‘Lingua Francas’ – Seven Languages Which Cumulatively Enjoy Official Status Across 75% of the World’s Land Area
Lingua Francas: Seven Languages Spanning 75% of the World’s Land Area
‘Lingua Franca’ is a term derived from the Mediterranean Lingua Franca or ‘Frankish language’ – a pidgin language used in the Mediterranean basin from the 11th to the 19th centuries. Today, the term is used more broadly to refer to any language systematically used to communicate between groups not sharing a mother tongue. In the context of our globalized world, certain languages have assumed this role and enjoy official status across vast swathes of the world’s land area. Let’s explore seven such languages that cumulatively span 75% of the world’s land area.
Thanks to the historical influence of the British Empire and the contemporary global dominance of the United States in business, media, and technology, English is arguably the world’s primary lingua franca. It’s the official language of 59 sovereign states and 27 non-sovereign entities.
Another language with deep historical roots, Spanish, initially spread across the globe through the colonial pursuits of Spain. Today, it is the official language of 21 countries, primarily in Latin America, but also including Spain itself, Equatorial Guinea in Africa, and even the Western Sahara.
French was once the international language of diplomacy. While it may have ceded that role to English, it still enjoys official language status in 29 countries, from France and Monaco in Europe to Canada in North America and several nations in Africa and the Caribbean.
As the liturgical language of Islam, Arabic spreads far beyond the Arab world. It is the official language in 26 countries across the Middle East and North Africa. It is also one of the six official languages of the United Nations.
Following the expansion of the Russian Empire and the influence of the Soviet Union, Russian has become the most widely spoken Slavic language and the largest native language in Europe. It is the official language in Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, and is also widely spoken in many other former Soviet states.
Portuguese owes its global reach to the colonial expansion of Portugal. It is the official language of nine countries, including Portugal, Brazil, and several nations in Africa, such as Angola and Mozambique.
Although its use is geographically concentrated, Chinese (specifically Mandarin Chinese), is the most spoken language globally in terms of native speakers, thanks to the massive population of China. It is also one of the six official languages of the United Nations.
In a world that is increasingly interconnected, the role of lingua francas becomes even more vital. These seven languages—English, Spanish, French, Arabic, Russian, Portuguese, and Chinese—are not only tools of communication but also carriers of culture and history. They connect the globe, fostering mutual understanding and cooperation across diverse nations. As the world continues to globalize, these languages will undoubtedly continue to shape our global society.