List of lingua francas

This is a list of lingua francas. A lingua franca (English plural "lingua francas", although the pseudo-Latin form "linguae francae" is also seen) is a language systematically used to make communication possible between people not sharing a first language, in particular when it is a third language, distinct from both speakers' first languages.

Examples of lingua francas are numerous, and exist on every continent. The most obvious modern example is English, which is the current dominant lingua franca of international diplomacy, business, science, technology and aviation, but many other languages serve, or have served at different historical periods, as lingua francas in particular regions, countries, or in special contexts.



During apartheid, the South African government aimed to establish Afrikaans as the primary lingua franca in South Africa and South African-controlled South-West Africa (now Namibia), although English was also in common use. Since the end of apartheid, English has been widely adopted as the sole lingua franca. Many institutions that had names in English and Afrikaans have since dropped the Afrikaans names. Notable cases are South African Airways and the South African Broadcasting Corporation.

In Namibia, Afrikaans holds a more universal role than in South Africa, across ethnic groups and races and is the spoken lingua franca in the capital Windhoek and throughout most of central and southern Namibia. There are pockets where German is commonly spoken. English is the sole official language.


Amharic is widely spoken in Ethiopia. It is an official national language, and thereby serves as a lingua franca for the many different local populations.[1]


There are more Arabic speakers in Africa than Asia. It is spoken as an official language in all of the continent's Arab League states. Arabic is also spoken as a trade language across the Sahara as far as the Sahel, including parts of Mali, Chad and Borno State in Nigeria.


During the rise of Berber dynasties like the Almoravids and Almohads between 1040 and 1500, Berber served as both the vernacular and lingua franca of Northwest Africa. Today the language is less influential due to its suppression and marginalization, and the adoption of French and Arabic by the political regimes of the Berber world as working languages. However, Tuareg, a branch of the Berber languages, is still playing the role of a lingua franca to some extent in some vast parts of the Sahara Desert, especially in southern Algeria, Mali, Niger, and Libya. Another branch, Tamazight, has become an official language of Morocco. In Algeria, Tamazight has been a national language since 2002, and an official State Language in 2016.


Fanagalo or Fanakalo is a pidgin based on the Zulu, English, and Afrikaans languages. It was used as a lingua franca mainly in the mining industries in South Africa, however in this role it is being increasingly eclipsed by English which is viewed as being more neutral politically.[2]


Fula (Fula: Fulfulde or Pulaar or Pular, depending on the region; French: Peul) the language of the Fula people or Fulani (Fula: Fulɓe; French: Peuls) and associated groups such as the Toucouleur. Fula is spoken in all countries directly south of the Sahara (such as Cameroon, Chad, Nigeria, Niger, Mali...). It is spoken mainly by Fula people, but is also used as a lingua franca by several populations of various origin, throughout Western Africa.[citation needed]


Hausa is widely spoken through Nigeria and Niger and recognised in neighbouring states such as Ghana, Benin, and Cameroon. The reason for this is that Hausa people used to be traders who led caravans with goods (cotton, leather, slaves, food crops etc.) through the whole West African region, from the Niger Delta to the Atlantic shores at the very west edge of Africa. They also reached North African states through Trans-Saharan routes. Thus trade deals in Timbuktu in modern Mali, Agadez, Ghat, Fez in Northern Africa, and other trade centers were often concluded in Hausa.[citation needed]


Krio is the most widely spoken language throughout Sierra Leone even though its native speakers, the Sierra Leone Creole people or Krios (a community of about 300,000 descendants of formerly enslaved people from the West Indies, United States and Britain), make up only about 5% of the country's population. The Krio language unites all the different ethnic groups, especially in their trade and interaction with each other. Krio is also spoken in The Gambia.


Lingala is used by over 10 million speakers throughout the northwestern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and a large part of the Republic of the Congo, as well as to some degree in Angola and the Central African Republic, although it has only about two million native speakers.[3] Its status is comparable to that of Swahili in eastern Africa.

Between 1880 and 1900, the colonial administration, in need of a common language for the region, adopted a simplified form of Bobangi, the language of the Bangala people, which became Lingala. Spoken Lingala has many loanwords from French, inflected with Lingala affixes.


The largely interintelligible Manding languages of West Africa serve as lingua francas in various places. For instance Bambara is the most widely spoken language in Mali, and Jula (almost the same as Bambara) is commonly used in western Burkina Faso and northern Côte d'Ivoire. Manding languages have long been used in regional commerce, so much so that the word for trader, jula, was applied to the language currently known by the same name. Other varieties of Manding are used in several other countries, such as Guinea, The Gambia, and Senegal.


The Sango language is a lingua franca developed for intertribal trading in the Central African Republic. It is based on the Northern Ngbandi language spoken by the Sango people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo but with a large vocabulary of French loan words. It has now been institutionalised as an official language of the Central African Republic.


Swahili, known as Kiswahili to its speakers, is used throughout large parts of East Africa and the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo as a lingua franca, despite being the mother tongue of a relatively small ethnic group on the East African coast and nearby islands in the Indian Ocean. At least as early as the late 18th century, Swahili was used along trading and slave routes that extended west across Lake Tanganyika and into the present-day Democratic Republic of Congo. Swahili rose in prominence throughout the colonial era, and has become the predominant African language of Tanzania and Kenya. Some ethnic groups now speak Swahili more often than their mother tongues, and many, especially in urban areas, choose to raise their children with Swahili as their first language, leading to the possibility that several smaller East African languages will fade away as Swahili transitions from being a regional lingua franca to a regional first language.

It has official status as a national language in DR Congo, Tanzania and Kenya, and symbolic official status (understood but not widely spoken) in Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. It is the first language of education in Tanzania and in much of eastern Congo. It is also the auxiliary language to be in the proposed East African Federation.


Wolof is a widely spoken lingua franca of Senegal and The Gambia (especially the capital, Banjul). It is the native language of approximately 5 million Wolof people in Senegal, and is spoken as a second language by an equal number.