21 Nov /14

Lingua Franca

Latin and Greek were the languages of the Roman Empire, with Latin keeping its status as a lingua franca of European scholars up to until 18th century when was gradually dethroned by French as the ruling language of diplomacy, to nowadays when English is the modern lingua franca, and the first truly global language, understood on every continent and at least to some extent by approximately a quarter of the world’s population.

But ironically, English dominates the modern world described by a term with an Italian origin, which literally translates as “Frankish tongue.”

The lingua franca origin came with the Crusades, when the Eastern European and Arabic world referred to all Western and Central Europeans as Franks, (the widely famous Thai name for all Caucasians farang derives from the same origin). And the language of the Franks, was definitely not Germanic, but a mixed tongue which flourished in the Mediterranean in the 1600s. It was a curious pidgin language to support the booming trade and diplomacy in the area. To the Italian core was added a spice of Spanish, Portuguese, French, Greek, Arabic and Turkish words.

This was originally referred to as Bastard Spanish. The first English author to call mixed language in the Levant area lingua franca was the famous John Dryden. In his 1680, comedy The King Keeper, Dryden parodied the new language phenomena, “This a kind of Lingua Franca, as I have heard the merchants call it; a certain compound language, made up of all tongues that passes through the Levant”

Some decades later, in 1726, Swift’s Gulliver tried to communicate with the Lilliputians in “…….High and Low Dutch, Latin, French, Spanish, Italian, and Lingua Franca”. He was really a great polyglot.

It is strange that the lingua franca is today used to describe the predominate language for communication. In the Roman times it was Latin, something which continued until French took over, to be replaced by English now.

The lingua franca always had a sole purpose to serve global communication. It walked a long path and crowned different languages on its way. In the last decade with the online boom, the new lingua franca is shaping up as a pidgin hybrid language of emojis, memes, numbers, symbols, abbreviations and trending slang expressions.