Lingua Franca

Linguistics

Here’s a scenario for you: a ship sinks at sea and 10 survivors manage to struggle to a desert island. Each survivor comes from a different country and speaks a different language. And none of them speak any other language other than their own.

Ten years later a rescue boat finally arrives and they discover the survivors all speaking a strange language between them.

The survivors have learned to communicate using a Lingua Franca.

What is a Lingua Franca?

Simply put, a lingua franca is a language used by different language speakers in order to communicate. Sometimes it will be a language they all have in common; if the shipwreck survivors all spoke a bit of English then this would be the lingua franca they used to communicate.

Other times the lingua franca can be a mixture of different languages and essentially made up – a pidgin‏‎ in other words.

In the world of international business, the internet, commerce, diplomacy, science, technology and aviation to name but a few, English is the de facto lingua franca. This is why when a Chinese businessman meets a French businessman during a convention in Mexico‏‎, they will most likely speak English to each other.

Etymology & Background

The phrase, lingua franca, comes from Italian‏‎ and means Frankish Language. This was originally a mixture of Italian, French, Spanish, Greek‏‎, and Arabic‏‎ spoken around the Mediterranean ports which visitors from different nationalities used to communicate. This pidgin flourished for several hundred years until overtaken by French which became the lingua franca of commerce and diplomacy until it was itself overtaken by English.

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