<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=478312482379988&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1"> What Is a Lingua Franca?
What Is a Lingua Franca?
From L'équipe Global Lingua, Posted on Jan 3, 2020 9:00:00 AM 0
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Have you ever heard of lingua franca? No, it’s not the French language, but rather a language that was used by people of different ethnic groups for trade! When was this language spoken? Which modern lingua francas are still used today? You will find more information in this article.

Lingua franca, or the Mediterranean Lingua Franca

Originally, lingua franca (or "language of the Franks") was a language used as a lingua franca from the Middle Ages to the 19th century throughout the Mediterranean basin. It was used by merchants and sailors from different countries to communicate with each other despite the banner of the language. It was also a language used by prisoners and slaves displaced from other countries. But how was it formed? The words that were used came from a mix of Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, French, Occitan, Catalan and Arabic.

Since lingua franca was a utilitarian language spoken between merchants, there are very few written records, which makes it difficult to study today. Fortunately, there are still some documents left, such as a dictionary of the “langue franque” printed in 1830 in Marseille. It is thanks to this type of document that we know that the vocabulary was limited and the grammar almost non-existent. It was a very simplified language: verbs were used in the infinitive and without any form of tense. A simpler language to be understood by as many people as possible!

That is why today, a lingua franca also refers to a bridge language (or a vehicular language) that facilitates communication between people who speak different mother tongues.


A lingua franca, or vehicular language

What is a vehicular language? According to the dictionary, a vernacular language is a "language commonly spoken within a community", while a vehicular language is a "language that allows communication between people or ethnic groups of different languages". Thus, English is a vernacular language in the United Kingdom, but becomes a lingua franca at an international level.

Ironically, Esperanto is not considered as a lingua franca, because it is not spoken by enough speakers. However, it’s a language that was built from 1887 onwards to be easy to learn and to serve as a "true intermediary in international relations".

Today, there are many lingua francas around the world.

Examples of lingua franca

In addition to English, which is the first language you think about if you’re looking for a language that allows you to communicate internationally, many lingua francas exist on all continents.

In Africa, we can obviously mention Arabic, a lingua franca spoken by nearly 375 million people, which becomes a vernacular language when switched to dialectal Arabic, often different according to regions and countries. We can also mention Afrikaans, a Germanic language derived from Dutch and spoken mainly in South Africa and in Namibia. Kiswahili, one of the Swahili languages, is the most widely spoken language in sub-Saharan Africa, and is used as a lingua franca in a large region of East Africa, such as Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania.

In Asia, we can mention Sanskrit, a lingua franca formerly spoken in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka. It should be noted that in 2011, only 26,490 people reported it as their mother tongue. In the Middle East, Hebrew can be seen as one of the oldest lingua franca. It almost disappeared before it was resurrected ! This language is now spoken by nearly 7.5 million people. Finally, we cannot forget "classical" Chinese. Classical written Chinese was used until the early 20th century in all formal writing in China, but also in Japan, Korea and Vietnam.

Finally, the French language remains an important lingua franca. Used in diplomacy from the 17th century to the mid-20th century, this language is still used in many international institutions such as the International Olympic Committee and FIFA.

In short, a lingua franca can reference both the language used in trade for many centuries in France, but also a lingua franca spoken by different communities from different countries. In any case, lingua franca represents the fact of being able to communicate with as many people as possible. Learning a foreign language is about trying to communicate with other people!

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