This is my introduction exactly as it appeared on the third edition of this website. I have seen no reason to change it. - A.D.C.
Lingua Franca is a pidgin, a trade language used by numerous language communities around the Mediterranean, to communicate with others whose language they did not speak. It is, in fact, the mother of all pidgins, seemingly in use since the Middle Ages and surviving until the nineteenth century, when it disappeared with hardly a trace, probably under the onslaught of the triumphant French language, leaving only a few anecdotal quotations in the writings of travelers or observers, an imperfect French/Lingua Franca vocabulary (1830) meant for settlers in the newly annexed territory of Algeria, and some other rather strange detritus which I have tried to put together in the Glossary in a consistent fashion. After the publication of the first edition of this cybergraph, my attention was drawn to a number of texts in literary sources, of which I was quite unaware, and these will be dealt with later. Additionally, Professor Roberto Rossetti believes that there are some Lingua Franca-like dialects remaining; see his essay on Lingua Franca, to which there is a link at the end of this introduction. The only oral survival of which I am aware, however, for certain is the initial numerals of Lingua Franca in the mouths of the present-day children of Jerusalem, who use them as a counting-out rhyme, innocently unaware that they are not mere nonsense syllables, but the sad remnant of a once highly useful means of communication, an informal Mediterranean Esperanto. Like other pidgins, it had a limited vocabulary and a sharply circumscribed grammar, and lacked those things, such as verb tenses and case endings, that add specificity to human speech.
The language was not usually written. It was most often just a way to sell the merchandise you had to offer, or haggle for a better price on its purchase. But see later for some written texts.
Observers noted that the words constituting this pidgin were mainly of Romance origin, in particular, Italian, Spanish and Occitan, a language occupying an intermediate position between Spanish and French. Non venir encora journo di sancto di vos autros? ("Hasn't your holiday arrived yet?") politely enquired one speaker of another. Note particularly the use of an uninflected infinitive where some kind of past tense would be needed in all "normal" languages. Apart from a few curious and tantalizing quotes of this kind, Lingua Franca seemed to be lost forever, since it died before the advent of the tape recorder or of anthropologists anxious to record a moribund form of human speech, however bizarre, and even laughable, it may have seemed.
It may be noted, however, that Lingua Franca did develop a past and future tense when its heyday was over, a "golden age" which I would place in the seventeenth century, when there were so many captured Christian and Jewish slaves in Algiers. They probably used this trade language for local communication. These new tenses consisted of the past participle of Romance verbs for the past tense and the use of the word bisogno "need" for the future. (Many standard languages exhibit similar developments: the Russian past tense was originally a participle, and many languages call on a modal auxiliary expressing necessity or desire to form the future tense - English "will", French "avoir", now a bound morpheme appended to the infinitive.) This suggests that Lingua Franca was in the process of being creolized, becoming more akin to a language spoken natively, with all the complexity that that implies. But this process was rudely interrupted by political changes that spelled the extinction of Lingua Franca in favor of French.
The terminus ad quem of Lingua Franca is clear. It began to falter shortly after the arrival of the French in Algeria in 1830, and by the time Schuchardt began to study it at the end of the nineteenth century it was already virtually extinct, although it was probably still well-known to older folk.. The terminus a quo is much harder to ascertain. The Mediterranean was a great center of trade from earliest times (witness the biblical book of Jonah) and traders must have found some way of communicating. But we know little about it.
The importance of Occitan, a distinct language occupying a position between Spanish and French, and spoken along with standard French in several départements of southern France, has been largely overlooked in the study of Lingua Franca. For example, Schuchardt declares that a speaker of Lingua Franca who uses the word mangiar "eat" must have got the word from Italian mangiare. He overlooks the fact that in Occitan, and only in Occitan, the word for "eat" is manjar, which is simply another spelling of mangiar. More on this when we discuss Polari.
It needs to be pointed out that the western Romance languages were much more similar to one another in medieval times, and many innovations of individual languages are quite recent. For example, Spanish lost the original initial f in words such as hijo only two or three centuries ago, and the current pronunciation of the j replacing the x (as in the English word "sherry" for Jerez, earlier Xerez) as well as the palatalized l, is another innovation. Portuguese did not follow these trends, but instead had a number of innovations of its own. At that time the Romance languages occupied a position analogous to the Arabic dialects of the present day. Latin was the official "correct" language, and the individual Romance languages were simply considered corrupt versions of Latin in common speech, just as standard Arabic is considered the "correct" language, and the dialect speaker must use it the minute he puts pen, or printer, to paper. In this circumstance it is easy to see that Lingua Franca was no doubt originally based on this common Romance/Vulgar Latin, with the individual speaker throwing in a word from the Romance dialect he knew best if he needed a supplement to his vocabulary. It was unlikely that he would be misunderstood.
The authors of the book, however, Solomon Zarqa and Judah Darmon, lived in Oran in North Africa which was a recognized center of Lingua Franca, and it is hardly surprising that their book, directed as it was to simple, non-intellectual folk, should reflect in its language the familiarity with Lingua Franca, and frequently borrow words from the common speech. Jews were prominent participants in international trade. I published an article in Hebrew on my observations in a volume on the culture of North African Jewry (see bibliography) and later gave a lecture on my findings at an international Orientalists' conference in Toronto. The current work represents a fulfilment of my intent declared there to publish Linguae Francae Relicta, a monograph - now a cybergraph! in which would be gathered together all the fragments I could find of Lingua Franca. One need not worry too much about syntax in Pidgins, because usually it is very uncomplicated. Finding the morphemes - themselves not great in number - is the better part of the battle. It is interesting to note that the authors of Shay Lamora', in their preface to the first volume, note their perception of the character of their language which is
this corrupted Arabic language in which we have composed this book, so that everyone who reads it will understand immediately and painlessly. (hada lsan alerby alm$wb$ aldy emlna byh had almcHaf ba$ jmye aldy yqra fyh suby+w yfhm bla edab.)To my mind, they had no need to be deferential to more highly regarded languages. They wrote simply and fetchingly in their native tongue, an opportunity largely denied to the present-day denizens of that part of the world, who must use Standard Arabic, a language that is essentially foreign, even though political, religious and social circumstances require them to regard it as their own. Diglossia has its rewards, but at a certain price.
In effect the plurals of the first type are the genuine Lingua Franca plurals, while the other two are the way the plurals occur when already assimilated to the Arabic language of the text of Shay Lamora'.
… il apparaît que l'influence de la langue franque n'a pas été nulle sur la langage ordinaire des juifs d'Alger … Ceci dit, il me semble pourtant prouvé par un ensembles de faits que la presque totalité des emprunts romans à Alger juif provient non de la langue franque, mais directement des diverses langues romanes. (Page 413)("… it appears that the influence of Lingua Franca has not been non-existent on the ordinary language of the Jews of Algiers … This having been said, it seems to me to be proved by a combination of facts that almost the entirety of Romance loans in Jewish Algiers comes not from Lingua Franca, but directly from the various Romance languages.")
In proof of this, he cites a wordlist of Lingua Franca, containing some 2000 lexical items from Marseilles dated 1830, which indicates that Lingua Franca consisted mainly of Italian words. (More on this wordlist in the next section.) Moreover, the meanings of words in Algerian Arabic corresponds better to the modern languages than to the wordlist. A typical example of these dialogues is offered here in the original spelling influenced by French, as well as the complete set of dialogues in a modified transcription, closer to that of the words from which the Lingua Franca used there is derived.
I find Cohen's argumentation unconvincing. The fact that the infinitive of the verb (mostly -ar, sometimes -er) is used in these items, albeit with Arabic affixes, is strongly suggestive of an underlying pidgin. And relative frequency of the four languages that are the ultimate source of the loans seems to follow the Archbishop's observation relative to Lingua Franca.
Cohen includes a number of texts which are transcribed from oral materials he obtained from informants, mostly on the customs of these Sephardic Jews, but a commercial item, which is apparently transcribed from Hebrew script, is of particular interest to us. (Page 514.)
He observes that it is an instance of the langage commercial écrit, rempli de mots étrangers désignant presque tous des opérations ou des institutions commerciales. ["written commercial language, full of foreign words, almost all of them designating commercial operations or institutions."] The letter, in which the writer complains that his correspondent is not acting appropriately, uses loan words in exactly the same way as Shay Lamora', Romance infinitives being squeezed into Arabic paradigms (Cohen's necessary diacritics are not reproduced here):
I am including Cohen's valuable data in this Glossary, but have so far concentrated on items I extracted from Shay Lamora', since Cohen's items are readily available in his book, which is out-of-print, of course, but may be found in many research libraries, that of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, for instance.
Note: As of 2003:10:01 the following sites linked here are not available:
In the Polari wordlist site Polari is defined as
… the obsolescent gay language (or argot) [= language of a particular social group or class] derived from circus, theatrical and criminal cants [=jargons] and Lingua Franca … best known from Julian and Sandy in Round the Horne [= a B.B.C. comedy starring Kenneth Williams]: "Oh 'ello, Mr 'Orne bona to varda your dolly old eek." [= Oh hello, Mr Horne, good to see your pleasant old face.]Eric Partridge in his Here, There and Everywhere, (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1950 p. 116) declares that palyaree (as he spells it)
existed among itinerant actors and showmen throughout the 18th Century … It was among showmen and strolling players that parlyaree originated, partly in self-protection; actors and actresses, especially if itinerant, being a despised class until late in the 19th Century … The men or women living by or in the circus adopted many parlyaree terms …He also comments that the word for "good" is
either bono, strictly masculine, or bona, strictly feminine, both being used in parlyaree with a delightful disregard for either gender or sex. (p. 124)This, of course, is typical of pidgins in general and Lingua Franca in particular.
Gay liberation means that Polari is well served on the web, and a number of sites are linked to the Polari site - not identical with the site just quoted.
Polari clearly derives its semantic content from various sources, backslang and cockney rhyming slang, for instance. (Cf. "riah" and "barnet" (< Barnet fair) for hair.) In the Glossary I include a table of words which appear to be derived from Lingua Franca - a number of which have already been noticed by others. The prevailing Romance language in the type of Lingua Franca which entered Polari is clearly Occitan. For example, Occitan filh + òme is a more convincing derivation of the word cited by the Polari wordlist as filiome than the Italian figlie+uomo suggested by the compiler of that list.
How does Polari come to include Lingua Franca materials? One can only speculate in an area where there is so little documentation, but one may suggest that itinerant entertainers might well come into contact with seafaring folk, and absorb some of their terminology. As for its use among gay persons, I recall that the fin-de-siècle English poet John Addington Symonds stated somewhere his anguish at his engrained habit of picking up foreign sailors at the port for sexual purposes. (Unfortunately, I do not have the precise reference - perhaps some reader can furnish it.) Symonds was an educated, upper-class Englishman who probably knew French and/or Italian, and this would enable him to understand readily someone speaking in Lingua Franca. If this was a common experience, it may well have been the route for Lingua Franca words into Polari, which itself is the Lingua Franca term for to speak. (Compare the use of the term haketia, derived from an Arabic root meaning "to say", used for the Spanish jargon of the North African Jews.) There is a discussion of the complex antecedents of Polari in the work by Ian Hancock cited in the introduction to the glossary (see below.)
In the glossary I include a table of suggested Lingua Franca materials in Polari, with an indication of their source.
Paul Baker in his research paper suggests plausibly that Polari was largely a victim of its own success, having become well known through a popular BBC skit with Kenneth Horne, thereby losing its usefulness as a code language.
For an American reflex of Polari, see the words collected by Martha Brummett.
There are ballads in Lingua Franca. Malarmi, in his book on Venice in the eighteenth century, included two, without apparently realising that they were in Lingua Franca, and not simply a weird form of the Venetian dialect. Finally, there are whole speeches in Lingua Franca in Goldoni's comedies, particularly Il impresario delle Smirne. ("The Impresario from Smyrna.") All these texts are offered in similar parallel columns, along with some even earlier items.
A word needs to be said on the items of a literary cast, such as those by Molière and Goldoni. It seems to me that these are Lingua Franca as a speaker of a Romance language would speak it, drawing freely on Italian vocabulary. Their intent appears to be satirical, mocking these ignorant foreigners who cannot speak a European language well. Accordingly, I have chosen not to include their semantic material in the Glossary. But the texts are available to the reader with an English translation.
Judeo-Arabic, then, is reaching the end of the road. But it leaves behind a distinguished history of medieval philosophical writings, folk literature, poetry, even modern newspapers which once flourished. And - in my humble opinion - a startling clue to the lost Lingua Franca language, which, as the Archbishop of Palermo declared in the seventeenth century, was once known in every house in the great cities a short hop away across the blue Mediterranean.
A much more controversial example is William H. Shurr's claimed discovery of new poems by Emily Dickinson embedded in her correspondence (see Shurr in the bibliography). The blurb declares that "Although many critics have commented on the poetic quality of Dickinson's letters, William Shurr is the first to draw fully developed poems from them." When this book appeared, a highly critical review appeared in the Chicago Tribune newspaper, asserting that this so-called discovery is merely the product of Shurr's fevered imagination. Some credence is given to this stricture by Shurr's assertion in the preface that "We [i.e. Shurr and his two assistants] have all studied the letters, and each of us has found poems that the others missed." "No wonder!" the cynic will declare, but I feel that Shurr is really onto something, although one may question individual items that he may have included in order, perhaps unconsciously, to achieve a critical mass. When poets write prose, they cannot leave their muse behind completely. I get the same feeling when reading Amichai's enchanting modern Hebrew prose, but feel no compulsion to dig out therefrom a new corpus of his poetic work. I realise that by citing this controversial example I risk transgressing the Talmudic precept never to give an "opening of the mouth to the accuser" (Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot 19a) - in the form of Satan, or an unhappy reviewer - but honesty requires me to do so.
At the other end of the probability scale is Samuel Miklos Stern's stunning discovery of the jaryas "exits", embedded in the envois of medieval Arabic and Hebrew poetry which solved conclusively the puzzle of these previously incomprehensible lines, and added a new chapter to the history of the Spanish language. (See Stern in the bibliography.)
I have used this discovery principle of embedding in a more strictly linguistic context, i.e. finding the lost vocabulary of the Lingua Franca principally within colloquial Judeo-Arabic texts. The reader will, I trust, find that the probability that my hypothesis is correct is greater than fifty percent, but that is for him or her to decide.
Allow me to interject a personal note. When I was in my early twenties, I was much inspired by the example of Samuel Stern whom I mentioned above. Dr. A. Altman, who collaborated with Stern on some scholarly projects, gave me the job of editing and proof-reading one of Stern's articles which Altman was preparing for publication, and I made a memorable visit to Stern in the house of his friend Walzer in Oxford. Stern was an awesome scholar, and his tragic death from asthma before he reached the age of fifty deprived us of more insights from his deep scholarship. But he had already done more than the equivalent of a life's work in his all too brief years. He is much in my mind as I dig out these little nuggets of Lingua Franca from the mine of colloquial Judeo-Arabic, and I like to think my work is a minor analogue of his digging out old popular Spanish from the mine of formal, highly literary, Hebrew and Arabic poetry. Would that I could submit to him this research, for he would give a generous yet unflinching assessment. But he already sits on the front row in the yeshiva shel ma`la, the Academy on High. I hope his view of my efforts is favorable, because he of all people would perceive the truth.
This third edition owes more than I can say to Professor Jonathan Bellman, whose field is musicology, but is so well informed on Lingua Franca. Madam Renata Zago observed that two ballads published by Malarmi were in Lingua Franca, and from there I was led to the plays of Goldoni, one of which I have ventured to translate insofar as it contains Lingua Franca. Both she and Professor Roberto Rossetti have given me great assistance in improving this edition, filling in many of the serious gaps in my own knowledge. Professor Rossetti translated one of the ballads into English, and provided valuable draft translations of other texts. My correspondence with him has been an ongoing pleasure.
Stimulating interchanges with these scholars over the Internet have been of the greatest value to me, and I hereby express my appreciation to them - and to this astonishing new medium of communication which we are privileged to utilize. I am able to sit at home in my study and work magic greater than anything the sorcerer's apprentice or Merlin himself might have dreamed of.
Revised March, 2000