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Lingua Franca of the Levant (Mediterranean Coastline) from Middle Ages to 19th Cent.

Padri di noiEdit

Padri di noi, ki star in syelo, noi volir ki nomi di ti star saluti. Noi volir ki il paisi di ti star kon noi, i ki ti lasar ki tuto il populo fazer volo di ti na tera, syemi syemi ki nel syelo. Dar noi sempri pani di noi di kada jorno, i skuzar per noi li kulpa di noi, syemi syemi ki noi skuzar kwesto populo ki fazer kulpa a noi. Non lasar noi tenir katibo pensyeri, ma tradir per noi di malu.

Un Vetere Precursor De InterlinguaEdit

Proque Interlingua, le moderne reincarnation del latino medieval, pertine al secunde medietate de nostre seculo presente, on propende a passar super le previe existentia de un lingua auxiliar anque basate super le latino que totevia non era planificate, ma resultava del besonio de marineros in le medie etate de communicar in le portos mediterranee que illes visitava. Hodie on nomina iste lingua le Lingua Franca.

Essente le creation plus o minus spontanee de homines inculte ex plure paises in portos ubi on parlava plure linguas differente, como italiano, espaniol, turco e arabe, il existeva naturalmente un grande variation in le dialectos parlate del Lingua Franca, dunque on non pote considerar lo un lingua unificate; vermente, usar le termino lingua implicarea forsan un prestigio e un formalitate que illo nunquam habeva. Ergo il serea probabilemente plus apte describer le Lingua Franca como un jargon. Illo esseva un idioma solo pro le momento e pro le circumstantias local, ma tamen possedeva un importantia notabile durante le seculos de su uso.

Le Lingua Franca era componite de parolas extrahite ex le major linguas del regiones ubi on lo empleava, principalmente le linguas romance, dunque le vocabulario multo resimilava le de Interlingua, e.g. "lavorar" laborar, "volir" voler, "lingo" lingua, ben que le vocabulario indigeva le grado de standardisation e neutralitate lingual a que usatores de Interlingua son accostumate, e parolas restringite a un lingua se includeva, e.g. "catibo" mal (italiano  "cattivo), dependente del localitate ubi on usava le lingua. Le numero de parolas de origine italian monstra su popularitate specialmente in le portos de Italia.

Su grammatica era multo reducite e simplificate:

(a) il mancava inflexiones pro marcar le plural e anque le tempores del verbo, le quales era indicate per particulos separate; e.g. le perfecto se formava per le adverbo "ja": "elu ja sabito" ille (o illa) habeva sapite.

(b) on utilisava le infinitivo immutabile con le pronomines personal pro exprimer le tempore presente, le imperativo etc., e.g. "mi avir" io habe, "ti avir" tu habe, "dar!" da!, e le sol inflexion era "-to", le qual on addeva al infinitivo (sin -r) pro formar le tempore passate:

"voi amato" vos amava.
(c) le objecto del verbo era sovente precedite per le parola per: "il populo amar per elu" le populo le ama; e le adjectivos possessive era substituite per "di" ante le pronomine: "il paisi de noi" nostre pais;
(d) le articulos era invariabile, dunque il non existeva concordantia de genere.

Ecce un texto continue in le Lingua Franca pro illustrar melio le natura del lingua -- le "Patre Nostre":

"Padri di noi, ki star in syelo, noi volir ki nomi di ti star saluti. Noi volir ki il paisi di ti star kon noi, i ki ti lasar ki tuto il populo fazer volo di ti na tera, syemi syemi ki nel syelo. Dar noi sempri pani di noi di kada jorno, i skuzar per noi li kulpa di noi, syemi syemi ki noi skuzar kwesto populo ki fazer kulpa a noi. Non lasar noi tenir katibo pensyeri, ma tradir per noi di malu. Amen"

Le Lingua Franca serviva ben le homines qui lo besionava. Al fin on lo associava con le classes inferior e forsan anque criminal -- in summa, con le vita insalubre. Nonobstante, illo superviveva usque iste seculo, ma es nunc toto defuncte e oblidate, excepte su nomine mesme, del qual on se servi ancora in multe linguas occidental, e ergo anque in Interlingua, pro significar "lingua commun".
--per Adrian Pilgrim in "Lingua e Vita" maio - augusto 1997 No. 90
(re-scribite in forma electronic per Jay Bowks, 24 de junio de 1997)


Charles Häberl
Harvard University NELC PhD Candidate
Lingua Franca and International Communication

What concern have we with the shades of dialect in Homer or Theocritus, provided they speak the spiri-tual lingua franca that abolishes all alienage of race? -James Russell Lowell, Among my Books. Ser. I. 170, 1870

Languages divide communities from one another more often than they bridge them. In those rare occasions where several communities adopt a single language for their communications, the term applied to this language is lingua franca. Such a term might be applied to English in the past century, or French in the previous one. Some will even tell you that the term implies the latter language, inherited from a still more distant period when Latin was the language of international communication par excellence – and subsequently employed to refer to any of the common languages that followed it. Whenever the center of power shifted - to Rome, Paris, or London - a new language gradually came to replace the old.

The idea of a succession of universal languages appeals to us, even though we know that mastery of the alleged “common tongue” was never universal. This must still be the case, or the hordes of freshly minted American and British English instructors who perennially descend upon Asia and Europe would be out of jobs. Despite their best efforts, those who have ever taught a foreign language will tell you that the majority of students will only learn the bare essentials to communicate, and comparatively few students ever achieve any degree of fluency. Still, the perception of English (or French) as a lingua franca persists. Furthermore, few would disagree that the benefits provided by such a language outweigh any problems created by it. After all, it is hard to imagine such a bridge between cultures being any-thing other than beneficial. The original Lingua Franca was nothing like French, Latin, or English. In fact, it resembles a sort of pidgin Italian or Spanish—but this should not surprise us, considering that it flourished throughout a period when cities like Madrid, Lisbon, Genova, and Venice ruled the waves. As it happens, the name Lingua Franca is an Italian calque of the Arabic phrase al-lugha al-ifranjiyya, the “Frankish” tongue.

This name was generalized sometime around the 8th century to refer to the languages of Western Europe (the domain of a group of barbarian tribes, foremost among whom were the Germanic Franks), in opposition to “Oriental” languages like Greek, Turkish, and Arabic. Even so, there was nothing particularly Western European about the Lingua Franca; John Dryden called it “a certain compound language, made up of all tongues, that passes through the Levant.” Its speakers referred to it as Sabir, a name that probably arose from the phrase Sabir hablar? “Do you know how to speak (Lingua Franca)?" It is easy to see how Sabir would come to refer to the language itself. One might even say that those who knew their way around this lingo were savvy. The BBC’s Jonathan Kent once remarked that, among the languages of the world, English is like a woman of negotiable virtue. Ignoring the sexism implicit in his remark, we might still find some value in his facile simile.

English has intermingled with every language it has encountered, and products of its liaisons are apparent in its vocabulary. '"Thug" is an offspring of Hindi. "Barbecue" comes from a liaison with Haiti. "Toboggan" is begotten of the Native Americans, and "assassin" is one of the oldest products of English’s long association with Arabic. A more appropriate metaphor would be that of a patchwork quilt, to which some fabric (either utilitarian or aesthetic) was contributed by each of these cultures. In comparison with Sabir, however, English appears rather uniform—every word of Sabir, from abendut to zuppar, has been taken from other languages. Therein lay the special strength of Sabir—its vocabulary depended upon those who spoke it, not upon a canon of texts or the dialect of a particular city. Few texts were ever composed in Sabir (for an example of one, see the illustration on the following page); most of its speakers were illiterate, anyway.

Furthermore, Sabir never took root in any of the numerous ports it visited; it belonged to no one and every-one, and spread upon the waves of the Mediterranean. Sabir was the tool of itinerant types who plied the Mediterranean: the merchant, and his close cousin the pirate. These two were brought into an unholy alliance by the slave trade, which ran through the Sahara and across the Mediterranean before new Atlantic vistas were opened during the Age of Exploration. Considering that merchants and customers, as well as slaves and slavers, come from many races and many backgrounds, it was inevitable that something would arise as a medium of communication. Throughout this period, the languages of elevated political and intellectual intercourse in the region were Latin, Greek, and Arabic.

As members of our department are well aware, these three are among the most difficult languages to master, generally requiring years of hard work, and pirates are not generally known for their scholarly pursuits. Imagine Blackbeard as he burns the midnight oil, poring his eyes out over a copy of Caspari’s Arabic Grammar, or perhaps Sir Francis Drake trying to fit flashcard drills into a routine already flush with rum, sodomy, and the lash. This is where Sabir came in handy.

With a vocabulary cobbled together from all the languages surrounding the Mediterranean basin, there was always something recognizable in Sabir to anyone who heard it. It was constructed upon a solid base of those common things that are traded on every shore of the Mediterranean, and infused with life by the vocabulary of slang and technical jargon that has always tran-scended borders. Words like lingo “language,” gam “leg,” pan “bread,” vin “wine,” nada “nothing,” lagua “water,” mucho “much,” and the like are recognizable to most any speaker of French, Spanish, or Italian who hears them, no matter how distorted they may seem. Nor, for that matter, was Lingua Franca a purely European phenomenon, chock-a-block with words taken from Turkish, Arabic, and Greek such as drahem and danari (types of money), taybo “good,” barra “out,” and bezef “very much.”

Furthermore, Sabir has been stripped down and gutted of nearly all the complicated inflections and conjugations of its parent languages; in their place, it possesses a basic grammar of its own, not derived from the source languages. All nouns appear with one invariable form, usually the singular, without an article (definite or indefinite). Verbs have two forms, one which is used universally (and which resembles the Romance infinitive), and one specifically marked for past tense (which resembles a Romance past participle). Person and number are indicated with pronouns; the verb is negated with non. Whenever confusion might arise, the object of a verb would be marked with a preposition, almost always per.

A Sabir phrasebook, issued to the French troops that occupied Algeria in 1830, gives us the following examples:

Commé ti star? - How are you?
Mi star bonou, é ti? - I’m well, and you?
Mi star contento mirar per ti - I’m happy to see you.
Mouchou gratzia - Thank you very much.
Mi poudir servir per ti per qoualké cosa? - Can I help you with something?
Molto temp ti non mirato Signor M.? – Has it been a long while since you saw Mr. M?
Mi mirato iéri - I saw him yesterday.
Star bouona genti - He is a good man.
Quando ti mirar per ellou, saloutar moucho per la parté de me – When you see him, greet him warmly for my sake.

Owing to these traits, Sabir was easy to learn for almost every-one in the region of the Mediterranean. Sabir was also much more flexible than any ethnic language; writing in 1632, the Archbishop of Palermo, Fray Diego de Haedo, notes that speak-ers of the hablar franco “se acomodan al momento a aquel hablar,” making use of the vocabulary that they had. This resulted in a spectrum of varieties of lingua franca, which shaded towards Italian, French, Spanish, and others. Consequently, across the ages and throughout the various ports to which Sabir would pay call, it would jettison old vocabulary and take on new vocabulary, not unlike a ship at sea, which evacuates and fills its bilges as the need arises. The examples given above, although recorded in a French colony using an orthography derived from the French, come from a variety of Sabir much influenced by Italian. Later examples reveal the increasing influence of French in the lexicon of Sabir (e.g. an example recorded in 1884: Quand moi gagner drahem, moi achetir moukère “When I earn some money, I will take a wife”), even though the basic structure of Sabir was never compromised.

The Lingua Franca survived several centuries (longer than any other recorded pidgin or jargon) but its death was ultimately assured by the rise of transatlantic shipping, the disappearance of Mediterranean piracy, and the rise of European imperialism which imposed the dialects of Lisbon, Madrid, London, and Paris. No one is certain when Lingua Franca was first employed as a bridge between Europe and the East, and it may never have completely died out. Certainly, there appears to be a bit of Sabir in all of the various pidgin and creole languages that arose in the colonies of the European powers, under circumstances not un-like those that created Sabir. While it is impossible to say whether these languages sprung from Sabir, its range did once extend into the colonies; in 1732, John Barbot advised travelers to "Guinea and the American Islands… to learn languages, as English, French, Low Dutch, Portuguese and Lingua Franca." One thing is certain, however—as Sabir lost ground to more standard forms of the languages that gave it birth, it lost its value as a contact language.

Nonetheless, traces of it survive in many of the European lan-guages, particularly in the vocabulary of slangs, jargons, cants, argots, and, of course, nautical terminology. Some of the most familiar terms above - lingo, savvy, gam, nada, and the like, in addition to more marked terms like “camp” (from Italian campeggiare, “to stand out (against a background),” passed into English slang through Polari. Polari is an obsolescent argot infused with the vocabulary of the lingua franca, and used primarily by British homosexuals, especially those of a theatrical bent (whose contacts with sailors and other seamen are particularly well-established). Its speakers employed Sabir in an inversion of the language’s original purpose; a heavy dose of Sabir slang made their cant less intelligible (rather than more intelligible) to unrecruited observers. Thus the original Lingua Franca ceased to enable communication, and began to conceal it.

Lingua Franca, more than any other language deserving of its name, served for centuries as a bridge between the cultures of the Mediterranean, and a universal language. It also has a checkered past worthy of any of the languages that succeeded it, despite the fact that its speakers were never unified under one flag (unless one counts the Jolly Roger). From its modest beginnings as an ad hoc jargon used by merchants and pilgrims, it became a tool for pirates and slavers, eventually working its way into the cants of the European underworld. In one form or an-other, it is still used today - not to open the avenues of communication but to close them. 9

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