1. Originally, a name for the mixed language, based on ITALIAN and Occitan (Southern French), used for trading and military purposes in the Mediterranean in the Middle Ages. See SABIR.
2. By extension, a semi-technical term for any additional (often compromise) language adopted by speakers of different languages, as a common medium of communication for any purposes and at any level. A lingua franca may be either a fullyfledged language (LATIN in the Roman Empire, Hausa at the present time in West Africa), or a PIDGIN or CREOLE (TOK PISIN in Papua New Guinea, KRIO in Sierra Leone). A language may become somewhat reduced if it is widespread as a lingua franca (SWAHILI in East Africa). FRENCH served widely in Europe as the lingua franca of diplomacy in the 18–19c, and English now serves as a lingua franca in many countries with linguistically diverse populations (such as India and Nigeria) and for many purposes (as with the restricted variety SEASPEAK, used by the world's merchant marine). See BUSINESS ENGLISH, LINGO, LINK LANGUAGE, POLARI.
lingua franca (lĬng´gwə frăng´kə), an auxiliary language, generally of a hybrid and partially developed nature, that is employed over an extensive area by people speaking different and mutually unintelligible tongues in order to communicate with one another. Such a language frequently is used primarily for commercial purposes. Examples are the several varieties of the hybrid pidgin English (see pidgin); Swahili, a native language of E Africa (see Swahili language); Chinook jargon, a lingua franca formerly used in the American Northwest that was a mixture of Chinook, other Native American languages, English, and French; and a variety of Malay (called bazaar Malay), which served as a compromise language in the area of British Malaya, the Dutch East Indies, and neighboring regions (see Malayo-Polynesian languages). The original lingua franca was a tongue actually called Lingua Franca (or Sabir) that was employed for commerce in the Mediterranean area during the Middle Ages. Now extinct, it had Italian as its base with an admixture of words from Spanish, French, Greek, and Arabic. The designation
[language of the Franks] came about because the Arabs in the medieval period used to refer to Western Europeans in general as
Occasionally the term lingua franca is applied to a fully established formal language; thus formerly it was said that French was the lingua franca of diplomacy.
See H. R. Kahane et al., The Lingua Franca in the Levant (1958); R. A. Hall, Jr., Pidgin and Creole Languages (1966); B. Heine, Status and Use of African Lingua Francas (1970).
lin·gua fran·ca / ˈlinggwə ˈfrangkə/ • n. (pl. lin·gua fran·cas ) a language that is adopted as a common language between speakers whose native languages are different. ∎ hist. a mixture of Italian with French, Greek, Arabic, and Spanish, formerly used in the Levant.
Recorded from the late 17th century, the phrase comes from Italian, and means literally ‘Frankish tongue’.