Recently, while completing research for an article, I came across the term Lingua Franca. I had no idea what this was, so I texted myself a reminder to look it up. What I found later got me thinking…
Lingua Franca is the term for a common language used for communication between groups who speak different languages or dialects. For example, let’s say that an Italian man and a Portuguese man meet and want to converse, but neither speaks the other man’s language. They might come to find that they both speak English and so can communicate with English as a Lingua Franca.
The origin of the term is also very interesting because it has no linguistic history. It was simply made up suddenly in the 11th century. Tradesmen around the Mediterranean created a hybrid language to communicate for commerce purposes and they called this new language Mediterranean Lingua Franca, literally meaning “language of the Franks.” (Franks being anyone from western Europe).
This leads to the idea of a universal language, which is something I’ve always wondered about. There are some proposed “world languages,” but nothing has caught on so far. (I vote for a form of sign language!)
While we’re waiting for that to happen, I would like to propose two alternate Lingua Francas: smiles and kindness. Yeah, when I write it like that, it sounds mushy and cliché, but if you think about it, it’s true. If someone smiles at you, it doesn’t matter what nationality they are or what language they speak. You understand their meaning.
When someone performs an act of kindness such as holding open a door for someone who is carrying a heavy load or paying for the Starbucks order of the car behind them in the drive-thru, you’ll get the same warm, fuzzy feeling whether it happens in London, Mumbai, Hong Kong, or Dallas.
There are some things that are universal, and I would encourage you to try to communicate more in those ways. You might find that you connect to people on a deeper level than ever before.