What is a lingua franca?
You may have seen the term “lingua franca” in your searches for translations, or maybe you’ve read it in one of our blogs about Lionbridge languages. But what does it really mean?
The term “lingua franca” literally means “Language of the Franks” and originated in the trades of the Mediterranean Sea. Although at the time, the “Franks” really referred to all Western Europeans, the term came to mean any language that served as a contact language for people who otherwise couldn’t communicate. A lingua franca can go by many names, such as bridge language, common language, trade language, or vehicular language. But they all mean the same thing: a language that is used by people who don’t share the same native language. There are many types of lingua francas.
Mixed languages like Pidgins and Creole are languages that combine words and syntax from two or more languages in order to merge them. Sabir was the Mediterranean lingua franca described earlier, which combined terms from the Northern Italian languages and Occitano-Romance languages, as well as words borrowed from Berber, Turkish, French, Greek, and Arabic.
Some have tried to construct new languages in order to serve as an international lingua franca. Esperanto was a constructed language created in the 1880s as an International Auxiliary Language. This language was learned by more than 2 million people and was used in some international business, but never took off as a lingua franca.
The most popular and lasting lingua francas in history have been languages that were already in existence and became the lingua franca for various reasons.
- Latin was the lingua franca of Europe for centuries after the spread of the Roman Empire.
- In the 17th century, French became the lingua franca, learned by many as a second language and thought to be a language of the elite and educated.
- In the 20th century, after the world war, English started to emerge as a lingua franca in Europe. With the rise of the internet, English continued to spread and is now considered to be a global lingua franca, being learned by many as a second language across the world.
- In Indonesia, Javanese is spoken by a vast majority of the population, but Bahasa Indonesian has been the lingua franca for centuries and was chosen as a national language because it was known by so many inhabitants.
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