What is the connection between the word "lingua franca" and the Frankish people?

My dictionary says that "lingua franca" is an Italian word literally meaning "Frankish language." It goes on to define "lingua franca" as "a common language consisting of Italian mixed with French, Spanish, Greek, and Arabic that was formerly spoken in Mediterranean ports."

My dictionary also defines Frank as "a member of a West Germanic people that entered Roman provinces in A.D. 253."

So, my question is: What is the historical connection between the Frankish people and the word "lingua franca?"

  • "Franks" was a general term for Western Europeans. The Lingua Franca was so named because it included Old French words. I guess the "historical connection" is whatever connection you consider the Franks as having to the French.
    – Semaphore
    Sep 29, 2014 at 4:57
  • Semaphore, are you proposing that the "Franca" in "Lingua Franca" means French?
    – Corey
    Sep 29, 2014 at 7:40
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    No, it meant "Franks", which was a term for Western Europeans including the French. I don't intend to get drawn into a debate about whether that's the same as the Frankish tribe of old, however.
    – Semaphore
    Sep 29, 2014 at 7:44
  • 1
    I don't understand the question. If the dictionary defines "lingua franca" as "frankish language", then what is the question?
    – MCW
    Sep 29, 2014 at 10:29
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    I believe his question actually is "why is this term (a language of a specific group of people) came to have its current meaning?".
    – o0'.
    Sep 29, 2014 at 15:23

1 Answer 1


To understand what the Lingua Franca was, you kind of have to understand the cultural nature of the Ottoman empire. The Ottomans called Europeans "Franks". The Ottomans controlled all of the lower Mediterranean (Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Palestine, etc). Now, you might expect the common language to adopted to be Turkish, or maybe Arabic, but this is not what happened. The Turks were very isolated in their rule. They would just send a few tax collectors around and soldiers, but they made no effort to culturally rule their subjects, who were a mixture of local people, Arabs, Greeks and others, all speaking different languages. The French, however, adopted a completely different policy which was to educate anyone they came into contact with. You may have heard of the "Knights Hospitaller", a Christian order. These men set up hospitals and schools everywhere. There were many other such organizations. So, what this meant is that in all the cities of the Ottoman empire were little groups of French making schools and it was common for the rich or educated, even though they were Muslim to attend these schools.

The result of all this is that the French language became the basis of a polyglot throughout the Ottoman empire which was combined with Greek, Arabic etc. This common language became known as the "Lingua Franca".

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