Lingua francas

Lingua francas (or "vehicular languages") have been very useful since they have provided a means for linguistically diverse populations to communicate. Although lingua francas have existed since ancient times (Greek and Latin served this purpose), the term "lingua franca" comes from the name of a pidgin language (a simplified language used as a bridge between speakers of different languages) between around 1000 and the early 1800s in the Mediterranean region. The language was also known as Sabir and was based on some of the main languages spoken in the area (the major western Romance languages at that time, as well as Greek and Arabic). It was used by a variety of individuals, ranging from sailors to pirates coming into contact with various ethnic groups. Given how long it was in use, it must have been rather successful.

These days the most obvious use of a lingua franca is English, spread around the globe through British imperialist ventures and having been promoted even more due to the economic, cultural, and political influence of several English-speaking nations. A trawl through the internet, especially international chatrooms, reveals how extensively English is used as an international second language. Curiously, English is also used by some multilingual, multiethnic nations (such as Switzerland) because it is seen as neutral and not privileging any one local language. However, it may be a matter of time before there is a backlash against English as being a non-neutral language representing undue foreign influence.

Other lingua francas through the centuries have been French (used as a diplomatic lingua franca and also a common second language in parts of Europe and many former French colonies), German (in much of central Europe and in the international scientific community, especially in the 19th and 20th centuries), Swahili (in East Africa), Russian (throughout the Soviet Union and satellite states in Eastern Europe prior to the 1990s), and Tok Pisin (a pidgin language based on Australian English that allows many of New Guinea’s ethnic groups to communicate).

It remains to be seen what the next widespread lingua franca will be.

(posted by language fan and friend Silas McCracken)


Margaret Larkin said...

It's weird to see languages that use other scripts create sites about it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting, Brian. Actually, I am planning an upcoming entry about auxiliary languages, and I intend to mention Esperanto as an example.
Cheers, Silas (who is not Terry, despite what the blog may say)