11 June 2015

History and languages in the 16th‑century Mediterranean

In Agents of Empire by Noel Malcolm review – a dazzling history of the 16th‑century Mediterranean, Guardian reviewer John Gallagher gives author Noel Malcolm what is presumably much deserved credit for drawing on "material in upwards of 10 languages in archives from Rome and Warsaw to Dubrovnik and Malta". The result, writes Gallagher, "is a work of astonishing (if, at times, almost overwhelming) richness and detail: a deftly woven tapestry of Mediterranean history that incorporates “the all-too-neglected Albanian thread that is woven into the history of 16th-century Europe”."

The following quotes give an indication of Malcolm's language sensitivities:
In the 16th century, the Mediterranean was what historians have called a “contact zone” – a region characterised not by rigid boundaries and borders, but by a bewildering mixture of faiths, peoples, languages and traditions.

The Mediterranean through which Malcolm’s subjects moved was abuzz with languages. A Flemish captive taken aboard a North African corsair found himself in a real-life Babel, writing that “I was all this while as it were in a dream, wherein a man sees strange apparitions, which cause fear, admiration, and curiosity, reflecting on the several Languages (for they spoke the Turkish, the Arabian, Lingua Franca, Spanish, French, Dutch and English), the strange habits, the different Armes, with the ridiculous Ceremonies at their Devotions.” “Lingua franca” referred to the pidgin language spoken on ships, at market stalls and in slave quarters from Marseille to Tunis and Izmir, alongside the region’s almost countless vernaculars.
In 1579, Cristoforo Bruti became a giovane di lingua, training for a life as an interpreter, or “dragoman”.
Judging from the review, the book sounds like a fascinating read for anyone interested in both history and languages, and more particularly those of the eastern Mediterranean.

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Glossary. Too little research.

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