What Is A Lingua Franca?

Signs in India, seen in both English and Hindi.
Signs in India, seen in both English and Hindi.

A lingua franca is the term used to describe a language systematically used to enable effective communication between people with different native languages. Lingua Franca has been used throughout human history and was used for commercial, religious, and diplomatic purposes.


The origin of the term “Lingua Franca” is traced back to the Middle Ages when it was used to describe a language or jargon used around the eastern Mediterranean by traders and Crusaders. This early lingua franca featured the use of invariant forms of nouns, adjectives, and verbs. The term was the combination of the term “Lingua” and “Franca” where “lingua” directly translates to “language” while “franca” directly means “Franks,” a term used to describe Europeans from Western Europe during the Byzantine Empire era. The lingua franca was used extensively in the region through the Renaissance period and into the early 18th century. Since Italian-speakers were the main players in the region’s trade and marine commerce in the Ottoman Empire, the Italian language was the primary composition of the lingua franca with the language featuring many Italian words and phrases. Other languages whose words made up the lingua franca include Old French, Occitan, Arabic, Greek, Turkish, and Portuguese. The earliest English record proving the existence of the term lingua franca was in 1632 where it was known as “Bastard Spanish.”

Characteristics Of A lingua franca

While lingua franca exists in many forms and variants all over the world, they all share several common characteristics. One distinct characteristic of a lingua franca is that the lingua franca is neither defined by its linguistic history nor its linguistic structure but by its functionality. A lingua Franca is not confined within the geographical, cultural or linguist boundaries of the communities who identify as native speakers of the language, unlike a vernacular language which is limited within the linguist boundaries of the community using it as a native language. All lingua franca are used as a linguistic bridge linking different cultures, civilizations, and religions which otherwise would never have been linked.

Examples Of lingua franca

Lingua Franca has been used to link cultures throughout human history since antiquity. During the Roman Empire era, the lingua franca used across the empire was Koine Greek and Latin. The use of Aramaic as the lingua franca in Western Asia existed for several centuries and was used in several kingdoms and empires. In East Africa, coastal trade brought together different cultures drawn from the continent’s mainland and Asia. Traders used Swahili as a lingua franca which enabled them to understand each other. The best modern example of a lingua franca is English which is used all over the world and is arguably the primary lingua franca in the modern world. Other lingua franca which are used extensively include Spanish, Hindi, Portuguese, German, Arabic, Russian and French. The only documented example of a sign language serving as a lingua franca is the Plains Indian Sign Language which is used all over North America.

Creation Of A lingua franca

There are rare instances where a lingua franca is successfully created from nothing, and the few that are created are defined as “constructed international auxiliary languages.” The notable example of a “constructed” lingua franca is Esperanto which was established in the 19th century as a trade language.


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