What is the term for a language that is a second language for most of the people that use it? For example, when the Portuguese traded with East African countries in the 1700's, none of them spoke their mother tongue. English can also been seen as this type of language. It is two words and sounds Latin.

  • 10
    You're probably thinking of lingua franca, which designates a language which is no one's native language but employed for communication between speakers of different languages. Commented May 15, 2016 at 10:27
  • 8
    The answer is of course klingon. It probably has the fewest native speakers. Commented May 15, 2016 at 13:32
  • This was a crossword type of question? Amazingly, although users have mentioned it in various answers in the past, I could not find any question that had "lingua franca" as its answer.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented May 16, 2016 at 8:01

1 Answer 1


lingua franca

From the Merriam Webster dictionary:

lin·gua fran·ca \ˈliŋ-gwə-ˈfraŋ-kə\


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

Full Definition

  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

  3. : something resembling a common language

Plural: lingua francas or lin·guae fran·cae -gwē-ˈfraŋ-(ˌ)kē\


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

Origin: Italian, literally, Frankish language.

First use: 1619

  • 1
    Please provide a link to the original page or answer; Quote only the relevant portion; Provide the name of the original author, wherever possible."
    – NVZ
    Commented May 15, 2016 at 10:31
  • 2
    Funny, I always thought the "original" lingua franca was French, but it was Italian!
    – Fattie
    Commented May 15, 2016 at 13:14
  • @JoeBlow Nah, but the French gave us something similar. We call it the metric system. Commented May 15, 2016 at 17:47
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    @JoeBlow According to Wikipedia: Frankish (also Old Franconian) was the West Germanic language spoken by the Franks between the 4th and 8th century. The language itself is poorly attested, but it gave rise to numerous loanwords in Old French. The Franks "... are historically first known as a group of Germanic tribes that inhabited the land between the Lower and Middle Rhine in the 3rd century AD, and second as the people of Gaul who merged with the Gallo-Roman populations during succeeding centuries ..." Commented May 15, 2016 at 18:46
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    ... so the original Lingua Franca was Frankish (which evolved into Old French), not Italian. The phrase "Lingua Franca", as I understand it, is Italian. Commented May 15, 2016 at 18:47

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