lingua franca

lin·​gua fran·​ca | \ ˈliŋ-gwə-ˈfraŋ-kə How to pronounce lingua franca (audio) \
plural lingua francas or linguae francae\ ˈliŋ-​gwē-​ˈfraŋ-​(ˌ)kē How to pronounce lingua franca (audio) \

Definition of lingua franca

1 often capitalized : a common language consisting of Italian mixed with French, Spanish, Greek, and Arabic that was formerly spoken in Mediterranean ports
2 : any of various languages used as common or commercial tongues among peoples of diverse speech English is used as a lingua franca among many airline pilots.
3 : something resembling a common language movies are the lingua franca of the twentieth century— Gore Vidal

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Did You Know?

In the Middle Ages, the Arabs of the eastern Mediterranean referred to all Europeans as Franks (the name of the tribe that once occupied the land we call France). Since there was plenty of Arab-European trade, the traders in the Mediterranean ports eventually developed a trading language combining Italian, Arabic, and other languages, which almost everyone could more or less understand, and it became known as the "Frankish language", or lingua franca. Some languages actually succeed in becoming lingua francas without changing much. So, when the Roman empire became vast and mighty, Latin became the important lingua franca; and at a meeting between Japanese and Vietnamese businesspeople today, English may well be the only language spoken.

Examples of lingua franca in a Sentence

English is used as a lingua franca among many airline pilots.
Recent Examples on the Web After all, American culture and Hollywood have long been the lingua franca of global entertainment. New York Times, "How Chinese Dramas Helped Me Build a Relationship With My Sister," 16 Mar. 2021 In its formative years, the soul of the Catholic Church, like that of Rome and its empire, was conformed forever to the shape of its lingua franca. Nicholas Frankovich, National Review, "Tradition without Traditionalism: Reginald Foster Requiescat in Pace," 2 Jan. 2021 This computational lingua franca constitutes the most basic level at which the software of a device talks to its hardware. Christopher Mims, WSJ, "Intel Not Inside: How Mobile Chips Overtook the Semiconductor Giant," 12 Dec. 2020 Its story lines and even its vernacular have become a sort of pop-culture lingua franca. Carrie Battan, The New Yorker, "Lorraine Bracco Bought an Italian Villa, but She Can’t Escape “The Sopranos”," 11 Dec. 2020 The Swahili language, which is the lingua franca of East Africa, is remarkably expressive in its naming of animals. Robert Ruark, Field & Stream, "F&S Classics: Suicide Made Easy," 1 Dec. 2020 Thanks to this new law, the only lingua franca in Catalonia will be Catalan. Itxu Díaz, National Review, "Spain’s Government Declares War on the Spanish Language," 25 Nov. 2020 These researchers argue that quantum field theory, the current lingua franca of particle physics, tells far too convoluted a story. Quanta Magazine, "What Is a Particle?," 12 Nov. 2020 In a new country, with a new language to learn, the Van Halen sons, Eddie and his older brother, Alex, turned to music as their lingua franca. Jim Farber, New York Times, "Eddie Van Halen, Virtuoso of the Rock Guitar, Dies at 65," 6 Oct. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'lingua franca.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of lingua franca

1619, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for lingua franca

Italian, literally, Frankish language

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Time Traveler for lingua franca

Time Traveler

The first known use of lingua franca was in 1619

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Last Updated

30 Mar 2021

Cite this Entry

“Lingua franca.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 21 Apr. 2021.

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More Definitions for lingua franca

lingua franca


English Language Learners Definition of lingua franca

: a language that is used among people who speak various different languages

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