Lingua Franca

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Lingua Franca, also called Sabir, is the historic trade pidgin of the Mediterranean, Black, and Irish Seas.

It first developed from a simplified form of Italian following the Crusades, a time when Italian commerce in the eastern Mediterranean was growing quickly. It spread around the sea, in the process becoming a sort of Inter-Romance that could be understood by ships' crews who spoke different Romance languages natively, whether Narbonosc, Dalmatian, Judajca, Ibero-Romance, Xliponian, or Ladino. Contact with Muslim cultures led it to incorporate some Arabic words and grammatical elements, notably the topic-comment sentence structure. In the late Middle Ages the language spread to the Irish Sea and the Channel, whose sailors were also predominantly Romance speakers. It gained some use in the North Sea but never reached the Baltic, where Low Saxon was the language of trade.

The name of the language itself reflects this mixing of cultures: while clearly a Romance name, it shows a Middle Eastern perspective, using "Frank" (Franco, Afranj, Farang) as the name for all Westerners. So Lingua Franca means the "Westerners' Language".

For centuries, Lingua Franca was the usual speech on ships and docks all around this region. It survives today in many of these same contexts. As a pidgin, there is no one form of Lingua Franca, and everywhere it has been spoken, it has had a different mix of words and elements from various Romance languages, from Arabic, Greek, Turkish, Armenian, Gaeilg, or other local languages. In some places it has become heavily indigenized, incorporating large amounts of Arabic or other non-Romance word inflections. In some places, this has transformed it into a different language altogether, see below. Modern Lingua Franca also has been influenced by Latino Sine Flexione, which like Sabir is a Latin-based auxiliary language, albeit one used by educated people rather than rough-hewn sailors and stevedores. LSF has provided Sabir with the terms needed onboard a modern hi-tech freighter.

The pidgin has left its mark on other languages. Its descendants can be grouped into some broad categories.

  • Jargons, cants, and secret languages: It became common for people having some connection to maritime life, such as entertainers or underworld figures, to incorporate Lingua Franca words into their vocabulary as a kind of slang or jargon. Taken to an extreme, this way of talking could relexify the entire language, usually maintaining the grammar of the speakers' first language. Various communities around the Mediterranean world have employed LF vocabulary as a secret language. Examples include Cypriot Cant as used by the Crypto-Catholics of the island, and Polari in England, used by traveling entertainers and latterly the gay community.
  • Creolized Lingua Franca: At least two creoles in the Mediterranean evolved directly from Lingua Franca: Parra in Crimea and Zipriota in Cyprus. These languages evoled from LF when subsequent generations fleshed out its grammar and began to speak it natively. Both Parra and Zipriota also have substantial influence from Greek and Turkic languages.
  • Atlantic creoles: According to the most common theory *there*, the Creole languages of the Atlantic world all have roots in Sabir. The theory goes that sailors brought it to the West African coast, where it informed the language of the slave trade. The captives picked up pieces of it on the slave ships, and this, together with some African grammar and lots of vocabulary from the colonizer languages, became the basis for the Creole languages in the Americas.
  • Romance languages with LF influence: Sabir greatly influenced the development of Baliaru, a South Italian language of the Balearic Islands.


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