Communication in the Early Modern Indian Ocean World

Michael Pearson


People living on the shores of the early modern Indian Ocean spoke many languages. To communicate, whether for trade or other reasons, several strategies were found. I have already sketched the role of cultural brokers. The present study looks at silent trade, and the possibly existence of linguas franca, second languages widely spoken in the area. The two most commonly found were Portuguese and Arabic.


Indian Ocean; lingua franca; silent trade

Full Text:



Bang, Anne (2003) Sufis and Scholars of the Sea: family networks in East Africa, 1860-1925, London: Routledge.

Boxer, C. R. (1961) Four Centuries of Portuguese Expansion, 1415-1825, Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press.

Carletti, Francesco (1965) My Voyage Around the World, (trans.) Herbert Weinstock, London: Pantheon Books.

Curtin, Philip (1984) Cross-Cultural Trade in World History, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Furber, Holden (1976) Rival Empires of Trade in the Orient, 1600-1800, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Hamilton, Alexander (1930) A New Account of the East Indies, 2 vols, London: Argonaut.

Kindersley, Mrs. Jemima (1777) Letters from the Island of Teneriffe, Brazil, The Cape of Good Hope, and the East Indies, London: J. Nourse.

Michael Pearson (in press) "Cultural Brokers in the Indian Ocean", in Pamila Gupta, Isabel Hofmeyr & Michael Pearson (eds.) Eyes Across the Water: Navigating the Indian Ocean, Johannesburg: University of South Africa Press and Delhi: Penguin India.

Pieris, P. E. (1929, 1973) The Dutch Power in Ceylon, 1602-1670, London: Curzon.

Pyrard, François (1887-90) The Voyage of François Pyrard of Laval to the East Indies, the Maldives, the Moluccas, and Brazil, (trans.) A. Gray, 2 vols, London: Hakluyt.

Qaisar, Jan A. (1974) "The Role of Brokers in Medieval India," The Indian Historical Review, 1 (2): 230-31.

Rebelo, Souza (2007) "Language and Literature in the Portuguese Empire" in Francisco Bethencourt & Diogo Ramada Curto (eds.) Portuguese Oceanic Expansion, 1400-1800, New York: Cambrdige University Press.

Serjeant, R. B. (1970) "Maritime Customary Law off the Arabian coasts" in M. Mollat (ed.) Societés et companies, Paris: SEVPEN.

Soler, Elena Losada (2000) "The Encounter of Languages: Reflections on the Language of the Other in Roteiro da Primeira Viagem do Vasco da Gama", in Anthony Disney & Emily Booth (eds.) Vasco da Gama and the Linking of Europe and Asia, New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Strachan, Michael & Penrose, Boies (eds.) (1971) The East India Journals of Captain William Keeling and Master Thomas Bonner, 1615-1617, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Tavernier, Jean-Baptiste (1977) Travels in India, (trans.) V. Ball & (ed.) W. Crooke, 2 vols, New Delhi: Oriental Books Reprint Corporation.

Villiers, Alan (1952) Monsoon Seas, New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co.