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A lingua franca (/ /; lit. Frankish tongue), also known as a bridge language, common language, trade language, auxiliary language, vehicular language, or link language is a language or dialect systematically used to make communication possible between people who do not share a native language or dialect, particularly when it is a third language that is distinct from both native languages.
Lingua francas have developed around the world throughout human history, sometimes for commercial reasons (so-called "trade languages") but also for cultural, religious, diplomatic and administrative convenience, and as a means of exchanging information between scientists and other scholars of different nationalities. The term originates with one such language, Mediterranean Lingua Franca. A world language is the idea of a global lingua franca.
Lingua franca is a functional term, independent of any linguistic history or language structure. Pidgins and creoles often function as lingua francas, but many such languages are neither pidgins nor creoles.
Whereas a vernacular language is used as a native language in a community, a lingua franca is used beyond the boundaries of its original community and is used as a second language for communication between groups. For example, English is a vernacular in the United Kingdom but is used as a lingua franca in the Philippines and India. Russian, Mandarin Chinese, Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese, and French serve a similar purpose as industrial/educational lingua francas in many areas.
The term lingua franca derives from Mediterranean Lingua Franca, the language that people around the Levant and the eastern Mediterranean Sea used as the main language of commerce and diplomacy from late medieval times, especially during the Renaissance era, to the 18th century. At that time, Italian-speakers dominated seaborne commerce in the port cities of the Ottoman Empire and a simplified version of Italian, including many loan words from Greek, Old French, Portuguese, Occitan, and Spanish as well as Arabic and Turkish came to be widely used as the "lingua franca" (in the generic sense used) of the region.
In Lingua Franca (the specific language), lingua means a language, as in Portuguese and Italian, and franca is related to phrankoi in Greek and faranji in Arabic as well as the equivalent Italian. In all three cases, the literal sense is "Frankish", but the name actually applied to all Western Europeans during the late Byzantine Empire.
The Douglas Harper Etymology Dictionary states that the term Lingua Franca (as the name of the particular language) was first recorded in English during the 1670s, although an even earlier example of the use of Lingua Franca in English is attested from 1632, where it is also referred to as "Bastard Spanish".
As recently as the late 20th century, some restricted the use of the generic term to mean only hybrid languages that are used as vehicular languages, its original meaning, but it now refers to any vehicular language.
The term is well established in its naturalization to English, which is why major dictionaries do not italicize it as a "foreign" term. Its plurals in English are lingua francas and linguae francae, with the first of those being first-listed or only-listed in major dictionaries.
The use of lingua francas has existed since antiquity. Latin and Koine Greek were the lingua francas of the Roman Empire and the Hellenistic culture. Akkadian (died out during Classical antiquity) and then Aramaic remained the common languages of a large part of Western Asia from several earlier empires.
In certain countries, the lingua franca is also the national language. For example, Urdu is the lingua franca of Pakistan as well as the national language. Indonesian has the same function in Indonesia, although Javanese has more native speakers. Still, Indonesian is the sole official language and is spoken throughout the country. Also Persian is both the lingua franca of Iran and its national language.
The only documented sign language used as a lingua franca is Plains Indian Sign Language, used across much of North America. It was used as a second language across many indigenous peoples. Alongside or a derivation of Plains Indian Sign Language was Plateau Sign Language, now extinct. Inuit Sign Language could be a similar case in the Arctic among the Inuit for communication across oral language boundaries, but little research exists.
Franc and (prefix) franco- (Φράγκος Phrankos and φράγκο- phranko-