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)
often capitalized : a common language consisting of Italian mixed with French, Spanish, Greek, and Arabic that was formerly spoken in Mediterranean ports
: 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.
: something resembling a common language
movies are the lingua franca of the twentieth centuryGore Vidal

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 First used to send messages over land in 1844, Morse code outlived the telegraph age by becoming the lingua franca of the sea. Saahil Desai, The Atlantic, 2 Mar. 2024 The lingua franca of air traffic control will change from English to computerese, with humans overseeing the process. Michael Barnard, Forbes, 2 Mar. 2024 Spanish became the region’s lingua franca, with English only gaining popularity in the mid-19th century, when the California Gold Rush brought English-speaking miners and prospectors to the area. Megan Ulu-Lani Boyanton, Smithsonian Magazine, 17 Jan. 2024 Passive aggression was the lingua franca of the Womxxxn offices. Ct Jones, Rolling Stone, 30 Sep. 2023 Virtue exhibitionism’s the lingua franca connecting that neighborhood to American ones like Georgetown, the Upper West Side, Santa Monica, and Menlo Park. Brian T. Allen, National Review, 23 Dec. 2023 Whether driven by repulsion from Russia or patriotism for their own nation, Ukrainians are changing their lingua franca – and their society. Lydia Tomkiw, The Christian Science Monitor, 4 Dec. 2023 This twisted nightmare takes a particular form in Odesa, because its lingua franca is still Russian and its Russian sympathies lingered long after Ukrainian independence in 1991. New York Times, 19 Aug. 2022 An audience hungry for literary storytelling overlapped with the audience for cinematic storytelling, and English was the lucky lingua franca of these two mass art forms. James Wood, The New Yorker, 6 Nov. 2023

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'lingua franca.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Italian, literally, Frankish language

First Known Use

1619, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of lingua franca was in 1619

Dictionary Entries Near lingua franca

Cite this Entry

“Lingua franca.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 22 Apr. 2024.

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