi attaché a notre mère
You were a father for us
Devoted, tender, and sincere
You were taking care of us with love
In spite of your age, you were smiling to the life
As the time passed
You overjoyed us
Sleep in peace, dear father
Next to our mother
As there was no father so attached to our mother
In this tombstone from the European side of Istanbul, we see the following blends between
Life <-> person (here the life is personified)
Smiling <-> happiness (a happy person smiles, smiling stands for happiness metonymically)
Time <-> aging (as time passes, one gets older)
Sleep <-> death (in both cases, the person lies down in a bed or in the tomb)
The qualities assigned to the father are those required from a father: devotion, tenderness, and
sincerity, and fidelity to his wife. Besides, in the tombstone the concept of life is associated
with a living person. In fact, the concept of life is associated with the concept of a friend, since
one smiles a person whom s/he regards as a friend, whom s/he loves, and who makes her / him
happy. Besides, the concept of time alludes to getting older here. Moreover, the concept of
sleep indicates death, as in both cases the person lies down without being able to do anything,
and without being aware of what is happening around. These associations found in the generic
space lead to the formation of the blend depicted by the tombstone: a good and tender father
passed away and his family is mourning. The father was loving life, but he got older and died
as all the other mortal creatures in the world, and now he is sleeping, as he died and he cannot
come back to life for talking to his family again.
(2) is another tombstone in French found also in the European side of Istanbul. The tombstone’s
inscription is written by the lover of the dead person.
Repose en paix
mon cher Eli
et attend moi
sur le seuil de l'éternité
Have a rest in peace
My dear Eli
And wait for me
On the doorway of eternity
We see the following mappings in (2):
Having a rest <-> death (in both cases the person lies down and does not do anything)
In peace <-> happiness (as one is happy, one is in peace)
The doorway of eternity <-> other world (there is another world; when a person dies, her / his
soul goes there and lives there)
Eli was the lover of the person who wrote the inscription on the tombstone. The person who is
still alive wants Eli to have a rest in peace, i.e. to be happy being away from the terrible events
happening all around the world. Besides, as the life is eternal, there is another world after life,
the person orders Eli to wait for her. The concept of eternity is associated with a house or a
mountain, as a person passes away, metaphorically s/he passes through the door of another
unknown world. There is another world where people are punished or awarded by God in
accordance with their previous behavior on the earth. After the formation of these associations
in the generic space, we arrive to the blend where a mourning lover prays and wishes the dead
loved one to wait for her until the day she will have died and come next to him.
In the next section, we will analyze a Judeo-Spanish tombstone.
2. 2. Tombstones in Judeo-Spanish
In (3) we find another inscription on a tombstone again in the European side of Istanbul.
Kanser ah! Kruela maladia
No la desho ver buen dia
Yoran ijo marido i famia
Azer buendad le plazia
Moz manko madre kerida
Rogan al Dyo su alma pura
La resiva Dyo de la altura
Cancer ah! Cruel illness
You did not let her see a nice day
The son, the husband, and the family cry
She was loving to make good
We miss our dear mother
They ask God about the pure soul
God took her from high above
“Baruh Agozer” is a Jewish prayer for the happiness of the soul in the other world. We
encounter the following mappings between the two different inputs in the inscription:
Cancer <-> person (both can make somebody suffer)
Cruel <-> it leads to pain and suffering
Crying <-> crying stands for pain
The pure soul <-> the good person goes to the paradise, when s/he dies
High above <-> the other world, God’s omnipotence (a place high above in the sky cannot be
reached and is unknown)
Cancer is associated with a cruel person who makes another suffer, threatening her / him
terribly. Cancer is a terrible disease that cannot be cured easily. The pureness of the soul
implies that the person has not committed any sins in his / her life on earth. As the other world
is far away in the sky, God is also there. God must be at a higher space due to his omnipotence
and superiority. After these descriptions in the generic space, our blend is formulated: the
person died suffering from cancer; she was a good wife and a mother. Therefore, her family is
mourning for her departure from the world. As she was a good person, she must be in the
Judaism suggests that when a person dies, her / his body transforms into its original form, thus
into soil, and the soul continues to live eternally (Alalu, Arditi, Asayas, Basmaci, Ender, Haleva,
Maya, Pardo, & Yanarocak, 2001, p.143). The Sephardic tombstones represent various cultural
elements through blends which are results of cognitive processes.
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