A lingua franca (from Italian, literally meaning Frankish language, see etymology under Sabir and Italian below) is any language widely used beyond the population of its native speakers. The de facto status of lingua franca is usually "awarded" by the masses to the language of the most influential nation(s) of the time. Any given language normally becomes a lingua franca primarily by being used for international commerce, but can be accepted in other cultural exchanges, especially diplomacy.
Lingua franca may also refer to the de facto language within a more or less specialized field.
A lingua franca is a language used by people whose mother tongues are different in order to communicate. Any language could conceivably serve as a lingua franca between two groups, no matter what sort of language it is. Lingua franca is thus a purely functionally-defined term, i.e., linguistic structure of the language involved plays no role.
A synonym for lingua franca is “vehicular language.” Whereas a vernacular language is used as a native language in a single speaker community, a vehicular language goes beyond the boundaries of its original community, and is used as a second language for communication between communities. For example, English is a vernacular in England, but is used as a vehicular language (that is, a lingua franca) in the Philippines.
The term lingua franca is also applied to international auxiliary languages meant specifically for communication between speakers of different native languages. Examples include Esperanto, Ido, Interlingua, Latino Sine Flexione, and Novial. This is a prescriptive rather than descriptive definition of a lingua franca, and therefore whilst the term lingua franca may be applied to such languages, this does not necessarily mean that the language is commonly used as a lingua franca in the sense of communication between speakers of different native languages.
, the native language of the Arabs
, who originally came from the Arabian Peninsula
, became the "lingua franca" of the Islamic Empire
) (from AD 733 - AD 1492), which at a certain point spread from the borders of China
and Northern India
through Central Asia
, Asia Minor
, Middle East
, North Africa
all the way to Spain
in the west.
Arabic was also used by people neighboring the Islamic Empire. During the Islamic Golden Age, Arabic was the language of science and diplomacy (around 1200 AD), when more books were written in Arabic than in any other language in the world at that time period. It influenced African sub-Saharan languages, east African languages, such as Swahili and loaned many words to Persian, Turkish, Urdu and to significant extent on European languages such as Spanish and Portuguese, countries it ruled for 700 years (see Al-Andalus). It also had some influence over the English language.
Arabic script was adopted by many other languages such as Urdu, Persian, Swahili (changed to Latin in the late 19th century) and Turkish which switched to Latin script in 1928. Arabic became the lingua franca of these regions not simply because of commerce or diplomacy, but also on religious grounds since Arabic is the language of the Qur’an, Islam's holy book and these populations became heavily Muslim. Arabic remains as the lingua franca for 22 countries (24 if one was to include occupied Palestine and Western Sahara), in the Middle East and North Africa in addition to Chad. Despite a few language script conversions from Arabic to Latin as just described, Arabic still is the second most widely used alphabetic system in the world after Latin. Arabic script is/has been used in languages including Hausa, Kashmiri, Kazak, Kurdish, Kyrghyz, Malay, Morisco, Pashto, Persian, Punjabi, Sindhi, Tatar, Turkish, Uyghur.
According to Encarta, which classified Chinese as a single language, Arabic is perceived to be the second largest language among first-time speakers. Used by more than a billion Muslims around the world, it is also one of the six official languages of the United Nations.
, the native language of the Arameans
, became the lingua franca
of the Assyrian Empire
and the western provinces of the Persian Empire
, mainly because of its simple, alphabetic writing system
(of which the modern Hebrew alphabet
is little more than a stylized form), more useful in administration than cuneiform
According to the Russian historian Nikolai Trubetzkoy
served as a lingua franca
throughout most parts of Transcaucasia
(except the Black Sea
coast), in Eastern Anatolia
, Iranian Azerbaijan
, and Southern Dagestan
Bengali or Bangla, is commonly spoken in Bangladesh and India (especially in the states of West Bengal and Tripura). It is the official language and lingua franca of Bangladesh
. In India, Bengali is the official language of West Bengal state; an official language of Tripura (along with Khokborok) and Assam
(along with Assamese) states. The language is also one of several official languages of the Republic of India, being the second most spoken language (as mother tongue) among Indians, after Hindi.
It has been derived from Sanskrit.
In the Philippines
, Cebuano is spoken natively by the inhabitants of Cebu
, Negros Oriental
and some parts of Leyte
and the Samar
islands and throughout Mindanao
. It is also spoken in a few towns and islands in Samar. Until 1975, Cebuano surpassed Tagalog
in terms of number of native speakers.
Classical Chinese previously served as both a written lingua franca and diplomatic language in Far East Asia, used by China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, the Ryukyus, and Vietnam in interstate communications. In the early 20th century Classical Chinese in China was replaced by modern written Standard Chinese. Currently, among most Chinese-speaking communities, Standard Mandarin serves the function of providing a common spoken language between speakers of different and mutually unintelligible Chinese spoken languages - not to mention between the Han Chinese and other ethnic groups in China. Written Chinese has also been used as a way of communication through these character-using countries. Chinese is also a lingua franca of Hong Kong, Macau, the ethnic Chinese population in Singapore and to a lesser extent the ethnic Chinese population in Malaysia.
Hindi - Urdu
, is commonly spoken in India and Pakistan. It encompasses two standardized registers
in the form of the official languages of Hindi
, as well as several nonstandard dialects
is one of the official languages of India
, and Urdu
is the official language and lingua franca of Pakistan
is also an official language in India
However, whilst the words and much of the speaking may sound similar, the writing styles are completely different, both using different character sets altogether.
In the 14th century, during the Malacca Sultanate
was used as a lingua franca
in the Malay archipelago
, by the locals as much as by the traders and artisans that stopped at Malacca
via the Straits of Malacca
Nowadays, Malay is used mostly in Malaysia (officially called Bahasa Malaysia) and Brunei, as well as - but to a lesser extent in - Singapore (one of their four official languages; a "street" version of Malay - Baba Malay was the lingua franca in Singapore prior to the introduction of English as a working and instructional language, and remains so for the elder generation).
However, Indonesian, a standardized variety of Malay, serves as a lingua franca throughout Indonesia and East Timor. While Indonesia counts several hundred different languages, Indonesian, the official language of Indonesia, is their vehicular language.
Persian served as the lingua franca of the eastern Islamic world and became the second lingua franca of the Islamic World. Besides serving as the state and administrative language in many Islamic dynasties, some of which included Samanids
and early Ottomans
, Persian cultural and political forms, and often the Persian language were used by the cultural elites from the Balkans to India.
Arnold Joseph Toynbee
's assessment of the role of the Persian language is worth quoting in more detail:
In the Iranic world, before it began to succumb to the process of Westernization, the New Persian language, which had been fashioned into literary form in mighty works of art. . . gained a currency as a lingua franca; and at its widest, about the turn of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries of the Christian Era, its range in this role extended, without a break, across the face of South-Eastern Europe and South-Western Asia.
Persian remains the lingua franca in its native homelands of Iran
and was the lingua franca of India before the British conquest. It is still understood by many intellectuals of India
Persian has also exerted some influence on the English language.
Sanskrit was widely used across South Asia
, Southeast Asia
, East Asia
and Central Asia
at various times in ancient
history; it has religious significance for all those religious traditions that arose from the Vedic religion
Greek and Latin
During the time of the Hellenistic civilization
and Roman Empire
, the linguae francae
were Koine Greek
. During the Middle Ages
, the lingua franca
was Greek in the parts of Europe, Middle East and Northern Africa
where the Byzantine Empire
held hegemony, and Latin was primarily used in the rest of Europe. Latin, for a significant portion of the expansion of the Roman Catholic Church
, was used as the basis of the Church. This was later changed to local languages, although it is still the official language of the Vatican
Sabir and Italian
Originally lingua Franca
(or Sabir) referred to a mixed language
composed mostly of Italian
with a broad vocabulary drawn from Persian
. Lingua Franca
literally means "Frankish
language". This originated from the Arabic custom of referring to all Europeans as Franks. This mixed language was used for communication throughout the medieval and early modern Middle East
as a diplomatic language; the generic description lingua franca
has since become common for any language used by speakers of different languages to communicate with one another. Some samples of Sabir have been preserved in Molière
, Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme
Italian dialects were spoken in medieval times as a lingua franca in the European commercial empires of Italian cities (Genoa, Venice, Florence, Milan, Pisa, Siena, Amalfi) and in their colonies located in the Middle East and in the Mediterranean sea. During the Renaissance, Italian was also spoken as language of culture in the main royal courts of Europe and among intellectuals. The Italian language is still used as a lingua franca in some environments. For example, in the Catholic ecclesiastic hierarchy, Italian is known by a large part of members and is used in substitution of Latin in some official documents as well. The presence of Italian as the second official language in Vatican City indicates its use not only in the seat in Rome, but also anywhere in the world where an episcopal seat is present.
as the language of diplomacy and (in some aspects) culture during the 16th and 17th centuries, until it was replaced by French (from the Discovery of the Americas in 1492 till 1648). With the growth of the Spanish Empire
, it became established in the Americas, as well as parts of Africa and Asia.
Spanish is used as lingua franca throughout the former Spanish Empire, particularly in Central and South America.
was the language of diplomacy
from the 17th century until its recent replacement by English, and as a result is still a working language of international institutions and is seen on documents ranging from passports to airmail letters. For many years, until the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Denmark joined in 1973, French and German were the only official working languages of the European Economic Community
. French was also the lingua franca of European literature
in the 18th century.
French was also the language used among the educated in many cosmopolitan cities across the Middle East and North Africa. This was true in cities such as Cairo, around the turn of the 20th century until World War II, and especially in the French colonies of the Maghreb. French is particularly important in Algeria and its capital, Algiers. Until the outbreak of the civil war in Lebanon, French was the language that the Christian members of the upper class of Lebanese society used. French is still a lingua franca in most Western and Central African countries (where it often enjoys official status), a remnant of the colonial rule of France and Belgium. These African countries, together with several other countries throughout the world, are members of La Francophonie. French is the sole official language of the Universal Postal Union, and English was only added as a working language as late as 1994.
served as a lingua franca
in large portions of Europe for centuries, mainly the Holy Roman Empire
. From about 1200 to 1600, Middle Low German
was the language of the Hanseatic League
which was present in most Northern European seaports, even London.
As one of the official languages of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, German remained an important second language in much of Eastern Europe long after the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in World War I.
During the construction of the Snowy Mountains Scheme in Australia, German was the lingua franca for workers from central and east Europe.
German was in the late 19th and early 20th centuries a prerequisite language in the scientific community. Despite the anti-German sentiment after World War II it remains a widespread language among members of the scientific community.
was a lingua franca
in large areas of Central and Eastern Europe, especially regions that belonged to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
; this influence extend beyond the borders of the Commonwealth because of the state's considerable political and military power in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. Polish was for several centuries the main language spoken by the ruling classes in Lithuania
, and the modern state of Belarus
, but was also understood further south-east, for example in the Tatar Khanate, the Romanian lands and the Slav parts of Hungary. After the partitioning of Poland in the 1790s, the Russian language
almost completely substituted Polish by the 20th century. Even so, Polish is today still sometimes spoken or at least understood in the western border areas of Ukraine
and parts of northern Slovakia.
served as lingua franca
, South America
in the 15th and 16th centuries. When the Portuguese started exploring the seas of Africa, America, Asia and Oceania, they tried to communicate with the natives by mixing a Portuguese-influenced version of Lingua Franca with the local languages. When English or French ships came to compete with the Portuguese, the crew tried to learn this "broken Portuguese". Through a process of change the Lingua Franca and Portuguese lexicon was replaced with the languages of the people in contact.
Portuguese remains an important lingua franca in Africa (PALOP), Macau, East Timor, and to a certain extent in South America because Brazil is the largest and most populous country in Latin America.
is in use and widely understood in areas of Central
and Eastern Europe
and Northern and Central Asia
formerly part of the Soviet Union
, or of the former Soviet bloc
. Its use in Central and Eastern Europe has declined dramatically since the fall of communism
, but it remains the lingua franca in the Commonwealth of Independent States
. Recent migrations from the former Soviet Union made Russian one of the most spoken languages in Israel.
is the current lingua franca
of international business, science, technology and aviation, and has replaced French
as the lingua franca of diplomacy since World War II
. The rise of English in diplomacy started when in 1823 British Foreign Secretary George Canning
order his subordinate in Lisbon
to communicate with the Portuguese only in English and the decree by Palmerston
30 years later that all countries should have the right to communicate in their own language. The wide-spread use of
was further advanced by the prominent international role played by English-speaking nations (i.e., the United States
along with the Commonwealth of Nations
) in the aftermath of World War II
, particularly in the establishment and organization of the United Nations
. English is one of the six official languages of the U.N.
, and, along with French
, one of the two working
; the other official ones are Arabic
English is the dominant language of the United Kingdom, and therefore, as the UK became a colonial power, English served — and, to some extent, continues to serve — as the lingua franca of the Republic of Ireland, former colonies of the British Empire (including Australia, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, India, Malaysia, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, the United States, and Vanuatu), present British territories (like Bermuda, Falkland Islands, and Saint Helena), former British territories (such as Hong Kong), U.S. territories (like Guam, Northern Marianas, Puerto Rico), Virgin Islands (both British and American), and the Philippines. In many of these nations the use of English is seen as a means of avoiding the political difficulties inherent in promoting any individual indigenous language as the lingua franca.
The modern trend to use English outside of English-speaking countries has a number of sources. Ultimately, the use of English in a variety of locations across the globe is a consequence of the reach of the British Empire. But the establishment of English as an international lingua franca after World War II was mostly a result of the spread of English via cultural and technological exports from the United States as well as its embedding in international institutions; for instance, the seating and roll-call order in sessions of the United Nations and its organs is determined by English alphabetical order, and, while there are six official languages of the United Nations, only two (English and French) are working languages, and, in practice, English is the sole working language of most UN bodies. This is contributed to by the fact that UN headquarters, and the majority of UN bodies, are based in the United States.
English is also regarded by some as an unofficial global lingua franca owing to the economic, cultural, and geopolitical power of most of the developed Western nations in world financial and business institutions. The de facto status of English as the lingua franca in these countries has carried over globally as a result. English is also overwhelmingly dominant in scientific and technological communications, and all of the world's major scientific journals are published in English. English is also the lingua franca of international Air Traffic Control communications.
A landmark recognition of the dominance of English in Europe came in 1995 when, on the accession of Austria, Finland and Sweden, English joined French and German as one of the working languages of the European Commission. Many Europeans outside of the EU have also adopted English as their current lingua franca. For example, English serves as a somewhat lingua franca in Switzerland, which has four official languages (German, French, Italian and Romansh, spoken by a relatively small minority). German is also spoken by many Swiss citizens, but the relatively high foreign-born population (21 percent of residents) ensures a relatively wide use of English.
is spoken as a second language by many millions of people in South Africa
is the most widely spoken language throughout Sierra Leone
, even though its native speakers
the Sierra Leone Creole people
or Krios, (a community of about 300,000 descendants of freed slaves from the West Indies
, United States
) make only about 5% of the country's population. The Krio language unites all the different ethnic groups, especially in their trade and interaction with each other.
is widely spoken through Nigeria and Niger and recognised in neighbouring states (Ghana
etc). The reason for this is that Hausa people used to be traders who led caravans with goods (cotton, leather, slaves, food crops etc.) through the whole West African region, from the Niger Delta to the Atlantic shores at the very west edge of Africa. They also reached North African states through Trans-Saharan routes. Thus trade deals in Timbuktu
in modern Mali, Agadez
in Northern Africa, and other trade centers were often concluded in Hausa.
is used throughout large parts of East Africa
as a lingua franca, despite being the mother tongue of a relatively small ethnic group on the East African coast and nearby islands in the Indian Ocean
. At least as early as the late eighteenth century, Swahili was used along trading and slave routes that extended west across Lake Tanganyika and into the present-day Democratic Republic of Congo
. Swahili rose in prominence throughout the colonial era, and has become the predominant African language of Tanzania
. Some contemporary members of non-Swahili ethnic groups speak Swahili more often than their mother tongues, and many choose to raise their children with Swahili as their first language, leading to the possibility that several smaller East African languages will fade as Swahili transitions from being a regional lingua franca to a regional first language
, also known as Pulaar
depending on the region, is the language of the Fula people
– who in turn are known under the various names of Fula or Fulani or Peuls or Fulbe or Fulɓe
. Fula is spoken in all countries directly south of the Sahara (north of Cameroon
…). It is spoken mainly by Fula people, but is also used as a lingua franca by several populations of various origin, throughout Western Africa.
The largely interintelligible Manding languages
of West Africa serve as lingua francas in various places. For instance Bambara
is the most widely spoken language in Mali
, and Jula
(almost the same as Bambara) is commonly used in western Burkina Faso
and northern Cote d'Ivoire
. Manding languages have long been used in regional commerce, so much so that the word for trader, jula
, was applied to the language currently known by the same name. Other varieties of Manding are used in several other countries, such as Guinea
, The Gambia
, and Senegal
The Sango language
is a lingua franca developed for intertribal trading in the Central African Republic
. It is based on the Northern Ngbandi language
spoken by the Sango people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo but with a large vocabulary of French loan words.
Wolof is a more widely spoken lingua franca of The Gambia and Senegal, although English and French, the official languages of The Gambia and Senegal, are the lingua francas of the urban areas of the 2 countries.
The Tupi language
served as the lingua franca
of Brazil among speakers of the various indigenous languages, mainly in the coastal regions. Tupi as a lingua franca, and as recorded in colonial books, was in fact a creation of the Portuguese, who assembled it from the similarities between the coastal indigenous Tupi-guarani languages. The language served the Jesuit priests as a way to teach natives, and it was widely spoken by Europeans. It was the predominant language spoken in Brazil until 1758, when the Jesuits were expelled from Brazil by the Portuguese government and the use and teaching of Tupi was banned. Since then, Tupi as Lingua Franca was quickly replaced by Portuguese, although Tupi-guarani family languages are still spoken by small native groups in Brazil.
Also known as Quechua
, as the Inca empire
rose to prominence in South America
, the imperial language Quechua
became the most widely spoken language in the western regions of the continent. Even among tribes that were not absorbed by the empire Quechua still became an important language for trade because of the empire's influence. Even after the Spanish conquest
Quechua for a long time was the most common language. Today it is still widely spoken although it has given way to Spanish as the more common lingua franca. It is spoken by some 10 million people through much of South America (mostly in Peru, south-western and central Bolivia, southern Colombia and Ecuador, north-western Argentina and northern Chile).
Pidgins and creoles
Various pidgin languages have been used in many locations and times as a common trade speech. They can be based on English, French, Chinese, or indeed any other language. A pidgin is defined by its use as a lingua franca, between populations speaking other mother tongues. When a pidgin becomes a population's first language, then it is called a creole language.
is largely spoken in Papua New Guinea
as a lingua franca
. It developed as an English-based creole with influences from local languages and to a smaller extent German
. Tok Pisin originated as a pidgin
in the 19th century, hence the name 'Tok Pisin' from 'Talk Pidgin', but has now evolved into a modern language.
Also called Pidgin English, this Lingua Franca is also spoken in the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. The versions of Pidgin vary between PNG, the Solomons and Vanuatu, but all Pidgin speakers from these countries are able to communicate and often understand each others language variations.
Pidgin English is derived from Australian English and its idioms, so an understanding of vernacular Australian English is often helpful in understanding the origins and application of Pidgin English.
is a Portuguese Creole
used as a lingua franca
among people of different ethnic groups. It is also the mother tongue of many people in Guinea-Bissau.
- 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.
- R. A. Hall, Jr. (1966). Pidgin and Creole Languages, Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-8014-0173-9.
- MELATTI, Julio Cezar (1983). Índios do Brasil. São Paulo:Hucitec Press, 48th edition