PICTA–The World of Lingua Franca

by Roberto Rossetti

We present here for the reader some enlightening illustrations of the world of Lingua Franca collected by Roberto Rossetti. We concentrate on important cities on the North African littoral where Lingua Franca was in common use on account of the large number of Christian and Jewish slaves who had been captured by pirates and did not speak the local vernacular. In writing of Algiers in particular, the seventeenth-century Spanish abbot Diego de Haedo declares: Este hablar franco es tan general, que no hay [casa] do no se use… ("This Lingua Franca is so common that there is not a house where it is not in use…")

Tripoli en Affrique

The name of this city specifies "in Africa" and sometimes, "in Barbary," to distinguish it from the city of the same name in present-day Lebanon. "Tripolis" (in Greek) means three towns and in Arabic is called Tarabulus. (Arabic lacks the "p" sound.) Tripoli is located at the western extremity of present-day Libya, near the Tunisian border. Tripoli was originally a Phoenician colony, and was ruled at different times by the Spaniards, the Knights of St. John, and the Ottoman Turks. It was and is a major port. The caption reads: Tripoli Ville considerable en Affrique sur les côtes de Barbarie. elle est a present sous la protection du grand Seigneur et sert de retraitte aux Pirates.. elle est gouvernée par une espèce de Republique. Gravé par Aveline avec Privil[ège] du Roy. "Tripoli, a considerable city in Africa on the Barbary Coast. It is at present under the protection of the Grand Turk, and serves as a haunt for pirates. It is governed by a type of republic. Engraved by Aveline with royal privilege."


The original Dutch title of this print means "Galleys in the Mediterranean Sea." The word galley, plural galleys, is defined as a seagoing vessel propelled mainly by oars, used in ancient and medieval times, sometimes with the aid of sails. The men who plied the oars were slaves or prisoners; being sent to the galleys was considered to be a severe punishment, and could result in the death of the victim from exhaustion. The rowers were kept in time by a sailor beating a drum. The word appears in the Dictionnaire in the form galera. For more on Algiers, see below


Another view of the port of Tripoli.

Naval Siege of Algiers

The first caption (in Italian) translates as The bombardment of Algiers (1784) on the part of the ships of the international fleet composed of Spanish, Portuguese, and Maltese squadrons, and of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Note the smoke and the trajectories of the cannon balls. The second means: The same episode, represented in a popular print. Algiers, known in Spanish as Argel, means "the island" in Arabic. It was frequently attacked, as noted in Lingua Franca on the front frame of this Lingua Franca website, until its final capture by the French in 1830 lasting up to the drawn out struggle for independence in our own day. Lingua Franca was widely spoken in Algiers, until it was pushed out by French around 1900.

View of Algiers from the sea

Another view of Algiers.

Narrative of a Residence in Algiers

Travelogues of this type had great popularity in the nineteenth century. This book by Filippo Pananti was originally published in Italian in 1817, and makes mention of Lingua Franca.

TUNIS: Le quartier franc en 1878

A rough map of the Frank (i.e. European) quarter of Tunis in 1878. The Hara (the Jewish Quarter) is noted at the top left of the map. The Alliance Israélite Universelle founded its first school for Jewish children in Tunis in 1878. The language of instruction was French, and the increasing French influence among all groups gradually eroded the hold of Lingua Franca.