If you were visiting a Mediterranean harbour anywhere fro the 11th to the 19th century, you would have heard a strange yet familiar language.
Se ti saber, ti responder. Se non saber, tazir, tazir. *
Understood from Valencia to Istanbul, from Tunis to Venice, this was the language of commerce and diplomacy and commonly used among European renegades and the captives of the Algerian pirates.
This language, Lingua Franca or Sabir, flourished in the 10th century and was based on Toscan Italian and Occitan. (Back then, Catalan was a dialect of Occitan, so count us in as well!). It incorporated words from Arabic, Greek, Amazigh and Turkish, and later from Portuguese, French and Spanish, too.
[Image: expansion of the Kingdom of Catalonia and Aragon (green), its Consulates of the Sea (dots), and commercial expansion (orange lines). It is not hard to see why Sabir had such influence of Catalan.]
In the 19th century, with the expansion of European colonialism in northern Africa, Sabir was replaced by the colonizer’s languages.
Nowadays, lingua franca is used to mean any language or dialect which is used to communicate by people who speak different languages (nowadays, mainly English). This term originates from the Mediterranean Lingua Franca.
Sabir left traces in present Algerian slang and Polari, and even in geographical names. It also appears in literary works and theatre plays like Molière’s
Le Bourgeois gentilhomme and different tales by Cervantes.