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Department of English
Green University Bangladesh
What is a lingua franca?
A lingua franca is a language which is used as a
means of communication among people who have no
native language in common.
In the past, Arabic became the "lingua franca" of the
Islamic World (from AD 733 - AD 1492), which at a
certain point spread from the borders of China and
Northern India through Central Asia, Persia, Asia
Minor, Middle East, North Africa all the way to the
Iberian Peninsula in the west.
Presently, English is considered a “lingua franca” of
Where did the term ‘lingua franca’ come
Lingua franca referred originally to a mixed language
composed mostly of Italian with a broad vocabulary
drawn from Turkish, French, Spanish, Greek and
This language was limited to the Eastern
Mediterranean as the language of commerce and
diplomacy in and around the Renaissance era.
Franca was the Italian word for Frankish. Its usage in
the term lingua franca originated from its meaning in
Arabic, dating from before the Crusades, whereby all
Europeans were called "Franks" or Firinjah in Arabic.
How is a lingua franca different from other
The use of a language as a lingua franca reflects a
rather interesting aspect of linguistic phenomena.
Unlike native languages, the use of a language as a
lingua franca is often limited to certain social
A language used in limited social contexts (as a
lingua franca) usually undergoes a certain amount of
simplification and reduction and will be
characterized by errors caused by interference from
the speakers’ native languages.
What is simplification?
Simplification refers to the getting red of
irregularities, such as irregular verb forms,
redundancies, such as grammatical gender,
and the avoidance of certain complex
syntactic structure, in the lingua franca.
What is reduction?
As a result of a reduction in social function, lingua
franca speakers may use the language for doing
business or commerce, but not perhaps for many
This means that parts of the language, such as
vocabulary, grammatical structures, and stylistic
devices, will be missing from the usage of non-native
We can say then that a reduction in the social
function of a lingua franca results in a reduction in
form as well.
Language Interference / Errors
The effect of the native language can be on any structural
aspect of the second/foreign language: vocabulary, grammar,
Language interference is most often regarded as a source of
The greater the differences between the speaker’s native
language and the second/foreign language, the more negative
the effects of interference are likely to be (negative transfer).
But, where the relevant features of both languages are similar or
the same, this will result in correct second/foreign language
production (positive transfer).
How is a lingua franca affected by
Many of the structural characteristics of a lingua
franca are usually the result of linguistic interference.
Linguistic interference is the effect of the non-native
speaker’s first language on his or her production of
the second or foreign language they are using, which
usually results in ‘errors’.
The technical term for the process by which
languages may be subject, in the usage of non-native
speakers, to simplification, reduction and
linguistic interference is pidginization.
What is a pidginization?
A pidgin language is a lingua franca which has no
native speakers and is used as a means of
communication between people that do not have a
language in common.
It is derived from a ‘normal’ language through
simplification, reduction and interference or
admixture, often, from the native language, or
languages, of those who use it.
Normally, in the first stages of its development at
least, in which we can refer to it as a pre-pidgin, it is
used only in trading or other limited-contact
An example of a lingua franca is: Swahili
Swahili is a language that is widely used as a lingua franca in East
On parts of the coast of East Africa, Swahili is the native language of
many of the population, who speak it very fluently.
Inland, in Tanzania, it is not widely spoken natively, but it is used to a
considerable extent as a lingua franca.
Compared to the coastal Swahili, this inland lingua franca variety of
Swahili demonstrates some features of simplification, since it is spoken
as a second language, and it is subject to reduction, as it is used in a
more restricted set of circumstances than on the coast.
Further inland still, in eastern Congo, yet another variety of Swahili is
used as a lingua franca. In this case, even more reduction and
simplification have taken place.
However, in another part of Congo, in the rural north, a further
lingua franca form of Swahili occurs.
This variety again is more reduced and simplified, relative to
other varieties of Swahili.
The result of this degree of reduction and simplification is that
mutual intelligibility with coastal Swahili is minimal.
When simplification has taken place on a large scale, and when
the result is relatively stabilized form of language consistently
employed as a lingua franca, the resulting variety is called a
pidgin language (in this case Congo pidgin Swahili).
How do pidgins develop?
The most likely setting for the formation of a pidgin language is a contact
situation involving three or more language groups: one ‘dominant’ language
and at least two ‘non-dominant’ languages.
If contact between the speakers of the dominant language and the speakers
of the non dominant languages is minimal, and the imperfectly learned
dominant language is then used as a lingua franca among the non-
dominant groups, a pidgin language might arise.
Over time, in the speech of lingua franca users, the pre-pidgin will acquire a
set of structures and norms for usage which will be accepted by everybody.
It will acquire a fixed form which linguists can describe and write grammars
Most of the well-known pidgin languages in the world are the result of travel
on the part of European traders and colonizers.
They are mainly based on languages like English, French and Portuguese,
and are located on the main shipping and trading routes.
Why have pidgins often been stigmatized?
Pidgins which have been based on English or other
European languages have often been regarded as
bad, debased, corrupt or inferior forms of these
This is because many people have objected to
pidgins thinking that they have corrupted the ‘purity’
of these European languages.
Views like this are often accompanied by sentiments
about racial and cultural ‘purity’ as well.
English-based pidgins were formerly found in North America,
the Caribbean, West Africa, New Zealand and in China.
They are still found in Australia, West Africa, the Solomon
Islands and in New Guinea, where pidgin English is often
referred to by linguists as Tok Pisin.
Tok Pisin is probably the most widely spoken pidgin derived
Tok Pisin has official status in New Guinea, and is used there on
the radio, in newspapers, and in schools.
From Pidgin to Creole
World pidgins are at present undergoing a process of
Creole languages are pidgins that have acquired native
When acquired by children as their first/native language, the
pidgin will re-acquire all the characteristics of a full, non-pidgin
As spoken by adults, the language will have an expanded
vocabulary, a wider range of syntactic structures, and an
increased stylistic repertoire, and will also be used for all
purposes in a full range of social situations.
Creole languages are perfectly normal languages – only their
history is somewhat unusual.
Creolization repairs the simplification and reduction
which take place during pidginization.
Decreolization attacks the simplification and
admixture which occurs during pidginization.
Contact between the base language and a creole
language leads to the gradual introduction into the
creole of structural complexities from the base
language, and the gradual disappearance of
elements derived from languages other than the
The ‘Decreolization’ of the African American
Vernacular of English (AAVE)
Linguists have argued that African American
Vernacular English (AAVE) is descended
from an original creole that has become
progressively decreolized, as a result of
centuries of contact with English, so that it is
now clearly a variety of English itself.
Thank you for listening!