Lingua franca

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For other uses, see Lingua franca (disambiguation).

A lingua franca /ˌlɪŋɡwə ˈfræŋkə/[1] (Italian: [ˈliŋɡwa ˈfraŋka]; plural lingua francas), also known as a bridge language, common language, trade language or vehicular language, is a language or dialect systematically (as opposed to occasionally, or casually) used to make communication possible between persons not sharing a native language or dialect, in particular when it is a third language, distinct from both native languages.[2]

Lingua francas have developed around the world throughout human history, sometimes for commercial reasons (so-called "trade languages") but also for cultural, religious, diplomatic and administrative convenience, and as a means of exchanging information between scientists and other scholars of different nationalities. The term originates with one such language, Mediterranean Lingua Franca.


Lingua franca is a term defined functionally, independent of the linguistic history or structure of the language:[3] though pidgins and creoles often function as lingua francas, many such languages are neither pidgins nor creoles.

Whereas a vernacular language is used as a native language in a community, a lingua franca is used beyond the boundaries of its original community, and is used as a second language for communication between groups. For example, English is a vernacular in the United Kingdom, but is used as a vehicular language (i.e., a lingua franca) in the Philippine Islands and India.

International auxiliary languages such as Esperanto have not had a great degree of adoption globally, so they cannot be described as global lingua francas.


The term lingua franca originated as the name of a particular language that was used around the eastern Mediterranean Sea as the main language of commerce and diplomacy—from late medieval times and especially during the Renaissance era, up to the 18th century. At that time, Italian speakers dominated seaborne commerce in the port cities of the Ottoman Empire and a simplified version of Italian, including many loan words from Greek, Old French, Portuguese, Occitan, Spanish, as well as Arabic and Turkish came to be widely used as the "lingua franca" (in the generic sense used here) of the region.

In Lingua Franca itself, lingua means a language (as in Portuguese and Italian) - Franca is related to Phrankoi in Greek and Faranji in Arabic, as well as the equivalent Italian: in all three cases the literal sense is "Frankish", but this name was actually applied to all Western Europeans during the late Byzantine Period.[4][5][6]

The Douglas Harper Etymology Dictionary states that the term Lingua Franca (as the name of the particular language) was first recorded in English during the 1670s,[7] although an even earlier example of the use of Lingua Franca in English is attested from 1632, where it is also referred to as "Bastard Spanish".[8]

As recently as the late 20th century, the use of the generic term was restricted by some to mean only hybrid languages that are used as vehicular languages (owing to its original meaning), but nowadays it refers to any vehicular language.[9]


The use of lingua francas may be almost as old as language itself. Certainly they have existed since antiquity. Latin and Koine Greek were the lingua francas of the Hellenistic and Roman empires; Akkadian, and then Aramaic, remained the common languages of a large part of Western Asia through several earlier empires.[10] Examples of lingua francas remain numerous, and exist on every continent. The most obvious example as of the early 21st century is English. There are many other lingua francas centralized on particular regions, such as French, Hindi, Portuguese, Spanish, Russian, Arabic, Chinese, and Swahili.

In certain countries the lingua franca is also used as the national language; e.g., Urdu is the lingua franca of Pakistan, as well as the national language. Indonesian has the same function in Indonesia; even though Javanese has more native speakers, Indonesian is the sole official language and spoken (often as a second language) throughout the country.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "lingua franca - definition of lingua franca in English from the Oxford dictionary". Retrieved 2015-06-18. 
  2. ^ Viacheslav A. Chirikba, "The problem of the Caucasian Sprachbund" in Pieter Muysken, ed., From Linguistic Areas to Areal Linguistics, 2008, p. 31. ISBN 90-272-3100-1
  3. ^ Intro Sociolinguistics - Pidgin and Creole Languages: Origins and Relationships - Notes for LG102, - University of Essex, Prof. Peter L. Patrick - Week 11, Autumn term.
  4. ^ Lexico Triantaphyllide online dictionary , Greek Language Center (Kentro Hellenikes Glossas), lemma Franc ( Φράγκος Phrankos) , Lexico tes Neas Hellenikes Glossas, G.Babiniotes, Kentro Lexikologias(Legicology Center) LTD Publications. ISBN 960-86190-1-7. Retrieved 2015-06-18. Franc and (prefix) franco- (Φράγκος Phrankos and φράγκο- phranko- 
  5. ^ "An etymological dictionary of modern English : Weekley, Ernest, 1865-1954 : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive". Retrieved 2015-06-18. 
  6. ^ [1] Archived October 12, 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ "Online Etymology Dictionary". Retrieved 2015-06-18. 
  8. ^ Morgan, J. (1632). A Compleat History of the Present Seat of War in Africa, Between the Spaniards and Algerines. p. 98. Retrieved June 8, 2013. 
  9. ^ Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language, Simon and Schuster, 1980
  10. ^ Ostler, 2005 pp. 38-40

Further reading[edit]

  • Hall, R.A. Jr. (1966). Pidgin and Creole Languages, Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-8014-0173-9.
  • Heine, Bernd (1970). Status and Use of African Lingua Francas. ISBN 3-8039-0033-6
  • Kahane, Henry Romanos (1958). The Lingua Franca in the Levant.
  • Melatti, Julio Cezar (1983). Índios do Brasil. São Paulo: Hucitec Press, 48th edition
  • Ostler, Nicholas (2005). Empires of the Word. London: Harper ISBN 978-0-00-711871-7

External links[edit]