It is indeed surprising that, although born in the Italian province of Liguria in 1451, Cristoforo Colombo used Castilian to write to the Banco de San Giorgio (Bank of San Giorgio) in Genoa, as well as using this same language in the extensive correspondence he carried on with Nicolás Oderigo, the Genovesse ambassador to Castile, and likewise with his great friend and patron, the also Italian Fray Gaspar Gorricio. He used Castilian or even unknown characters to write to his brothers Bartolomé and Diego, who like him, were allegedly Genovese. How can we explain the fact that Cristoforo Colombo or the Colón ligur ( an expression used by Pietro Martire d’Anghiera), who up to the age of 22 or 25 lived almost permanently in Genoa and Savona, was already using the Castilian language in Portugal, three years before his arrival in Castile?
The above is also proved beyond doubt by a lengthy marginal note written in Castilian by Columbus in one of the books belonging to him, Eneas Silvio Picolomini’s Historia rerum ubique gestarum, in which the great explorer explains his calculations about the age of the world. Could it be that the Genovese Cristoforo Colombo born in 1951 was not actually the Christopher Columbus? Nobody can deny that the admiral knew something of the Italian language because in Pliny’s History, written in Italian and kept in Sevilla’s Biblioteca Colombina, we find the following annotation made by Columbus: “Del ambra es çierto nascere in India soto tierra, he yo no ha fato caure in multi monti in la isola de Feyti uel de Ofir uel de Cipango, a la cuale habio posto nome Spagnola y he o trouato pieça grande como el capo, ma no tota chiara, saluo de chiara y parda, y otra negra; y ve n’e asay”. In English this means: “ It is true that amber is born underground in India and I ordered digging to be carried out in many of the hills in the islands of Feyti (Haití), Ofir and Cipango, which I had named Spagnola, and there I found a piece as big as a man’s head, though it was not all pale in colour – part of it being pale but the rest darker- and another piece that was black, and of which there is a large amount”.
There are some words which are not Italian: del, es cierto, tierra, pieça, como, otra, and negra; and it is impossible to imagine that the note could have been written by someone whose mother tongue was Italian. Salvador de Madariaga (Vida del Muy Magnífico Señor Don Cristóbal Colón, Buenos Aires, 1958, p 73) describes the note as “incredibly comical gibberish in which the number of Italian or pseudo-Italian words are not even the majority in a mishmash of Italian, Castilian and Portuguese”, and adds that “it is so ridiculous, that, unless it is apocrytical, it could only have been written in a moment of mental aberration”.
Among the numerous notes and marginal annotations made by Columbus in his reading books, all of them in Castilian and Latin, there is one other short note in Italian, in the Libro de Profecías (Seville Biblioteca Colombiana): “ Doppo el pecato delli primi parenti cadendo l’homo de male en pegio perdete la simigliança de Dio et,como dice el psalmista, prese similitudine de bestia”. In English this means: “After the sins of the very first mother and father, man went from bad to worse, losing his resemblance to God and, as the salmist tells us, taking on the appearance of a beast”. In this instance, el, en, como and de are not Italian either. So the allegedly “Genovese Columbus has left us only two notes written in “Italian”, nothing in Potuguese nor, as far as we know, anything in the Genovese dialect. Apart from a few writings in cypher, all the remaining correspondence, whether written by him in person or by copyists, is in Castilian. And as if the problem of why the Colonus ligur did not have Italian as his mother tongue were not enough, let us see what Fray Bartolomé de las Casas has to say:
- “These are all his formal words, some of them in imperfect Castilian, as if it were not the admiral’s mother tongue”.
- “In this passage the admiral’s mentions many places and islands and the names that he had given them, though he does not say when and in this and in other matters which appear in the books of his travels, he seems to have another mother tongue, because he does not fully grasp the full meaning of some words in the Castilian language, nor the way of speaking it”.
- These are his own words, and though not very polished in our language, not to be despised because of that”.
- These are all the admiral’s own words, with his humble style and improper choice of words, as if he had not been born in Castile”.
- “These are his own words, though imperfect in regard to his use of the Castilian language, which he did not know very well, but nonetheless unconsciously worthy…”.
There is another important testimony related to the language spoken by Columbus on his arrival in La Ràbida (Huelva), that of García Hernández, a physician from Palos, who during the Columbian trials declared: “E que estando ally ende este testigo un frayle que se llamaba fray juan peres q’es ya defunto quiso hablar con el dho don crystobal colon e viendo la desposysion de otra tierra e reyno ageno a su lengua le preguntó…” In English this means: “And so there present as witness was a monk by the name of Fray Juan Peres, now deceased, and he wished to address the honorable Christopher Columbus and judging him to come from another land and to speak the language of another kingdom, he asked him…”.
(Nito Verdera, Cristóbal Colón, Catalanoparlante, Editorial Mediterrània-Eivissa, 1994 pp. 27,28,312,313 and 314).
Towards the end of August 1500 a new governor, Diego Bobadilla, arrived in Santo Domingo. He arrested the Columbus brothers and sent them to Castile in chains. This fact was recorded by Pietro Martire D’Anghiera in his Décades and he relates how “this new governor has said to have sent the king and Queen cyphered letters written by the Prefect (Columbus), in his own hand, urging and advising his brother, the Governor (Bartolomé), then absent from the island, to hasten back with armed troops to defend himself from injustice, should the new governor decide to commit some outrage against them”.
According to historian Juan Gil, writing in cyphered characters “was a common custom in those times”. This might very well have been so, and I have no intention of disputing the matter, but, at any event, I am sure that it would have been a practice reserved for educated people. Salvador de Madariaga, on the other hand, examining it from another angle wonders precisely what kind of characters these were and points out that neither Columbus nor his brother Bartolomé knew any language apart from Latin. “It is quite possible”, he adds, “that they could have made up a code for their personal use. It seems far more likely, however, that they might have known some cursive form of Hebrew through their family circumstances”.
There are two strange annotations in Eneas Silvio Picolomini’s Historia Rerum Ubique Gestarum, B54 and B59, written partly in code, and which it appears that even now, no one has been able to decipher. B54 says “Nota de Seres multa nobis spectantibus pro T76 y 78/= 849Y8/” which appears to translate as “Pay heed to the Beings, tha many things that await us in order to…”.
B59 says “Miram dicunt aeris dementiam ministrare.adeo quod sit ultima.4m.clima 7=3y8=9p547>6=7p…” This means: “They say that this grants them wonderful madness of the air. So much so that it would be the furthest foureth climate…”.
As regards B54, Juan Pérez de Tudela (Cristóbal Colón. Una Nueva Historia del Descubrimiento, Rembrandt Editions, Alicante, 1989) points out that the first coded word means lignis (trunks, canoes) and the second Esdras. As for B59, Juan Pérez de Tudela tells us that the first word in code means Uidigueipolis referring to Dominica (the island), Guaytucabo in the native language. The second word would mean Iemaserpolis, referring to Yamaye, the native name of Jamaica.
As we know, Doctor Juan Pérez de Tudela y Bueso, a member of the Royal Academy of Spanish History, is the author of a theory about the discovery of America, whereby Christopher Columbus – prior to 1492 and in the middle of the Athlantic Ocean – came across a canoe full of natives who told him of the existence of islands in the Caribbean. Naturally no attempt is being made right now to assess the results of his efforts to decipher the words in code, but, in any case, we should thank the illustratious Spanish historian for his determination to clarify the meaning of Columbu’s annotations.
In regard to note B54, Gerard Garrigue (Christophe Colomb le catalan, Confluences, Barcelona, 1992, p 157) also offers us his opinion on its meaning. The author, whom I met made in Barcelona in 1993, has been a professional seaman and has sailed the Indian Ocean and the sea of China, and reminds us that the Seres (Beings), for educated Europeans in the fifteenth century, were the yellow-skinned people who lived in the Far East. Gerard Garrigue considers that the word in code indicates a position and that the 7 is its longitude to the west of the 0 meridian, which passes through the island of Hierro, 19 degrees from Greenwich and latitude 78 north according to Columbus’s calculations, and which would correspond to the south of the Iceland and which is 11 degrees out. So Garrigue arrives at the following conclusion:
Longitude 19+7=26 degrees west.
Latitude 78-11=67 degrees north.
This would correspond to a point in the mountain range on the eastern coast of Greenland, at an altitude of 3,700 metres, which Columbus would have observed for several hours during the northern winter. “In fact,” concludes Garrigue, “he had seen America”. That is that Columbu’s note would confirm that there had been a pre-discovery, as we are told in the Articles of Santa Fe, a fact which is further confirmed by the study of what I have termed the “Norwegian Connection”.
(Nito Verdera, Cristóbal Colón, Catalanoparlante, pp. 313 and 314).
Salvador de Madariaga’s theory to the effect that the Columbu’s brothers might have used a ciphered cursive form of Hebrew, fits in perfectly with the twelve ornamental flourishes used by the admiral in signed letters written to his son Diego, in which the Hebrew letters beth and hei appear interwined in the top left-hand corner, standing for Baruch Haschem (Praised be Lord). The research which I have carried out (Cristóbal Colón, originario de Ibiza y criptojudío, published by the Consell Insular d’Eivissa I Formentera, 1999, pp 137-179) into these initials, written from right to left as is customary in Hebrew, in which I have been able to avail myself of the invaluable collaboration of the Archivo General de Indias, (Seville’s Archives), experts from the Central Identification Office of the Spanish Judicial Police Headquarters and the Jerusalem Institute of Hebrew Manuscript Microfilms enables us to state irrefutably that Columbus was familiar with the Hebrew language. The German Philologist Fritz Streicher (Die Columbus Originale, Spanische Forschungen I, Görresgesellschaft, Münster i.w., 1928) also states categorically that the rubric is written by Columbus in his own hand, which refutes those who have claimed for many years that the famous flourish was in fact the work of some archivist from the House the Veragua.
(Nito Verdera, Cristóbal Colón, Catalanoparlante, Ibiza, 1994, pp 28, 29 and 30).
In Cristóbal Colón, Catalanoparlante (pp 97-150) I analysed 63 words or expressions used by Columbus, not chosen randomly but for their idiosyncrasies and because I did not agree with the interpretation given to them by historians and philologists – in particular Consuelo Varela, Juan Gil and Ramón Menéndez Pidal- , and others since, in my opinion, these particular words can only be understood with reference to the Catalan language. The result is that 61 of them (96.8%) can be found in Catalan; 31 (42.9%) are exclusive to Catalan; 22 (34.9%) are common to both Castilian and Catalan; and 4 (6.4%) are common to Catalan, Castilian and Portuguese. There is one word which is common to Catalan and Portuguese and another word in Arabic. I consider another word to be a hybrid of Catalan, Portuguese and Italian; yet another word is common to the same three languages and finally there is one word which I have been unable to classify in any language. Finally, there is a group of six words which I have termed special words and which make up 9.5% of the total number analysed, which are as follow:
- Mozada (bite, mouthful): common to Catalan and Galician-Portuguese.
- Burcam (volcano): authentic Arabic.
- Faxones/ faxoes (beans): a mixture of Portuguese, Catalan and Italian.
- Luxengero (flatterer): a word from ols Occitan which passed into Catalan, Castilian, Portuguese and Italian.
- Per forza (by force): common to Catalan, Portuguese and Italian.
- Porsimolum (parsley?, fennel?): difficult to place in any particular language.
Of the 31 genuinely Catalan words I would like to draw special attention to bil.la (meaning rag, tatter and bandage and used only in Ibiza), abalumado (harassed), barjaca (bag), almucadas (hoods), fexes (bundles), launes (sheets or layers), manadas (handfuls or bunches), manillas (bangles or bracelets), redusir a memoria (remind), pusad (in the sense of being very demanding or pushy), quisto (tax collector), setcentas islas de nombre ( seven hundred islands in number), terrado (flat roof), cans (dogs), encomparable (unbearable), ian face (there are in front), el mundo es poco (the world is small), ençengir (surround), arreo (without exception, successively), arriscada (daring), çeçiones (bout of fever), aver o tener lengua (obtain information secretly), pardales (sparrows), pellas (trays), resurtir (retreat, retire).
(Nito Verdera, Cristóbla Colón, Catalanoparlante, Ibiza, 1994, pp 295 and 296).
Of the 79 terms analysed, 69 (87.3%) are quite common in Catalan; 37 (46.8%) are exclusive to Catalan; 26 (32.9%) are Castilian, though also commonly used in Catalan; and there are even one or two common to Galician-Portuguese and French. Only one word is used in Italian and Genoan: 16 (20.2%) can be found in Galician-Portuguese and one in Gascon. One word is exclusive to Galician –Portuguese, two are Italian, three are French and the rest are commonly used in both Catalan and Castilian.
Apart from this, 11 (13.9%) of the terms studied are French, though also frequently found in Castilian and Catalan, and of all these only one is exclusive to French; another is Provençal, Venetian and Genovese, and yet another is a common Italian term. The result of the analysis of ten words shows that one of them is commonly found in some Swiss dialects, the north of Italy and the Balearics; the other words are common in Catalan, Castilian Portuguese and Occitan. In conclusion, of the 79 nautical terms analysed, only ten are not Catalan, but found in Castilian, Galician-Portuguese and French.
The 37 exclusively Catalan words or expressions are the following; ampolleta (sand clock), angla (cove or inlet), agrezuela (crucible shaped), basa (sandy seabed), bojar (sail or measure an island’s coastline), boltejar (veer or sail close to the wind, tacking in one direction and then the other), boneta (bonnet- small additional sail), bruma (a headless mollusc eats into wood immersed in sea water and destroys it), camari (a species of shark and a placename taken from the island of Formentera), estar o ponerse a la corda (arrange the sails of a vessel so that it moves very slowly or not at all), cheranero (lee), derrota (course, way), jamás se desabarcan (they never go far away), despalmar (clean, grease and caulk a ship’s bottom), enfundió (sank), farallón (a large rugged rock rising above the surface of the sea), tener farol o hacer farol (to signal), fisga (harpoon with several hooks), gabia (sail), margalida (Margarita, a Venezueland island and an islet situated off the north-west coast of Ibiza), martinet (in Castilian, martinete, a kingfisher, and also the name of a place near the entrance to the port of Ibiza), poner navío a monte (put the vessel into dry dock for repairs or painting the hull), papahigo (mainsail without bonnets – smaller additional sails), portada (sailor’s baggage or goods), reguardo (safe distance which a ship leaves between itself and the coast or some dangerous point), estar al reparo (sail without endangering the vessel), retreta (harbour, refuge), revesos (from the Catalan revesa- hard and difficult-, fish which has a rough spot, which causes them to stick to whatever they touch, causing anyone who tries to detach them to tear them to pieces), saona (from the season, and the name of a cove in Formentera), soldar (cast a pumbline into the water to discover the depth and quality of a mooring), sorgir (cast anchor), sotil (small), surto (anchored), temporejar (moving with little sail, as if marking time), será tant avant (will have arrived), terral (offshore wind) and treo (mainsail with no bonnets).
Another 32 words are more common in Catalan and have been passed to other Romance languages; so that of the 79 words which have been analysed, 69 (87.3%) of them are to be found in Catalan; balcos (gentle gusts of wind), sirga (cable to pull a boat from shore), batel (a boat carried on a ship), blandear (loosen or subside), encabalgar (mount, double), gabia (sail), pozo (anchorage), tonina (tuna), trabucar (capsize), xarcia (rigging and ropes on a ship), bolina (ir de bolina is to sail close to the wind, in such a way that the direction in which the keel is pointing forms as small an angle as possible with the direction in which the wind is blowing), resaca (undertow), vento abal (wind that blows between the east and south), nacaras (mother- of- pearl), jusente (low tide), cala (small cove), estar a la colla (wait for favourable sailing conditions), conventos/comentos (joining of two planks), cor(r)i (forced landing), naveta (small vessel), resegundava (repeated), tramuntana (north), turbiada (squall or squally shower), amainar (lower or shorten a sail), ataraçana (shipyard), ensolvia (diluted), entena (sloping yardarm of lateen sails), escombrado (disencumbered, clean), passada (pass), puntero (wind coming from the prow) and sotavento (the side opposite to the direction in which the wind is blowing). But it turns out that up to 20 words from Columbus’s writings are recorded in Castilian for the first time. Corresponding to 1492 we have barlovento (the part from which the wind is blowing, and previously undocumented in any language), bojar, estar a la corda, hacer farol, fisga, poner navíos a monte, naveta, papahigo, estar al reparo, sorgir, temporejar, terral and treo (see above for meanings). Portada (sailor’s baggage or goods) is a real gem, which first appears in Castilian in 1495 and is recorded in Llibre del Consolat de Mar, written in the fourteenth century. Puntero (wind coming from the prow) appeared in Castilian in his fourth voyage in 1503. Despalmar appeared in 1502, estar a la relinga in 1492 and comes from a French word; resaca first appears in Castilian in 1492 and it comes from both Catalan and French; restinga also appears in 1492 and in Galician and Portuguese. Strangely enough, 17 (21.5%) of the words and expressions mentiones come from Catalan.
It turns out that barlovento (the side from which the wind is blowing) is neither Catalan, Castilian, Italian nor Portuguese. The word used in Catalan is sobrevent and barlovent is considered to be a barbarism, a word taken from Castilian. However, this “strange” word turns out to come from the Catalan per lo vent, which also means “the sice from which the wind is blowing”, and under Arabic influence the initial “p” has changed to “b”, something which can only be explained by looking at the Catalan spoken in Ibiza.
Another word we should pay attention to is cheranero (lee) which does not mean either carenero or quersoneso as some historians would have us believe, but can be explained by looking at the old (thirteenth century) Catalan verb serenar, xerenar (calm). As for the word xeraner (that which gives protection from the wind) this is castilianised by Columbus to cheranero and thus ends the “mystery” of the word used by him on December 6th 1492 in Haiti. This is all quite clear, but one needs to be aware that there is no “ch” in Catalan, because the “x” is used for this sound. Also, the Catalan spoken in Ibiza shows a tendency to initial palatalization: xindria (watermelon), xamarra (fur jacket), and xinglot (hiccup) instead of sindria, samarra and singlot. Therefore, without a shadow of a doubt, philology yet again provides an explanation of a controversial word, in this case, cheranero, and also points to Columbus’s mother tongue.
(Nito Verdera, Cristóbal Colón, Catalanoparlante, Ibiza, 1994, pp 298, 299 and 300)
The conclusions reached show that Columbus had very little knowledge of either the Genoan or Tuscan dialects and if we add to this the fact proved by Las Casas and Ramón Menéndez Pidal to the effect that neither Castilian nor Portuguese were his mother tongue, then we can presume that he was actually a Catalan speaker; i.e. a subject of one of the lands belonging to the former kingdom of Aragon. The Admiral also knew Castilian very well, but nor proficiently, as I have discovered during my linguistic research, since when he does not know the correct word, he never hesitates to use the Catalan term. It is such an evident fact, that on several occasions he has to explain what he means, on the assumptions that his correspondents will not otherwise understand him. We can, therefore, consider Columbus, to a certain extent, “an artifact in the creation of Castilian”.
Christopher Columbus lived and sailed with both Portuguese and French shipmates for 14 years, so it is perfectly understandable that he should use new words and expressions. But there is one question that really must be asked: where in his writings can the alleged influence of the Genovese and Tuskan dialects actually be seen? The scientific answer to this question is that it is not to be found, Genoan or Tuscan words being practically non-existent. So in conclusion, thanks to research to which I have devoted several years of my life, I consider that I am in a position to offer important ans perhaps even irrefutable proof that the Genovese Cristoforo Colombo could not be the same Chrostopher Columbus found in Spanish archives.
(Nito Verdera, Cristóbal Colón, Catalanoparlante, Ibiza, 1994, p 304)
It is evident that when Columbus did not know to correct the words in Castilian he would write them in Catalan and even very occasionally in Portuguese or French. The admirable Consuelo Varela (Cristóbal Colón. Retrato de un hombre, Madrid, 1992, p 68) says that “the Admiral was a seaman used to jabbering away in a thousand different languages and he and his shipmates understood each other perfectly in the patois which was known in those days as “Levantine”, that is to say from the “Levant”,from the Mediterranea area as a whole (…) while the Castilian sailors’ patois scarcely ever appears in this vocabulary. Columbus,” she goes on to say, “brought up among Italians and Portuguese, but living in Castile, speaks a bewildering mixture of all these languages”.
As regards the way in which Columbus spoke, I would like to make clear that today it would be impossible for anyone to know exactly what his pronunciation was like, accent being a virtually infallible method for ascertaining nationality, but, nonetheless, we do not know how he wrote. It must also be taken into account that, as Las Casas says, “he did not fully grasp the true meaning of Castilian words” a fact which excludes all the lands belonging to the kingdom of Castile as Columbus’s birthplace, without giving us, however, any real clue as to where he might actually have come from.
I do not dispute the fact that Columbus spoke Levantine patois, the lingua franca of the Mediterranean, a fact that has been used for many years as an exuse to permit continued support to the Genovese Cristoforo Colombo’s candidacy to the title of discoverer of the New World, but we will see that this language has little or no influence in what he wrote. In fact, the lingua franca (Nueva Enciclopedia Larousse, Barcelona, 1981, vol. 6, p 5844) is a mixture of Latin words which go to make up a sabir or kind of pidgin language which contains elements taken from many different Romance languages, Arabic and Turkish spoken in Mediterranean ports until the nineteenth century. This lingua franca served, from the times of the Crusades onwards, as the language of commerce berween people speaking Turkish or Arabic on the one hand and Franks (Christians) on the other. In Algiers it was also the language of the lower classes, used between slaves and their masters and also among slaves of different nationalities. It has also been used on occasions as a diplomatic language, especially inTunisia.
It should perhaps be explained, to aid our greater understanding, that the word sabir means a language used for communication, composed of different tongues mixed toguether on purpose, deliberately simple in both its vocabulary and grammatical structure and used for specific reasons among people of different tongues. It is important to make clear that these pidgin tongues are special languages limited to certain areas: commerce, dealings with slaves, and professional communication. They are real language mixes, and are more or less artificially created.
Further examples of a sabir are “Russonorsk”, the language of Russian and Norwegian fishermen; “Chinook”, the hybrid tongue of the American Indians who lived in the north-west Pacific coast, the present day states of Oregon and Washington; the pidgin English spoken in China, which is gradually dropping out of use and pidgin Melanesian, known by the name of “Beach-la-mar” which is still extensively spoken.
In addition, Professor Estelle Irizarry from the University of Georgetown in the United States arrives at the following conclusions in a work titled Cristóbal Colón, escritor, published in October 1992:
1. Columbus introduced essay writing to the New World, producing epistolary, testimonial, persuasive and personal essays.
2. Columbus succeded in writing prose that could be persuasive, informative or descriptive.
3. historians and biographers may interpret as they will the figure of Columbus as an explorer, but all these writings stand as testimony to his skill and eloquence as a writer.
This work obviously represents a devastating blow for those who continue to affirm that Columbus’s language was the Mediterranean lingua franca, the Levantine patois.
Are we able to clear up all the mystery surrounding Columbus by classifying him beyond any doubt as a Catalan speaker? I believe not. And I am pessimistic because all the Columbian researchers from Catalonia and Majorca whose common language is Catalan are only too happy with my linguistic research and its conclusions. What I am saying will continue to fall on deaf ears. Each of them will carry on fighting in their own corner, and it must be remembered that in Spain there are those who claim that Columbus was from Galicia, Extremadura, Asturias, Valencia or Toledo. And the worst of it is that all these researchers who are defending tooth and nail such diverse theories are fully aware that Columbus’s mother tongue was neither Castilian nor Galician. Even more worrying is the fact that Catalan researchers, fellow members of the Centre d’Estudis Colombins, a section of the Barcelona Omium Cultural, want the sailor and explorer to belong to a branch of the more-or-less noble Barcelona Colom family and will not even admit the possibility of Columbus and his brothers being members of the Colom family of Ibiza, a powerful family of converted Jews. They also claim that the fact that Columbus used numerous placenames taken from the coasts of Ibiza and Formentera to name geographical features in the Caribbean is not significant and in no way proves Columbus’s connection to Ibiza, while, in fact, quite the opposite is true, because typonimy is a science, a branch of history. I honestly believe that if the Columbian researchers of Catalonia of Majorca were able to present evidence to show that there exist or have existed on their coasts the placenames which Columbus transferred to the Caribbean during his four voyages, then the “Columbus Case”, Columbusgate, would have been long closed.
(Nito Verdera, Cristóbal Colón, Catalanoparlante, Ibiza, 1994, pp 32, 33, 32, 304, 305, 306)