lingua franca

noun lin·gua fran·ca \ˈliŋ-gwə-ˈfraŋ-kə\

Definition of lingua franca


lingua francas


linguae francae

play \ˈliŋ-gwē-ˈfraŋ-(ˌ)kē\
  1. 1 often capitalized :  a common language consisting of Italian mixed with French, Spanish, Greek, and Arabic that was formerly spoken in Mediterranean ports

  2. 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. 3 :  something resembling a common language <movies are the lingua franca of the twentieth century — Gore Vidal>

Examples of lingua franca in a sentence

  1. English is used as a lingua franca among many airline pilots.

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.

Origin and Etymology of lingua franca

Italian, literally, Frankish language

First Known Use: 1619

Other Language Terms

LINGUA FRANCA Defined for English Language Learners

lingua franca

noun lin·gua fran·ca \ˈliŋ-gwə-ˈfraŋ-kə\

Definition of lingua franca for English Language Learners

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

Learn More about lingua franca

Seen and Heard

What made you want to look up lingua franca? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


burden, obligation, or blame

Get Word of the Day daily email!


Take a 3-minute break and test your skills!

  • m-ws-new-words-quiz
  • Which word means "inability to recognize faces"?
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.