Thursday, July 5, 2007

The Identity of Columbus (Part I)

The identity and character of Columbus is still a subject of intense inquiry and debate, more than five hundred years after the discovery of the New World. In a recent interview, Luis Melero, author of Colon el impostor (Columbus the Impostor) states that the thesis of a Genoese Columbus is "discredited" since it is based on two vague assumptions, namely Columbus's generally accepted date of birth (1451), and the assumption that the Admiral's name was, in fact, Christopher Columbus. In the same interview, Melero, a native of Malaga who is also an essayist and a newspaper editor, mentioned the ongoing DNA investigation carried out by the University of Granada on the scant remains housed in the Cartuja, Seville. Recent findings have not ruled out the possibility that the remains could be those of the man known as Columbus. Other "remains" of Columbus are allegedly buried in Santo Domingo, and elsewhere. (chat con el escritor Luis Melero sobre la historia oculta del descubridor)

In addition to the Seville DNA investigations, a team of historians and scientists under the direction of Professor Charles Merrill is conducting anthropological and linguistics studies, as well as a psychological profile to determine the true identity of Columbus.

Merrill has concluded that Columbus was not Genoese. Likewise, it has been reported that Professor Merrill is partial to the Catalan thesis of Columbus's birth, supported by Salvador de Madariaga, Ulloa, and others. (Pito catalan a la historia oficial)

This brief analysis, in three parts, will aim to show that the well-documented Galician hypothesis, supported by an extensive number of scholars, is likely to be the correct one. In addition, it will also attempt to show why Christopher Columbus may have found it necessary to change his name.


The linguistics aspect of this mystery has been the object of intense scrutiny and debate for centuries. More than one historian has noted that Columbus, supposedly born in Genoa, where he lived for twenty four years, could not speak Italian, even though he may have been able to read and write it. Enrique Zas, author of Galicia patria de Colon (1923), was skeptical of the Galician thesis at first, but became convinced of its veracity after noticing a number of Galician words in the Admiral's diary, and other facts that will be addressed in Part II of this analysis. However, this observation (pertaining to lexicon), is the weakest one in the polemic, in the cases of both the Galician and the Catalan theses. Linguists are aware of the fact that lexicon is the first component (of any language) that will be influenced from "without."

Historian Consuelo Varela has noted that "the Admiral was used to jabbering away in a thousand different languages and he and his shipmates understood each other perfectly in a patois which was known in those days as 'Levantine,' from the Mediterranean area as a whole..." (Catalan, the Language of Columbus) Some object to the Levantine lingua franca argument because they view it as an "excuse" (Ibid) that perpetuates the validity of the commonly accepted Genoese theory. However, it should be noted that the Admiral's ability to converse in Levantine Lingua Franca does not automatically mean that Levantine (a "trading" language) was his first, or native tongue. Furthermore, in linguistics, a patois could refer to a pidgin, a creole, or a dialect, but a pidgin is not considered "stable" until it develops its own grammatical rules.

Martinho Montero Santalha, a linguistics professor at the University of Vigo, Galicia, recently presented the results of his investigations in a seminar (A Lingua de Cristovao Colom) at the University of Santiago de Compostela. Montero Santalha is well known for his work on The Cantigas de Santa Maria (Songs of the Virgin Mary) written in Galician-Portuguese during 1221-1284, during the rule of Alfonso X, the Sage.

Some of Montero Santalha's observations are significant. They not only point to the existence of lexicon common to the indigenous languages of Galicia and Portugal in the writings of Columbus, in addition, they show unusual grammatical features that are also common to those languages. Certain words that are feminine in Spanish such as "nose" (la nariz) or "signal" (la senal), are masculine in Galician/Portuguese. In his writings, Columbus adhered to the Galician/Portuguese forms of gender classification. Likewise, Columbus made use of the rare (plural) neutral grammatical gender, i.e. "esses," instead of "essos," that while non-existent in Spanish, is common in Galician/Portuguese.

Thus far, researchers that support the Catalan thesis have not been able to come up with any grammatical examples that can justify their claims, or beliefs. Their observations rely only on lexicon, a weak, if not completely unsustainable argument in the field of linguistics as it is taught at present. Furthermore, it must be noted that, in regard to the weakness of the lexicon argument, there are similarities between Catalan and Gallego/Portuguese, since both languages retain more elements of Latin than (Castilian) Spanish.


Chat con el escritor Luis Melero sobre la historia oculta del descubridor

Pito catalan a la historia oficial: Colon no seria genoves sino que habria nacido en Barcelona

A Lingua de Cristovao Colom. Resumo. Martinho Montero Santalha (III Seminario de Politicas Linguisticas)

Catalan, The Language of Columbus

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