A pidgin language is a simplified form of communication that arises naturally when two groups lacking a common language need to interact. Such interactions must have been common in the ancient world, so I imagine some pidgins must have been spoken for the purposes of trade, hiring mercenaries, and various other endeavors.

Are there any records of pidgins partially based on Latin in the ancient world? What were the other languages? Are such pidgins thought to have existed then, or is it a more recent phenomenon?

Any insights to ancient communication across a language barrier are welcome. More specific follow-up questions are easier to ask once there is a better starting point; it just occurred to me that I have never heard of Latin-based pidgins but find it likely that they have existed. I suppose the most likely forms of evidence are inscriptions in mixed languages and direct mentions by Roman authors.

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    It's been suggested that the ostraca of Bu Njem represent a Punic/Latin pidgin or creole. If you have JSTOR access J.N. Adams has an overview of the language used though he seems to (untenably) reject that it's a pidgin or creole on a dodgy technicality.
    – Cairnarvon
    Dec 25, 2021 at 3:34
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    @Cairnarvon Sounds perfect! If someone can summarize that paper from the point of view of this question, that'd make a great answer. I don't have access now, but I might when I return from my holiday travels.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Dec 25, 2021 at 7:48

1 Answer 1


There are no true Latin-derived pidgin languages known from the ancient world.

This is for a fairly simple reason: pidgin languages are primarily spoken, not written, and it would be unlikely for any written communications in a pidgin language to survive to the present day. So while it is possible (maybe even likely) that pidgins existed in some areas where trade was conducted, none survive. Furthermore, most of those trading spots would be in the East, so (if a pidgin formed) it would likely be with Koine Greek, not Latin.

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