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Mediterranean Lingua Franca: Wikis


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lingua franca
Spoken in Tunisia, Greece, Cyprus
Region Mediterranean Basin
Language extinction 19th century
Language family Pidgin, Romance based
  • lingua franca
Official status
Official language in none
Regulated by No official regulation
Language codes
ISO 639-1 None
ISO 639-2
ISO 639-3 pml
Map of Europe and the Mediterranean from the Catalan Atlas of 1375

The Lingua franca of the Mediterranean or Sabir ("know") was a pidgin language used as a lingua franca in the Mediterranean Basin from the 11th to the 19th century and is the original basis for the word lingua franca. The name "lingua franca" in Italian means "free" or "open language" (in the sense of "without boundaries"). The generic description "lingua franca" has hence become common for any language used by speakers of different languages to communicate with one another.

Based mostly on Italian and Provençal in the eastern Mediterranean at first, it later came to have more Spanish and Portuguese elements, especially on the Barbary coast (today referred to as the Maghreb). It also borrowed from Turkish, French, Greek and Arabic. This mixed language was used for communication throughout the medieval and early modern Middle East as a commercial and diplomatic language. It was also the language used between slaves of the bagnio, Barbary pirates and European renegades in pre-colonial Algiers.

Some samples of Sabir have been preserved in Molière's comedy, Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme. Hugo Schuchardt was the first scholar to investigate the Lingua franca systematically. According to the monogenetic theory of the origin of pidgins he pioneered, Lingua Franca was known by Mediterranean sailors including the Portuguese. When Portuguese started exploring the seas of Africa, America, Asia and Oceania, they tried to communicate with the natives by mixing a Portuguese -influenced version of Lingua Franca with the local languages. When English or French ships came to compete with the Portuguese, the crews tried to learn this "broken Portuguese". Through a process of relexification, the Lingua Franca and Portuguese lexicon was substituted by the languages of the peoples in contact.

This theory is one way of explaining the similarities between most of the European-based pidgins and creole languages, like Tok Pisin, Papiamento, Sranan Tongo, Krio, and Chinese English Pidgin. These languages use forms similar to sabir for "to know" and piquenho for "children".

Lingua Franca left traces in today's Algerian slang and Polari. Polari from Italian parlare ("to talk") was a cant used by fairground Travellers, showpeople, London variety artists and gay people.


  • Dakhlia, Jocelyne, Lingua Franca - Histoire d'une langue métisse en Méditerranée, Actes Sud, 2008, ISBN 2742780777
  • John A. Holm, Pidgins and Creoles, Cambridge University Press, 1989, ISBN 0521359406, p. 607
  • Henry Romanos Kahane, The Lingua Franca in the Levant: Turkish Nautical Terms of Italian and Greek Origin, University of Illinois, 1958
  • Hugo Schuchardt, Pidgin and Creole languages : selected essays by Hugo Schuchardt (edited and translated by Glenn G. Gilbert), Cambridge University Press, 1980. ISBN 0521227895.

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