As an instinctive adaptation of a basic Italian/Spanish lexicon to a simplified Arabic syntax, Lingua Franca does occasionally appear even today: specific matchings and examples are given from the current Palestinian Pidgin, Dodecanese Creole, and the 'Petit Nègre' of Eritrea.
It might have originated at the times of the Crusades in the Levant (probably at Acre, where a Pisan, Venetian and Genoese mediaeval quarter huddle side-by-side around the harbour.) The earliest examples are to be found in medical prescription recipes, to be followed by accounting, and later by clothing: to this day in the Middle East, words such as 'fatùra'(= bill of expenses), 'msura' (= misura, size), 'bruva' (= prova, fitting trial), 'bandalòn'(= pantaloni, trousers), 'sgarbìne' (= scarpine, ladies' shoes), or 'modelo' are of daily use. There was a parallel transfer from Arabic to Italian of words such as 'ricamo' (= needlework, from the Arabic raqm, figure), 'cifra' (=figure, from sfr, zero), or 'ragazza' (= girl, from raqqàs, waitress at the inn). In Genoa we might still hear complaints about 'il terribile vento garbino' (= the dastardly westerly wind), while the 'bora' northerly wind (from the Greek 'vorra') blows over Trieste.
The prevalence of Italian over the French and Spanish elements in the Lingua Franca can be partly explained by the fact that most of the enslaved sailors in Barbary came from southern Italy, their uncertain scribblings could be picked up along the courtyard walls at the Bardo palace: 'Io Natale Sorrentino dalla Torre del Greco cascato Schiavo alli 10 Luglio 1786 il detto fu Guardaletto di Hamud' (quoted by Riggio, here below; notice the characteristic expression 'tumbled slave.') To be fair, an equal number of North African slaves were sold in Malta to Italian cities, spreading further Lingua Franca.
The documents include some colorful signatures: 'osta morato fermo 1607' (signed Osta Muràd); 'io Assan Genovese afermo' (I, Hassan from Genoa, state); 'Io Solima, Basia di Tunisi afermo' (I, Suleiman, Pasha of Tunis, state); 'Agostin bianco alis [sic] morato raixi genovesz' (Agostin Bianco, a.k.a. Captain Muràd from Genoa); 'Regeb Reneghato de lo Sig. Mamed Bey, che lo Sig. Dios guarde de malle' (Regeb, renegade of Muhammad Bey, may the Lord God protect him); 'Io Amato Napolitano' (I, Ahmed from Naples); 'Iou Regeb Caito de la diona ho rescevoto ly mille e sey cente equaranto nove che son escritto a qua supra e non altro' (I, Regeb, the Head of Customs have received in 1649 what is written only according to this receipt.) A longer document, dated 14 September 1637, and published by Grandchamp, stars 'Io Isouf Dei, Capitan di li Milissia di questo Regno di Tunis aio fatto franco et libro Claudio Eymo et Pedro Bremond di Marsilla per haver ben servitto.' From the same year and source a French renegade, Osman de Arcos, takes the trouble to correct by hand a document written in Italian. The first diplomatic treaty between France and Tunis of 1621 (now in the Marseilles Chamber of Commerce) was couched in Italian, and the anonymous Histoire Chronologique du Royaume de Tripoly in the Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris mentions that around 1675 passports were usually written in Italian 'as the Deys have always to deal with Christian Princes and European merchants...they keep a Christian secretary, who deals with correspondence in Italian' and goes on to say that European consuls generally adopt the Italian language 'it being resonably spread in Barbary.' It is odd to notice what insults were directed at that time against their usually Christian opponents: 'Cane Giudeo, perché non mainar' = Jewish dog, why not lower (the sail.) Another habitual curse, 'senza fede' (faithless) is reported again 250 years later barely distorted (sanza fida) allowance being made for the Semitic distortion of vowels (by Rossi, see below.)
Other than official correspondence, which was confined to standard definitions, the esprit de langage can be gleaned from short literary quotes in the reports of Redemptorist and Mercedarian friars, assisting the captives. Abbot Diego de Haedo, a nephew and namesake of the Archbishop of Palermo, in his History of Algiers, published at Valladolid in 1632 gives some examples of their arguments: 'Dio grande, no pigliar fantasia. Mundo così così. Si estar scripto in testa andar, andar. Si no, acà murir.'
Another report from a mission to Algiers in 1670 gives some of the most common words: Yorno, matina and manchar (day, morning and to eat.)
One of the most fitting and precise accounts of the Lingua Franca was given by Charles Etienne de la Condamine, after a visit to Algiers around 1731:
Le Mauresque est la langue du pays. Les Turcs parlent Turc entre eux; mais la langue dont se servent les uns et les autres pour se faire entendre aux Européens est ce qu'on appelle la Langue Franque. On dit qu'on la parle dans tout le Levant et dans tous les ports de la Méditerranée, avec cette différence que celle qui est en usage du côté est plus en avant vers le Levant est un mélange de provençal, de grec vulgaire, de latin et surtout d'italien corrompu, au lieu que celle qu'on parle à Alger, et qu'on appelle aussi Petit Mauresque, tient beaucoup plus de l'espagnol que les Maures on retenu de leur séjour en Espagne... On ne sert presque pas d'infinitifs [sic!] dans ce jargon, qui s'entend aisément quand on est accoutumé à l'accent ... c'est celui des divertissements turcs du Bourgeois Gentilhomme, et de l'Europe Galante.'
The Turkish Ceremony episode of Molière's Bourgeois Gentilhomme had the incidental music and text by Lully, who, coming from Florence, was more attuned to Lingua Franca antics.
Giovanni Pagni was dispatched as official surgeon to the Court of Tunis in 1667-68 and most painters and architects were Italian, perhaps on account of the proximity; an engineer, Tomaso Farina, had a hand at the Manouba palace, and his name is underlined by the works of the outer moorings of the Tunis bay at Porto Farina (Dhar el Melah.)
Leghorn had been plotted as a free port by B. Buontalenti on the remains of the port of Pisa on the birthday of Francis I dei Medici 'all'ora sedicesima e 2/3 del 28 Marzo 1577 secondo l'astrolabi e l'oriuoli.' Its charter of 1609, the 'Costituzione Livornina,' begins:
A tutti voi, mercanti di quisivoglia nazione, Levantini, Ponentini, Spagniuoli, Portoghesi, Greci, Tedeschi et Italiani, Hebrei, Turchi, Mori, Armeni, Persiani et altri, salute.making it a perfect cradle for the recast Lingua Franca. The most valuable Italian philatelic cover on record is an envelope of 7 January 1861 from Leghorn to Alexandria in Egypt, franked with provisional Government stamps (the temporary administration that preceded annexation to Italy.) It might well have contained a letter in Lingua Franca.
The Jewish population of Tunis was split between merchants from Livorno and local craftsmen, who yearned for a Tuscan passport; but Article 2 of the treaty negotiated by Ferdinand III with Tunis on 11 October 1822 read:
E quelli Ebrei che vi verranno in avvenire non saranno considerati e riguardati come sudditi Toscani che venendovi di passaggio con il loro passaporto; ma manifestando nell'atto del loro arrivo in Tunis l'intenzione di fissarvisi e di commerciare per del tempo, o se dopo due anni di dimora vi si stabilissero e vi fissassero domicilio colla loro famiglia, allora saranno annoverati nel numero degl'altri Ebrei così detti Gurana, e di sudditi Tunisini.
Don Felice Caronni, a priest from Milan, while aboard a Napolitan bark returning from Palermo was captured by Barbary corsairs and brought to Tunis; in his account published in Milan in 1805 and sold to collect funds for the redemption of fellow prisoners, he gives quite a few such sentences: 'buono, questo star buono' (this be good) 'perchè non mangiare' (why not eat?) 'cosa stare questo' (what be this?) 'cosa avere detto Papasso?' (what say the priest?) 'stare usanza di mare' (this be sea custom) 'tu dire questo per iscapolare' (you say this to avoid [a chore] -- then suddenly:) 'Buona presa!' (good catch) and, in good Italian, 'Padre, avete freddo?' (Are you cold, Father?)
Filippo Pananti, a writer from Florence, was captured by Algerian pirates off the Sardinian coast, and wrote in 1817 his Adventures and Observations on the Barbary Coast, which were also translated into English and German, and published as Relation d'un Séjour à Alger in Paris in 1820. In it he observes: 'Italian is understood throughout the Barbary coast,' and in the Florence edition (page 339) he goes on:
the ministers, the merchants and the Jews all use a mixture of Italian, Spanish and African that is called Lingua Franca, all in infinitives and without prepositions, but through which aliens and nationals easily understand each other.
Turning to Tripoli, in the mid 18th century a report of the Chancellor to the English consul, informed him that there were a Khaznadàr Grande and a Khaznadàr piccolo ( a greater and lesser treasurer) and, when going to the Castello for the Ramadàn and Bayràm greetings 'the consul kisses the Basha, wishes Buona Festa, Vostra Eccellenza, and places himself in a chair as also the vice-consul.' A Spanish adventurer passing from Tripoli in 1805, commented that many languages were spoken there, and the Pasha, Yusùf Karamanli, spoke good Italian.
Blaquière's Letters from the Mediterranean inform us in turn that Hamat (Ahmed) who had been Yusùf Pasha's ambassador to Spain, knew Italian particularly well. George Francis Lyon, who was briefly in Tripoli to start his voyage to Socna, Sebha and Mourzuk, reported in his narrative of 1818 that some sort of bad Italian was well know by the town inhabitants, greatly facilitating expatriates' transactions.
Yusùf Pasha, who had loosened for a while the ties with Constantinople (just as the Bey of Tunis, or Muhammad Ali in Egypt) was surrounded by southern Italians who enriched his vocabulary; the archives of the Sardinian consulate at Tripoli bore evidence of this in quoting, often in direct speech, his talking.
Consul Parodi had had to leave in 1824 due to a health problem, and the Pasha missed his services, commenting to one in his retinue:
tuo console nuovo star buono, non cercare me né buono né male, inscialla tutti li consoli star come issowhich is a Sicilian inflection. But on the arrival of his substitute, the Pasha took offence at not receiving the customary gift, protesting repeatedly
Mi conoscer ti aver bona cabesa, pirò re Sardinia mandar sempri Consul sensa rigal? Ti star consul o no star? mi non entender, così aver fatto Re Sardinia per Ugo, i tratato con Sardinia no dicir questoand
Cristiane star furbi, Barodi star morto, i Re Sardinia mandar ti Tripoli birché tener bona cabesa i procura no pagar rigal.That being the time of gunboat diplomacy, Consul Parodi returned the following year escorted by a naval expedition that compelled the Pasha to present his excuses.
Still, in 1852 the newspaper L'Algerien was bringing a measure of the gradual assertion of French ways in the Lingua Franca: 'Moi meskine, toi donnar sordi' (I am poor, give me alms) and 'Toi biber l'agua' (you may drink from this water.)
Alan D. Corré (whose excellent research on Lingua Franca is available here on the web, and can be conveniently consulted with its clear dictionary and abundant bibliography) comes to the conclusion that Judeo-Arabic is a dying language, and a limited survival of Judeo-Spanish is unlikely.
Ladino, or Hakètia (apart from the use of Rabbinic characters) was reasonably like the language of Cervantes; where it diverged dramatically was in the pronunciation, so as to evade comprehension to an untrained ear. Among the few who still practice it, was the family of the Chilean Ambassador to the Vatican at the time of the pontifical mediation in the Beagle Channel dispute. An instance I was given by a common acquaintance in Chile was 'Where is the water?' (Adonde está el agua aquí) which came to sound 'ande talahuaki; and makes you think first of Euskera: to settle its new empire, the Spanish crown had decided to set aside each part for a specific region, thus Texas was reserved to the Canary Islands, Cuba to Catalonia (we may remember José Martí or Xavier Cugat) and Basque family names, but only names, are very common in Chile for this reason. At the other end of the spectrum, Judeo-Arabic reminds the listener of colloquial Maltese, when in the middle of an intricately wrought argument in a Tunisian-like dialect an occasional alien word as 'bazikament' is injected every now and then.
Now both of them as we have seen, were the nearest neighbours to the Lingua Franca of old; its syntax was basically Arabic, and the vocabulary roughly 60% Italian, 20% Spanish, with Catalan, French, Ladino and Turkish words thrown in. As a Pidgin it had several geographic variants that blended gradually into each other so as to preclude a strict dividing line: at least a Levantine, an Egyptian, and one, possibly two, North African strains could be detected. The difficulty was compounded by the fact that it was a spoken language of illiterate people, though it had illustrious albeit short literary quotes ('Qui voler fiora di bella giardina' -- Mozart libretto.) From the above it is apparent that it was always limited to simple words, often insults or commands, at best short greeting formulas, and was unlikely ever to produce longer periods of prose, or poetry.
I travelled extensively (mostly in the Middle East) as did my parents before me, and the funny thing is that I found the Lingua Franca, or what looks like a very close relative, alive and well in the small Levantine communities stretching from Cyprus to Jerusalem. The same happens in Tunisia. (Instances kindly provided by Dr. Mouaily al Mohsen, a Tunisian scholar and legal interpreter based in Milan, include 'meshkito' ('forged,' from 'mischiato'); daily paid workers are hired 'b'ljornata' and simple minded folks are called 'qawalshpata' probably from an old Neapolitan playing card) and I know for a fact that a creole occurs in the Aegean Islands.
Most Pidgin languages have a reduced vocabulary of 700 to 1500 words, and Lingua Franca has over 2000, gathered in the 1830 Dictionary, in the works of Hugo Schuchardt and Marcel Cohen, and occasional quotes from other books, such as Shay Lamora, a Judeo-Arabic trouvaille by Professor Alan Corré, which was written in Oran by Solomon Zarqa and Judah Darmon, and published by the House of Belforte at Leghorn in 1864. Some of the Lingua Franca grammar peculiarities are obvious to an Italian ear: for example, the difference between 'in a month' and 'dobbo una meze' (after one month) is blatant in an Italian context, whereas it is much less offensive in English.
My first brushing with this language must have been around 1957 at Athens. My family moved to Beirut in 1962 and at first I was mildly intrigued by this funny way of speaking; it was only ten years later while attending University in Rome that I discovered by chance its glorious past.
As for the spelling Scio, this was the consecrated form in the 18th century official records, as were Bella Pola (Velopoula), Cerigo e Cerigotto (Kithira and Antikìthera), Millo (Milo), Morea (Peloponneso), Negroponte (Eubea) or Santo Strati (Aghios Eustratos.) Most of the Northern Sporades did belong to Genoa, Chios in particular from 1304 to 1566. Contemporary chronicles refer to Lepanto as the battle of Curzolari, from a nearby achipelago, and the islands of Spetse and Simi were usually called Settepozzi (Seven Wells) and delle Simie (of the Apes): Benedetto Dei, a correspondent of Leonardo da Vinci, wrote in his chronicle, kept at the Royal Library in Munich: 'Sono stato per la costiera della Barberia cioè a Sione e Orano e Archudia, la dove si vendono le scimie e le bertuccie e arreconsi a manzi legate per i piedi di Dreto chome i polli' = I was on the Barbary coast ... where they sell apes and monkeys and tie them up like chickens.)
One of the peculiarities that Lingua Franca shares with Ternateño for example is what can be termed the 'Alamo factor', or the ability to survive on its own after weak cultural links were interrupted; a latter day, turn of the century Lingua Franca derivation in East Africa, that will be dealt with at the end of this paper, concentrated on engineering and technical words, in connection with the railway construction. As can be seen from this short feature, bibliographic references tend to be old, but this is an original subject which never enjoyed much popularity; two modern works devoted to it are H. & R. Kahane and A. Tietze, The Lingua Franca in the Levant: Turkish Nautical Terms of Italian and Greek Origin (Urbana 1958) and most notably Professor John Holm's volume of 1989 on Pidgin and Creoles.
Du visdo li belatsu dal Amiro? Dendro duddu sce: li filio dal Amiro, il molio dal Amiro. Anghe scyulày futàna ... ghè kìamatu questu? (Hai visto il palazzo dell'Emiro? Dentro c'è tutto: i figli dell'Emiro, la moglie dell'Emiro, c'è anche una fontana ... come si chiama?)This last topic-comment sentence comes straight from spoken Arabic, a language of which the speaker was ignorant.
You seen the palace from the Amir? Inside all there is: the sons from the Amir, the wife of the Amir. Also you have wench ... what called this? (Did you see the Emir's residence? Everything is in there: the Emir's children, his wives. There is even a fountain [in the garden] ... how do you call it?)
Vedi ghè adèzzo uscirò. Sdo pensando per kuello el novo menistro dalli Esteri ghè gòllabboravamo dalla vekkia ambasciata. Ghè, el kuale, el vradêllo, ghè bella moglie ha a! (Adesso uscirò. Pensavo al nuovo ministro degli esteri, con cui collaboravamo all vecchia ambasciata. Suo fratello, che bella moglie che ha!)
See that now I will go out. I am thinking for that the new minister from foreign affairs that we used to work with from the old embassy. That, which, the brother, what beautiful wife he has! (I am intent on leaving now, on an errand to the new minister for foreign affairs, the one with whom we used to work at the old embassy. His brother [intended: the brother of whom] what a beautiful wife he has.
In the main Dodecanese Creole is much more elaborate, and closer to standard Italian than Levantine Pidgin, though it mostly depends on the topic of the conversation. A parting shot I often heard was:
Ghè sèmbre pendzo da non vàto 'rrabiare sua çelendza (that always I think from not made angry his Excellency)which looks very close to historical examples quoted earlier (a stronger expletive than 'angry' was habitually used, though.) The Dodecanese were wrested from Ottoman Turkey in 1912 (together with Libya) and was transferred to Greek sovereignty in 1947. There was a sizeable community of Sephardic Jews that were deported to Germany in July 1944, following the Italian armistice of September, 1943: 120 from Kos, and as many as 1700 from Rhodes, most of them disappearing in the Holocaust.
Another example of Levantine Pidgin: 'Barlatu dal vakansa' (spoken from the holiday.) Now 'barlatu' can have several meanings ranging from 'he declared' to 'I questioned' and a couple more in between. With some luck, and a little help from the context, it will mean: 'Did you ask him about the leave authorization?'
Io c'è il guardia Fares Abu Hàsan da ... Stai Signor Martini danote con donna. Firmato: il dito.Martini is a fancy name that I chose, for in spite of its Italian sound. it is also at times a name of Turkish origin (Mardini, i.e. coming from the town of Mardin, not far from Edessa, in a Syriac speaking enclave.) From the above short sample the typical occurrence can be drawn of the verb STAY used in place of BE. Another classic quote is from the ballet to Molière's 'Bourgeois Gentihomme': 'Dice Turque, qui star quista.'
(Me, there is the watchman Fares Abu Hasàn from ... Stay Mr Martini from the night with woman. Signed: the finger = I am the watchman Fares Abu Hasàn assigned to ... [I can confirm that] Mr Martini on that night was [consorting] with a damsel. [By way of] signature a finger[print].
A short quotation is required to sum up the concept; Venture de Paradis was a distinguished 'arabisant' reputed by Jomard, the founder of the Institut d'Egypte, and five volumes of his manuscripts are at the National Library in Paris, the first of which is simply titled 'Notes sur Alger' and in 1894 was edited by E. Fagnan to become a slim 180-page booklet. The original text comes from letters written by Venture de Paradis from Algiers throughout 1788 and the early part of 1789, and badly pasted together by the staff of the Paris National Library: the cuts through the paper caused by the steam tongs of the disinfection process are still visible. Most of the Lingua Franca locutions reported in the text as a matter of course, come from Spanish, as 'izbandid/sbandouts' (bandit), contador (overseer of the Treasury), trigo (wheat), Muchache de la golfe (valet, from the Arabic word 'ghorfa', room.) But in describing the sequence of the day, Venture de Paradis whose mother tongue was French, does mention that a flag was displayed from the Government Palace: 'Bandiera arriva' (sic) indicated twelve noon, while 'Bandiera bassa, l'heure de la bastonnade' fell around 1.30 pm. The fact that Italian orthography rules were normally adopted, to the point of contradicting the meaning of the sentence (arriva [coming] instead of arriba [hoisted] ) seems to indicate that Italian at the time was more popular.
A book not appearing on this list which was very
famous in its time was the Geographical and Historical
Narrative of a Residence in Algiers by Filippo Pananti
(London l8l8), originally published in Florence as Avventure
ed Osservazioni sulle Coste di Barberia, in l8l7 and further
reprinted in Milan (1829), Genoa (l830), Florence (l83l),
translated into French in l820 and into German in l823.
This study was first published in Englishes, letterature inglesi
contemporanee, #8 ANNO 3 1999, pp 42-62. It includes some subsequent
Abandàgia laundry Riggio 1802 TUN
Bandiera Arriva hoisted flag, 12 noon Venture de Paradis
Bandiera Bassa lowered flag, about 1.30 pm: l'heure de la
bastonnade Venture de Paradis 1788 ALG
Birchè because Ferrari 1824 TRI
Bitte Casanadale Beit el Khaznadar= Treasurer's Residence Riggio
Bitte Laùdo Beit el Oudu= Rest House Riggio
Bonàzzi lull Rossi ca 1890 TRI
Bonjòrno good morning Venture de Paradis 1788 ALG
Caìto, Caytto captain Grandchamp 1664 TUN
Capitano Prove chamberlain Venture de Paradis 1788 ALG
Caravana foreman Venture de Paradis 1788 ALG
Cavagini, cavacino coffee caterer Riggio 1797 TUN
Ciaùs orderly Riggio 1781 TUN
Coionàr to fool, swindle Gallico 1820 TUN
Compàsso mental sanity Gallico 1820 TUN
Contador treasury overseer Venture de Paradis 1788 ALG
Cuatr'ora four o'clock Dict! 1830 ALG
Dall'Imèn Imam's Residence Riggio 1802 TUN
Dicir to say Caronni
Diòna customs Grandchamp 1649 TUN
Dolètri Deyletli=Head of the Police Riggio
Effendi master Venture de Paradis 1788 ALG
Entendèr understand Ferrari 1824 TRI
Fasìr to do Gallico 18l0 TUN
Fortùna storm Rossi ca 1890 TRI
Fortìzza fortress Gallico ca 18l0 TUN
Giardinàri gardeners Riggio 1797 TUN
Grecani north-east wind Riggio 1850 TRI
Guardagolfa Majordomo Riggio 1802 TUN
Guardaròbi wardrobe Riggio 1802 TUN
Guarda Scarpi [sic] shoe valet Riggio ca 1802 TUN
Mainàr to lower the sail Rossi 1675 TRI
Manubi mahbùb=10 Piastres Tunisian gold coin Grandchamp 1806 TUN
Muchache de la Golfe servant, boy Venture de Paradis 1788
Mucciaccio [sic] servant, boy Riggio 1802 TUN
Oldàch, Juldag janissary Grandchamp ca 1620 TUN
Ostro Levanti south-east wind Riggio ca 1850 TRI
Ostro Ponenti south-west wind Riggio ca 1850 TRI
Pataca Real de a Ocho Asunciòn 1670 ALG
Pertuseri caulker Venture de Paradis 1788 ALG
Procurar to manage to Ferrari 1824 TRI
Raìxi captain Grandchamp ca 1610 TUN
Rigàl gift Gallico
Sachegì janissary Riggio 1781 TUN
Sappa Tappa, Sappi Tappa, Zappi Tappa Sàhib
at-Tàbi=Lord Keeper of
the seals Riggio 18l5 TUN
Scìma mooring line Rossi ca 1890 TRI
Sempri always Ferrari 1824 TRI
Tescherè note, receipt Riggio 1781 TUN
Torcimànio dragoman Riggio 1781 TUN
Trigo wheat Venture de Paradis 1788 ALG
Yorno day Asunciòn 1670 ALG
I owe the possibility of quoting so many elusive and hard to find
publications to the kind advice of Padre Giovanni from the Trinitarian
Convent in Rome, of the staff of the African Institute of Rome, and of the
C.A. Nallino Institute of Oriental Studies, which some 25 years ago provided
me with texts that were crucial to my doctoral dissertation on the
Boundaries of Eastern Arabia, and now enabled me to trace the hidden thread
of Lingua Franca.
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Go back to Glossary Index Alan D. Corré
A book not appearing on this list which was very famous in its time was the Geographical and Historical Narrative of a Residence in Algiers by Filippo Pananti (London l8l8), originally published in Florence as Avventure ed Osservazioni sulle Coste di Barberia, in l8l7 and further reprinted in Milan (1829), Genoa (l830), Florence (l83l), translated into French in l820 and into German in l823.
This study was first published in Englishes, letterature inglesi contemporanee, #8 ANNO 3 1999, pp 42-62. It includes some subsequent additions.