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"So much for the 'legendary courtesy' of the elves. Speak words we can all understand!"
Gimli, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, displeased that the elves are not speaking this

In Real Life, there are more languages than there are cultures speaking them. Even within what is designated as a single "language"note , there may be numerous dialects, slang, and a thousand other variations. People ten miles away from each other might not understand a word the others say.

This makes communication difficult. So, many speculative fiction writers use a shortcut: having everybody speak the same language. It can be the simple way, by just having everyone speak the same native tongue; or it can be the realistic way, by having a lingua franca that many people learn as a second language to communicate with people who probably have also learned it as second language.

Usually called the Common Speech/Tongue, or simply Common or Basic, this is a baseline language that is used by the vast majority of the setting. Oftentimes, it is the human language, since humans are almost always the most widespread race, and other races will have their own "Common" language that most or all their members speak. All dwarves will speak Dwarven, all elves Elven (or Elvish) and so on.

If it is never stated explicitly that everyone is speaking the same language, it might be a case of Translation Convention or even Translator Microbes instead. See also Aliens Speaking English and Animal Talk.

Contrast Classical Tongue, which was often a Common Tongue long ago, and Noble Tongue, which is used by the upper classes. See also Esperanto, an attempt to create this trope in real life.

If you are not a native English speaker, you are currently experiencing this trope as Truth in Television by reading this page, as English is today's de facto global language throughout the entire world. It's so global that, despite being the 4th-most spoken native language in the world, it still has more second-language speakers than first-language ones. On a more local level this happens with Spanish and Portuguese in Latin America; English or French in mainland Europe; English or French in different parts of Africa; Russian in Central Asia; Arabic (and, to a lesser extent, Farsi) in the Middle East; Mandarin Chinese in East Asia; English and Hindi in South Asia; and English in Southeast Asia and Oceania. Essentially most were forced to use the language of whatever big neighbor conquered or colonized them, and it persisted post-independence. Oh yeah, and Latin used to be one (ever wondered why most of continental Western Europe speaks a bunch of closely-related languages?).


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Lampshaded in Attack on Titan when Armin notes that the language in Marley is an international one, so they won't have any trouble communicating with the outside world at all. So that's why the Marleyans can just show up on Eldian shores and talk to these people who have never talked to outsiders once for probably hundreds of years (except for the spy kids those outsiders have sent in who have also managed to blend in without a hitch). He does note that they'll have to be careful with their accent, though.
  • Pokémon:
    • This is typically justified in Pokémon: The Series in that they're in Japanese-like regions (the first two sharing the names of their real-world inspirations) so everyone speaks Japanese… except later the regions were expanded to be based off other countries, such as America (Pokémon Black and White's Unova) and France (X and Y's Kalos). In X and Y they explicitly speak French and Looker even has communication problems with a Kantonese women who speaks Japanese. In the anime no such language barriers exist. Ash can go from Sinnoh to Unova then to Kalos and speak perfectly with others. In the Japanese version of a Sinnoh episode, Jessie did mention she needed to learn English, yet she can visit Alola and Unova (both based off American states) and speak to the locals with ease. Everyone speaks the same language, however written language is not as simple. On top of the original Japanese, there is also the originally-4kids-exclusive writing that comes in several different forms. The protagonists, however, have no issue reading any variation of it.
    • Similar to the anime, the Pokémon Adventures manga uses this trope. Characters from both the Japanese-based regions and non-Japanese ones can interact with no language barrier.
    • Red from Pocket Monsters is a kid from a Japanese-based region that never seems to have any issue speaking to people, no matter what region he is in.
  • Berserk averts this; though most of the cast speak Midland's language, some characters speak Kushan, which none of the Midland cast understand.
  • Rave Master has a universal language to avoid any unnecessary language learning each time the hero travels to some new location somewhere in the world. Although there are several recently dead languages, or languages that people still use despite also knowing the universal language.
  • In Inazuma Eleven everyone speaks Japanese, no matter what country they come from. This is obviously mostly used in season 3 of the original series, as well as Go: Galaxy, when the Football Frontier International is held and everyone from every team from every country speaks Japanese, even when they're speaking among themselves. This also applies to the aliens in Go: Galaxy as well.
  • The trope is evident in the "Monaco Cup Arc" of Yakitate!! Japan, where the main characters are able to communicate with the foreign characters, who hails from all over the world (French, German, American, Monacoian, etc.) without any problems; even though Kuwabara explicitly mentions that he doesn't understand foreign language and it's highly unlikely that the non-Japanese characters (except perhaps Shachihoko) actually speak Japanese.
  • Motohiro Kato's works Q.E.D. and C.M.B. often employ this trope by making every characters of all nationalities capable of speaking Japanese because the main characters travel overseas a lot. It's more evident for C.M.B. whose main character Shinra is highly regarded internationally as a wise person with vast knowledge.
  • Invoked in Undead Unluck when all the langauges in the world are changed to English, effecting everyone except Negators. This allows them to locate other Negators as they would be able to speak other langauges.

    Fan Works 
  • The Basalt City Chronicles averts this; in the Empire of Smilodons, it's said that there's a language for every island and a dialect for every village. Some cultures even have more than one language, for example the Deltharians (most of whom are deaf) have a spoken language used by the few who can hear.
  • Warriors of the World uses New Runic to unite the continent where the story takes place. There are other languages used (Morrocian, Umbalan and Payan within the Kingdom, Zwald within the Republic of Schwarzwald) but no one speaks any of the other languages unless they've confirmed the person they're speaking to can understand those languages as well.
  • In Empath: The Luckiest Smurf, there's Smurf language, and there's human language which most beings (humans and non-humans alike) speak, including Psyches (though they call it Psychelian). There's also the "lost languages" of the Smurfs, which correspond to other human languages, such as Schtroumpf (French), Pitufo (Spanish), Schlumpf (German), Puffo (Italian), and Smurfentaal (Dutch). Painter Smurf occasionally speaks in Schtroumpf while Zipper tends to speak in Pitufo at times.
  • In Fledglings most Pokémon in the Cradle, on top of their individual languages, can understand a pidgin language that is translated as English storywise.
  • In Warriors Redux, predators have a common tongue known as "Fang".
  • In Celadon's New Blossom, it's explained that most people are bilingual. During school, they learn the native language of their home region as well as an international common tongue. This explains how people from different regions can communicate in the Pokémon anime.
  • In RWBY: Scars, everyone speaks a language explicitly called "Common Tongue". This explains all the non-English names like Weiss Schnee and Xiao Long Yang. Most of the non-Common Tongue words come from "Old" languages that parallel Earth languages (such as Old Atlesian being German).
  • The Common Tongue in the RWBY fic Let Us Be Your Poison is called "New Kingspeak" and is the official language of all four Kingdoms. It's practiced by all humans and is a modern version of Grand Kingspeak, a language that first originated in Mistral eight hundred years ago. There's a language barrier between humans and Faunus because many Faunus only speak their own tongue, Zhoviyak.
  • The Discworld of A.A. Pessimal builds on the canonical Discworld, which has elements of the out-and-out fantastic fantasy world, but which as it evolved grew to be a rough one-for-one mapping of real Earth nations, ethnicities and languages overlaid on Pratchett's fantasy map. Pessimal acknowledges the canonical fact that Morporkian (English) is the pre-eminent dominant tongue and in many places is supplanting the native languages. Quirm is so near Ankh-Morpork, for instance, with no separating body of water, that Quirmian is actually in danger of being supplanted by Morporkian as a spoken everyday language; on the other side, again with no intervening North Sea, Phlegmish and Kerrigian are also being supplanted. The analogy is how Gaelic in Scotland and Ireland and Welsh in Wales were quite simply drowned out and swamped on the British Isles by English. however, Quirmian thrives in former colonies around the Disc as a living language, as does a Howondalandian language closely related to its parent tongue in the Sto Plains. Indeed, Kerrigian used to be spoken all the way from the Sto Plains to the port city of Chirm on the coast of the Circle Seanote  - but has now retreated to its heartland, under the pressure of Morporkian. Elsewhere, Agatean note  and Klatchiannote  are possibly the only widely-spoken rivals to Morporkian, although Far Uberwaldean, spoken a long way from the central plains, is a potential rival.
  • Rocketship Voyager. Given that no-one's heard of a Universal Translator, the crew have Nee'Lix teach them Traben. The Traben Empire dominated that area of the galaxy before it collapsed, so remains as a lingua franca used for business (much like English). There's also mention of Esperanto being used for the same purpose back home; Tom Paris uses the language to greet half-Venerian B'Elanna Torres before finding out she can speak Terran-English.
  • In Hunters of Justice, most people in modern day Remnant speak Vytalan, a language created and popularized after the Great War to better unify people in the aftermath. The old languages still exist but see seldom use.

    Film — Live Action 
  • Star Wars:
    • There is Basic, the language of the Galactic Republic. Nearly everyone understands it, even aliens that lack the ability to speak it. Likewise, most aliens have one language that they speak constantly. Interestingly, multilingualism is quite common — Han, for example, speaks Huttese, Wookiee (though he sounds really stupid when he tries), and Rodian.
    • Meanwhile, there are actually three different common alphabets used for writing Galactic Basic:
      • High Galactic, an exact copy of our modern Roman Alphabet used more often among the higher classes
      • Aurabesh, a direct transliteration of the Roman Alphabet used most commonly throughout the galaxy
      • Outer Rim Basic, by far the least popular of the three, is another direct transliteration used mostly, well, in the Outer Rim.
    • Huttese is a secondary example, as it is physically easier to speak for many non-human species than Basic.
    • Looking to the Star Wars Expanded Universe and Legends, even if a character can understand another language, it may simply be impossible to speak it due to anatomy. The Ithorian language, for example, requires two mouths speaking in stereo. The Lorrdians, on the opposite side, have a language consisting entirely of body language, facial tics, and hand gestures. There can also be other instances where other species are incapable of speaking or understanding an alien language, such as that of the symbiotic Paaerduags (introduced in Knights of the Old Republic) requiring not only two mouths to speak it like Ithorian, but also four ears to even hear it — hence, the smaller creature on the main one's back speaks Twi'leki for the convenience of any other species, the first one you meet claiming that the silent larger being does talk but says "nothing that you would understand".
    • The Unknown Regions have a vast variety of local tongues and a bunch of trade languages to facilitate communication. Thrawn introduces Sy Bisti as the trade language used in the region containing the Chiss homeworld. Later novels add Meese Caulf, Minnisiat and Taarja.

  • The Trope Namer is J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth: While various "common tongues" existed for different times and places in this world, the most known is the "Common Tongue/Common Speech" of The Lord of the Rings, which at that time is spoken by most people in western Middle-earth as either a mother tongue or a second language lingua franca, even among non-human races. That said, while Tolkien's work may be the trope namer, his handling of languages was much more subtle and realistic than later fantasy works:
    • The Common Tongue of LOTR is properly known as Westron, which evolved from Adûnaic, itself descended from the language of the House of Hador, one of the tribes of men in the First Age. Since the people of Hador were the most numerous of the tribes who settled on the island of Númenor, Adûnaic was established as the main language of what would become the major imperial power in Middle-Earth. When Númenor collapsed, Adûnaic was inherited by its successor kingdoms on the mainland, where it evolved into Westron under influence from Elvish languages. While most Mannish realms have their own languages, those geographically or culturally close to Gondor (the sole surviving Númenorean successor kingdom in the Third Age) speak Westron as a lingua franca, while for many of the non-Númenorean peoples living in what was once the successor kingdom of Arnor (like the Hobbits of the Shire and the Bree-landers), Westron had completely supplanted whatever languages they had spoken before. However, Mannish kingdoms farther away or antagonistic to Gondor, such as Harad or Rhûn, do not speak Westron.
    • Orcs speak a bastardized Westron out of necessity, as the countless tribes each have their own mutually unintelligible dialects that can't be used whenever they amass together. Their dark master Sauron eventually creates the Black Speech as an intended common tongue for all his minions, but it only really catches on among his highest-ranking servants and the garrison at his chief fortress of Barad-dûr, though the orcs do adopt a lot of its vocabulary.
    • The Elves have two common languages: Quenya and Sindarin. Quenya was spoken by those Elves that journeyed to Valinor, while Sindarin eventually became the main language of those who remained in Middle Earth. When the Elves who journeyed to Valinor returned, they kept Quenya among themselves but also learned Sindarin, making it the chief lingua franca among the Elves, and Quenya comparable to Latin as a "formal" language. Both Quenya and Sindarin have their own dialects as well, however.
    • The only race that has only one native language are the Dwarves, who speak Khuzdul, and they generally refuse to use it in the presence of non-Dwarves outside of a few words and phrases (the reader only hears it in Gimli's battle cries and a few proper names). The rest of the time they use the languages of their Mannish neighbors (this state of affairs is reminiscent of the Jews, on whom Tolkien based the Dwarves). Despite the great distances between the various Dwarven communities, Khuzdul has remained unified and unchanged over the years, mainly because even the Dwarves themselves treat it as more "a tongue of lore rather than a cradle-speech" and deliberately try to keep it static. Unlike the manish and elven languages which developed organically it was a direct gift from their creator.
  • Books of the Raksura: Altanic and Kedaic are the primary trade languages in the Three Worlds, as well as being some peoples' native languages; Kedaic is described as a mishmash of several other languages. They're ubiquitous enough that most people can at least communicate in one or the other, and the exceptions tend to be very unusual species.
  • Clan of the Cave Bear: The various individual camps of Clan people have their own languages but there is a formal Clan language that everyone can "speak" (it's non-verbal); when Ayla meets Jondalar she wants to learn the human Universal language and can't understand for a while that there isn't one.
  • Dune has Galach, derived from English mixed with some Slavic languages and a smattering of other Old Earth tongues. But there are many other languages such as the Chakobsa hunting speech of which a dialect is spoken by the Fremen, and the Atreides battle language that is signed (so enemies can't overhear) instead of spoken.
  • In the Ender's Game universe, there is a common language based on English called Stark, short for Starways Common. At the same time, many cultures, who have spread out among the stars, have retained their own languages, even though they still use Stark when working with computers or sending messages. When traveling to Lusitania, settled by descendants of Brazilians, Ender tries to learn Portuguese, and the book is peppered with Portuguese words and phrases. Several Swedish words are also used constantly, specifically those dealing with the so-called "Hierarchy of Foreigness" (which Valentine Wiggin developed after choosing to settle on a Swedish-speaking planet).note 
  • Animorphs has Galard (Galactic Standard), a interstellar language briefly mentioned a couple of times. The Yeerks have transmitters that can be used by all kinds of different host bodies with unusual vocal chords, including horses.
  • In the Liaden Universe, the common language is called Trade, and that's what it's mostly used for.
  • Andarra and Desriel share a language in The Licanius Trilogy, with a few unique words here and there. The latter is actually an offshoot of the former, so it's Justified.
  • In Hellspark by Janet Kagan, the common language is called GalLing' (presumably from "galactic lingua franca"); it's an artificially-constructed language, and one of its design features is that it only uses phonemes common to all human languages, so that anybody can speak it without difficulty.
  • A language called "Tongue" in House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds is described as the closest possible equivalent to a universal galactic language, and even then a lot of civilisations don't understand it.
  • The Wheel of Time: Everyone in the entire world speaks the same language, with minor local quirks, even nations like Seanchan that have been completely isolated for a thousand years. No explanation for this is ever given in the text, though according to Word of God, the availability of printed text has cut down on linguistic drift.
  • Inheritance Cycle slightly subverts the trope by revealing that "the common tongue" that humans speak is actually the dwarven language.
  • Discworld (specifically, said by Lord Vetinari, in Jingo):
    And Morporkian is something of a lingua franca even in the Klatchian empire. When someone from Hersheba needs to trade with someone from Istanzia, they will undoubtedly haggle in Morporkian.
  • Isaac Asimov's Foundation Series: Everyone speaks Galactic Standard, although dialects have arisen in different areas. Because a unified language doesn't do away with either accents or Language Drift, communication issues occasionally arise (the protagonists in Foundation and Earth encounter problems because Solaria's version of Galactic is twenty millennia out of date). Especially notable is the In-Universe transition of Trantor to Hame (based on the Real Life example of Istanbul (Not Constantinople)).
  • The titular nation of Tamora Pierce's Tortall Universe speaks "Eastern Common," a language shared with its immediate land neighbors like Galla and Maren.
  • In the Circle of Magic universe, characters in different countries speak different languages, but everyone also seems to know how to speak Imperial.
  • In the Robotech Expanded Universe, it's revealed that though there are many languages still spoken amongst the Sentinal's races, Zentraedi has become a sort of common tongue that everyone can understand. This is justified because the Robotech Masters used the Zentraedi as soldiers to create their empire, and thus the language was spread.
  • The Humanx Commonwealth universe has "symbospeech", an In-Universe Conlang that became a common tongue through serendipity. Shortly after humans and thranx met one another, they spent some time working out a language that was easily pronounceable by both species, as they had wildly different vocal apparatus, and the thranx language incorporated significant body language aspects in addition to vocalizations. When additional species were encountered, symbospeech was found to be functionally pronounceable by them, too, and thus became the de facto galactic language.
  • Anne Mason's Kira Warden novels have "the interplanetary language". Theoretically, most people know how to speak it; in practice, a lot of them are pretty bad at it, and it's not very good at nuance, providing lots of work for interpreters like the protagonist.
  • Lumbanico The Cubic Planet: Everyone in the entire world speak the same common idiom whose parent language, Lumio, was spoken across Lumbanico seven hundred years ago.
  • Oracle of Tao: While elves know Elvish, and there are some languages from the original Earth (the only ones that survived also had an alphabet attached), there is Common. There's also confusingly, English, which Common is based on. But Common has different grammatical rules such as being able to start sentences with but and ignore some punctuation like commas, except when used to break a sentence up arbitrarily. Obviously, the author is writing in Common, not English, for convenience.
  • Princesses of the Pizza Parlor: Spoken by most characters, humans, orcs, giants, and elves, but others don't learn it, like the Kobolds, unless they need to. In the seventh episode, it's mentioned that there's a root language that morphed into the dialects spoken in their closely located nations:
    [Gwen] was growing ever more aware how the words 'guest,' 'host,' and 'hostage' shared a common origin in the root language that had given birth to the myriad dialects of the Hundred Kingdoms.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • Suubverted. The series has no single common tongue but rather a few of them. Translation Convention is employed, so people who don't speak the current POV character's language are rendered unintelligible.
    • The "Common Tongue of Westeros" is only universal in the continent of Westeros itself, where most of the action takes place. It is a major world language, and most merchants in major ports from Essos to the Summer Isles will probably be at least familiar with it - but more isolated groups like the Dothraki mounted hordes in central Essos do not know it. Specifically, the "Common Tongue" is actually the language of the Andals, who migrated to Westeros thousands of years ago, displacing the earlier "Old Tongue" of the First Men. The conceit of the story is that Westeros is a fantasy version of the British Isles, but as a continent the size of South America. The Andals are thus the analogue of the Anglo-Saxons, and the First Men the analogue of the Celts.
    • Meanwhile, in Essos, the Valyrian empire once ruled half the known world, and was basically Fantasy Rome (with dragons) - but their empire collapsed 400 years ago after a volcanic eruption in their capital, and their provinces fragmented. Since this collapse, the languages spoken by all their different colonies in the Free Cities and elsewhere drifted into different "Low Valyrian" languages. Their original language, "High Valyrian", is still used by scholars and educated social elites, and is thus their fantasy analogue of Latin. The different Low Valyrian languages are like how French and Italian diverged from each other. The vocabulary of the Slaver's Bay dialects, in particular, is by influenced by Old Ghiscari, an extinct language that was displaced by Valyrian thousands of years ago, hence why the freed slaves call Daenerys "Mhysa", the Ghiscari word for "mother". Well-educated aristocrats from Oldtown to Meereen can speak High Valyrian, but in terms of languages used by the man on the street, it's a bit of a tossup. Sailors are even described as using a pidgin "Trade talk" to communicate in ports, mirroring real life use.
  • Star Wars Expanded Universe:
    • Along with the Wookiees' main trade language Shyriiwook, at least two other dialects are known. Tyrant's Test introduced Thykarann, noted to have a wide lexicon of scientific and technical terms. Rebel Dawn gives us Xaczik, a language from the Wartaki Islands that Wookiee resistance fighters used as an unbreakable code during Imperial times.
    • Used for a Humans Are Morons joke in "Empire Blues: The Devaronian's Tale":
      Labria: What do you call someone who speaks three languages?
      Wuher: Trilingual.
      Labria: Someone who speaks two languages?
      Wuher: Bilingual.
      Labria: Someone who speaks one language?
      Wuher: Monolingual?
      Labria: Human.
  • In the Uplift series the ridiculously organized and stagnant culture of galactic civilization has resulted in at least twelve different Galactic languages (numbered 1-12) designed to accommodate the wide variety in vocal structures; humans seem to have the easiest time with Gal 7. One of the assorted ways that Earthclan is different from the other oxy-breathing races is that they have languages other than Galactic, mostly Anglic and Trinary, a poetic language designed for dolphins.
    • Gal One is a binary language like Morse code, mostly used to program computers.
    • Gal Two is basic, logical, unambiguous... and boring.
    • Gal Three, Four, and Ten are hard for humans to speak but neo-dolphins have little difficulty.
    • Gal Five and Nine are completely unpronounceable to Earthlings.
    • Gal Six, Eight, Eleven, and Twelve are difficult for Earthlings but possible.
    • Gal Eleven is intended to be used to bridge the gap between different orders of life (oxygen, hydrogen, machine ...), it's only partially successful and intended to be transmitted by radio or psi.
    • On Jijo in the second trilogy, colonized by six species living a low-tech lifestyle, most people speak Gal Two, Gal Seven, and Anglic interchangeably (though Urs speak Anglic with a lisp). The latter is because the humans were the only species to know a means of recording information without electronics (books), so nearly every written word on Jijo is in Anglic.
  • Generally, Harry Harrison's novels set in the future will have Esperanto (a failed Real Life attempt at making one language out of many) as the language of the old Empire and as lingua franca of all worlds. In the Deathworld novel The Ethical Engineer, Jason finds himself on a Lost Colony and tries to converse with the locals. After some attempts, he quickly finds out that their language is a degraded form of Esperanto and is easily able to communicate.
  • Tunnel in the Sky briefly mentions the simple but global Lingua Terra being used in an argument between an American guard and his Chinese counterpart.
  • The aptly named "global tongue" in Ssalia and the Dragons of Avienot, which is spoken in most parts of the planet with varying degrees of fluency, though not usually natively.
  • Universal in the Paradox universe is spoken by most of The Alliance's member races, as well as their own tongues, most of which were developed by the linguistically talented Seersa. Though in some races, such as the Hinichi and Glaseah, their own languages never caught on and they just speak Universal with a few unique words.
  • In Watership Down each species of animal has its own language, and animals don't speak each other's languages. However there is "hedgerow vernacular", a very limited language which allows inter-species communication.
  • In Somewhither the inhabitants of all universes conquered by the Dark Tower communicate in "Ursprache", which has the additional benefit of granting its speakers Omniglot abilities.
  • Terra Ignota: In the 25th century, English is the language of all of Earth, while each Hive has its own language in addition to that, but members of any Hive are only allowed to learn them upon registering with the Hive (usually for life). The Mitsubishi have Japanese, the Masons have Latin, the Humanists Spanish, and so on, and it is considered extremely impolite to know the language of another Hive.
  • H. Beam Piper:
    • Terrohuman Future History: A language known as Lingua Terra becomes the standard language of all humanity a few times, and after the fall of the Federation many planets maintain it in a state of near-stasis through audio recordings, though planets that regress far enough to lose electronics start to experience linguistic drift.
    • "Omnilingual": Science turns out to be something of a universal language. Archaeologists studying Martian ruins first begin to make progress on translating their language from their scientific publications, with a periodic table being equivalent to the Rosetta Stone.
  • In Tailchaser's Song this is referred to as "Common Singing". Animals use it to talk cross-species. Species-exclusive languages are "Higher Singing". Cats' face names (Tailchaser, Goldeneye, Whitewind, etc) use Common Singing words, while their tail names (Fritti, Harar, Viror, etc) use Higher Singing words. "Common Singing" is made up mainly of body language (explaining why it's cross-species), while "Higher Singer" is purely vocal.
  • In the Hayven Celestia universe the krakun enslaving many other species has led to the Krakun language acting as a common medium of communication between species.
  • Frost Dancers: Domestic livestock speak "Farmyardese". Some animals, like rabbits, can also speak their ancient tongue but others, like cows, can only speak Farmyardese.
  • The Tough Guide to Fantasyland: This is nearly always part of Fantasyland. Even if other languages exist there will be one all people share and will communicate to each other with. One Old Tongue may also exist in ancient writings and magic (just the sole precursor language). The only exception is on the Other Continent, where another language will exist that Tourists must learn to use.
  • Cradle Series: Absolutely everyone on the planet speaks the same language, to the point that it doesn't even need a name. Lindon, who lives in a secluded valley that has had absolutely minimal contact with the outside world for a thousand years, has no trouble communicating with outsiders. He doesn't even mention any different accents. Eventually it's explained that Emeriss Silentborn, one of the Monarchs, wanders the world spreading language and making sure everyone can communicate. Lindon mentions that he's heard of other languages, but has never actually encountered any. The closest is when he meets foreigners from the other side of the planet, who have accents so thick it takes time to sort out what they're saying.
  • Bazil Broketail: There is one in the region where Argonath lies which many diverse peoples know. Its range isn't clear.
  • In Always Coming Home, the TOK is used as either that or as a non-verbal language for the internet.
  • Of Fire and Stars: People in Havemort and Mynaria appear to speak the same language. However, Zumordans don't. Instead they communicate with them via a language named Tradespeech, presumably one used by traders that developed from international commerce.
  • User Unfriendly: In Chapter 14, "Boots, Sword, Crystal", the "Common Tongue" is mentioned about an inscription:
    The words were written in Common Tongue, the language we were using.
  • The Witch of Knightcharm: Enforced via magic at the evil Wizarding School that Emily infiltrates. All the students are hit with a spell which automatically translates anything they say or write into Latin, and also makes them perceive any Latin they see or hear in their native language. This not only allows the students (who come from all over the world) to communicate, but it also makes it nearly impossible to escape. After all, even if they got to the surface, they would be unable to use any language besides Latin (which almost nobody outside of the Scholomance is fluent in) until and unless they could break the translation spell.
  • Bravelands actually has three, "Grasstongue", "Skytongue" and "Sandtongue", the common languages of terrestrial mammals, birds and bats, and non-avian reptiles, respectively. A true Great Parent can innately understand all three, and some others have learned more than one, but Grasstongue is generally treated as the lingua franca.

    Live Action TV 
  • Babylon 5:
  • There was also a situation in Stargate SG-1 where four ancient races used holographic displays of various periodic elements as some kind of universal language, though the intended effect was a little vague. The way they chose to represent the elements (as orbiting spheres) doesn't sound like something various alien races would come up with on their own.
  • Star Trek: The Federation has Federation Standard (aka English) and the Klingon and Romulan empires have the racial languages of the Klingons and Romulans, although the line between this trope and Translator Microbes is frequently blurred. Of course, there are many examples of Aliens Speaking English and going back and forth between that and their own tongues.
  • In Doctor Who, this trope is subverted — the TARDIS is translating for both the Doctor and his companions. This usually comes across to the audience as Recieved Pronunciation English.
    • Except for the Ninth Doctor, who had a Northern accent.
      Ninth Doctor: Lots of planets have a north!
      • And the Tenth (Estuary), Twelfth (Scottish) and the Thirteenth (Northern again, but Yorkshire rather than Nine's Manchester).
    • If you attempt to speak a native's language to them on purpose while being translated, it will sound like a foreign language they know of, but can't speak themselves.
      Pompeiian Stallholder: Afternoon, sweetheart. What can I get you, my love?
      Donna Er, veni, vidi, vici.
      Stallholder: Huh? Sorry? Me no speak Celtic. No can do, missy.
    • Translation also fails if the language lacks the concept for the word you are using, such as in The Fires of Pompeii when a companion tries to warn the citizens about a volcano they didn't understand as Latin didn't have a word for it during that time period — until Mt. Vesuvius erupted. This justifies the Doctor's technobabble as both things untranslated (nonsense words), and him having to work around this limitation by explaining things out or use metaphors. A good example of this in real life is "layman's terms", wherein somebody is trying to explain specialized knowledge to somebody who doesn't know specialized vocabulary or key concepts.
  • Some background materials for Firefly indicate that just about every human ethnic group is represented in the 'Verse somewhere, so English and/or Mandarin Chinese are this in-universe.
  • Valyrian is used in Essos in Game of Thrones (albeit the issue of the common tongue is more complex in the books).
  • Everybody knows and speaks Westron in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, even in their own intimacy instead of their own native languages.

  • Mission to Zyxx calls its primary language Regular. One planet's language is officially Weird.

    Tabletop Games  
  • Space 1889 Mars has Koline as a trade language.
  • Dungeons & Dragons, being heavily based on The Lord of the Rings, uses this extensively. But tries to not give in completely as it has language-related magic. Specific settings are likely to have a "Lingua Franca" and a handful of specific languages.
    • Forgotten Realms subverts this by having several "trade languages" even on Faerûn. Usually people can talk to each other, but on the larger scale there are Common "common" (Heartlands' dialect of Planecommon), Kara-tur "common", Undercommon (mix of Dwarven, Gnomish, Low Drow, Upper Common, etc.), Auld Wyrmish ("common" across dragon subspecies). Other continents may have their own "common" languages, like Midani of Zakhara. While many specific cultures retain their own tongues still, though some reduced to dialects of "common". So learning all half a hundred or so present tongues (like Wemic or Gnomish speech) is unnecessary, but doesn't that comprehend languages spell seem worth learning now? (If you want to talk back, you might need the tongues spell too.)
    • Some other D&D settings have a named language (usually human) that serves the in-game function of a Common tongue, such as Thyatian in Mystara (the language of the Known World region's dominant empire) or Balok in Ravenloft (the language of its oldest domain, favored by merchants).
    • Simplified in 4th edition (no surprise there); for the most part there are only ten languages, with Common being the trade language. There are however 7 other languages for different regions. Of particular note is the Supernal language, the language of the Gods, the very first language. When the speaker speaks in Supernal, everyone would understand what the speaker says as if in their own native tongue. In fact, all other languages are variants of the Supernal, in how the various races perceived the Supernal language. While you can learn the Supernal language, ultimately subverted because mortals lack the necessary power to fully speak in Supernal, thus losing its capability as universal language.
    • One old 1E article on AD&D languages proposed that Orcish, Goblin, Kobold, Gnoll and similar tongues weren't separate racial languages, but dialects of a monsters' version of this trope. This would explain why such races, never renowned as intellectuals, automatically knew each others' languages in the 1E era.
  • Traveller: Galanglic was the official language of the Third Imperium, though many worlds only used it for interstellar communications or traffic control. The Second Imperium spoke English and the First, Vlani.
  • Rolemaster:
    • In the Spacemaster setting Privateers, the language Species Standard is spoken by all of the known intelligent races.
    • Shadow World setting supplement Star Crown Empire and the Sea of Fates. Across the Central Basin the most commonly spoken language is Trade Common, AKA Imperial Common. It is even spoken outside the Star Crown Empire.
  • Warhammer tends to lean on Reikspiel, the language of the Empire, in this capacity. It isn't a universal world language by any means, but the Empire is easily the biggest and most prominent of the human realms, and hence its language has a certain reach and importance as a Lingua Franca.
    • Most elves, dwarfs and others who deal with humans tend to learn Reikspiel for communication (the elder races finding it childishly easy, but crude and ugly on the tongue), and even brutish races like Orcs and Beastmen tend to learn a few choice boasts and insults to torment human victims with.
      • Dwarves are almost always heard speaking in Reikspiel because they don't like outsiders to hear Khazalid being spoken.
    • In the RPG, set largely in the Empire, all characters are presumed to know Reikspiel, but non-Imperial characters also get their own native language for free.
    • In the first edition, however, Reikspiel was just a dialect of a true common tongue called Old Worlder (which had its own Greek-and-Latin equivalent in Classical Old Worlder).
  • Warhammer 40,000
    • The "Gothic" language serves this purpose for the Imperium, acting as a way for cultures from different worlds to communicate.
    • There is also High Gothic, which is used for official purposes and has a role similar to Latin in medieval Europe in that no-one actually uses it as a first language but scholars and those of high rank are expected to know it. High Gothic's Canis Latinicus is actually explained as Translation Convention: Characters aren't actually speaking English and Latin, but it provokes the same impression on someone who only speaks English.
    • Binary is the language used by the Mechanicus, and is completely unintelligible to an outsider, which frustrates the Inquisition to no end.
  • Subverted with "Common" in The Witcher: Game of Imagination. It is simply a language humans use (with countless local and national variations) and not even all of them - people from Skellige use their own dialect, while Nilfgaardians and Zerrikanians use different variants of Elder Speech, language of the elves. Elder Speech itself is used in a few different forms that have as much relation to each other as Romance languages have with Latin.
  • Dark Dungeon RPG, supplement Samaris, Island of Adventure. In the world of Yaddrin, the Common Tongue is spoken by most merchants and travelers.
  • Mythus/Dangerous Journeys. The common tongue of the Aerth was Trade Phoenician.
  • In the default Pathfinder Inner Sea setting, Common is actually Taldane, the language originally spoken in the Vestigial Empire of Taldor, which was the last major empire to control most of the region.
    • In the Tian Xia/Dragon Empires subsetting (the farthest, although not most obscure and isolated, continent from the Inner Sea) the Tien language is so common that in that part of the world it is often referred to Common (Taldane is still spoken by some groups, but the same is true for Tien in the Inner Sea).
  • Played with in Exalted, there are three "trade languages" that characters can expect at least one person in a given rural village can speak, though most might not outside the language's native land or at least a major city. High Realm is the language of the Realm's nobles, Old Realm was spoken by the previous major empire and is still spoken by spirits and demons, and Riverspeak is used in the Scavenger Lands and by the Guild.
  • Rifts' "Three Galaxies" setting has six Trade Tongues. Some of which are for the ease of certain species(like one that insectoid and reptilian races find easier to speak, or one for telepathic races). One of them, Trade Four, is effectively American English, but has so much loanwords and language drift that a native English speaker(as opposed to a native Trade Four speaker) isn't guaranteed to understand it.
  • BattleTech has the various Great Houses of the Inner Sphere (and the various lesser houses, sub-states, and Periphery domains) which all speak wildly varying official languages. This can lead to some incredibly complicated language issues (including the birth of new languges, such as "Swedenese" from a combination of Imperial-era Japanese and Swedish). This doesn't even include entirely new Conlang such as the Russian-military-derived English spoken as the Clan dialect. To keep international communication from being entirely unrecognizable, almost all parties involved speak English to some extent. ComStar in particular holds all proceedings in English, meaning that using their Subspace Ansible system or hiring mercenaries with their financial guarantee as a neutral party required everyone to speak English.
  • The One Ring is set in Middle-earth and assumes that everyone has at least a functional grasp of the Westron "Common Speech". Most cultures have at least one local language, but the game recommends hand-waving any language barrier unless the players are interested in the challenge.

    Video Games 
  • Mass Effect makes heavy use of Translator Microbes in the form of computers that need to be regularly updated for new languages, as practically every species in the setting is as linguistically diverse as humans. There is, however, a "trade tongue", which Shepard refers to as "Galactic" at one point — a simplified artificial interspecies language, essentially Space Esperanto.
    • The angara of Mass Effect: Andromeda are said in the Codex to use their trade language as a lingua franca, due to several hundred years of linguistic drift among their separated planets, to say nothing of each angaran family having their own individual languages.
  • The Longest Journey gives us Na'ven or Alltongue, a magical language spoken in all of Arcadia (a parallel universe). Its omnipresence is justified with the fact that you can become a fluid speaker after listening to it for just a few minutes, as April does upon her first visit to Arcadia. It's magic. Interestingly, Zoë from Dreamfall: The Longest Journey doesn't appear to need to listen for several minutes before learning the language. Perhaps it's because she's not really there and is only dreaming.
  • Common in Warcraft games. It is primarily the language of humans, but nearly everybody can speak either it or Low Common, which sounds like a Hulk Speak version of Common. Now, it makes sense that races allied with humans would learn their language, and the orcs could've picked up how to speak it during the war or while in internment camps, but it makes less sense when tauren in Warcraft III can communicate with humans and orcs despite never meeting either one. In World of Warcraft Common is the Alliance universe language (the Horde has Orcish) and is not understood by Horde races. However this is because of game mechanics (blood elves and undead should definitely be able to speak it, as well as many orcs and goblins) and there are still NPCs in game that can be understood by all factions.
    • It's implied that the Forsaken lose the ability to speak the languages they knew in life (a tailor in the undead city in WoW says his former family were speaking a language "I no longer understand".
    • However, a later RPG book states that Forsaken can still speak Common, but refuse to do so to distance themselves from their old lives. Instead they speak Gutterspeak, formerly the Thieves' Cant of Lordaeron.
  • In Darkstar One, all alien races use a language called Terra (read: English) in order to make communication between them easier.
  • While The Elder Scrolls series features many languages in background lore, both extant and extinct, there is only one common language spoken in the games (typically referred to as Tamriellic or Cyrodiilic), which is an Acceptable Break From Reality for the player's convenience. Some of the other languages include those of Dwemeris (of the extinct Dwemer), Falmeris (of the devolved Falmer), "Dovazhul'' (of the Dragons), Aldmeris (the Classical Tongue of the Elven ancestors which didn't so much go extinct as gradually evolve into a set of related languages), Jel (of the Argonians, and Ta'agra (of the Khajiit).
  • Flight Rising has Draconic as the general language most dragons use. The Coatl breed is the only breed to have its own seperate language and they struggle to speak Draconic but can learn it if necessary. The non-dragon Beastclans have their own separate language as well.
  • While the Covenant of Halo make liberal use of Translator Microbes, the common tongue between their various species is the main language of the Sangheili/Elites.
  • Dragon Age has the King's Tongue, which was apparently invented by the dwarves to replace a more archaic and formal language, and spread to the surface races through trade. It's the main language for humans, though there are others (Orlesian, for example). The elves have a language of their own, but is has been mostly lost as a result of centuries of slavery and the like. Qunari also have their own language, Qunlat, which is part of the reason they have a reputation for being taciturn in the rest of Thedas — their language skills in the common tongue simply aren't well developed.
  • The X-Universe has a language-drifted version of Japanese be the trade language among the Community of Worlds. This is because Japan Took Over The World (or at least the sciences) on Earth, and the Argon, one of the founding members of the Community, are a Lost Colony of Earth. It seems the Argon language was selected because other species' languages were just too complex or unpronounceable; almost everyone can at least pronounce Japanese (except the Boron, who have to rely on translators no matter who they're speaking to... having a language that incorporates pheromones will do that).
  • Everyone who gets quoted in every world in Nexus Clash speaks English, despite being a game that is all about the regular rebooting of the universe. This is explained by the Magical Underpinnings of Reality - things only change from world to world if the god who won the latest cycle wants them to, and none of the gods care about language diversity.
  • The Nazis in Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus are attempting to enforce this in their conquered territories. There are reminders that Americans should start learning German soon, since July 4, 1961, is "Changeover Day," when English will be banned and anyone caught speaking it will be executed. How they're planning to enforce this Dystopian Edict is never really explained, but the Nazi regime being a dysfunctional slow-motion catastrophe under the surface is key to the whole plot.
  • The majority of races in RuneScape speak "the common tongue" and is canonically the language of the version of the game you're playing.
  • While multiple languages are confirmed and seen in writing in Final Fantasy XIV, everyone speaks the common tongue while the dialect spoken depends on what region the characters are from. The Hrothgar, a race of huge muscular feline men,didn't have the ability to speak common at first. Because of their ferocious looking appearance and their inability to communicate, there was fear and misaimed conflict by others when they arrived in Eorzea. Once the Hrothgar mastered the common language, fears of them were put to rest and they were welcomed by all.

  • Outsider: The Trade language was originally used by the Precursors, and was consequently inherited by the various primitive societies that survived their collapse. In the modern day, it serves as the main lingua franca used by different spacefaring societies when they need to communicate with each other. It's also the only language the Loroi speak — they normally communicate telepathically with each other, and consequently never developed any native languages and simply use unaltered Trade for writing and when vocal communication is necessary.
  • Schlock Mercenary has five common languages: Galstandard West (which seems shockingly like English), East, Eight, Brown, and Peroxide. Given later revelations that Galstandard Peroxide is only spoken by ocean-dwelling creatures, it seems as though each language is tailored to a specific voice and vocal type. Brown is based on emitting chemical smells and is used by Starfish Aliens with no equivalent to vocal cords.
  • Erfworld: Most units speak Language, but Natural Allies have their own (unnamed) languages, and only a few members of each tribe speak Language.
  • Pacificators: Standard English. Moreover, the Pacificators are actively discouraged from speaking in their native languages (hence why the platoon always nag on Larima and Taffe when they speak in French). The fact that Muneca has slipped into Spanish a few times is a significant Character Development.
  • Harbourmaster: Standard English is the primary language for communication in the futuristic civilization the story takes place in.
  • Slightly Damned: Only three languages exist in the setting. The main language which is called "Lingo" is spoken by humans, jakkai, khamega, merfolk, and demons. The only other languages are Angelic, spoken by angels, and the unnamed language used by fairies.
  • Homestuck: This happens by accident In-Universe, due to Trollish basically being English with a different alphabetical system. Thus, the Kids and the Trolls can communicate with each other flawlessly despite technically speaking two different languages.
  • Stand Still, Stay Silent: Iceland is the largest remaining bastion of humanity with a population of 190 600, while the four other known surviving countries have 58 900 inhabitants taken together. This has resulted in Icelandic basically replacing English as the second language all non-natives learn, and the only member of the cast who can speak three languages mentioning that she learned the third one after learning Icelandic. While it keeps things smooth at Mission Control, it doesn't help the crew on which the story focuses that much on its own: only three out of the six members know it and one of them happens to be native to Iceland.
  • Kill Six Billion Demons: Universal Metaconstant is the primary spoken language of Throne, the Red City at the nexus of 777,777 universes. Its writing system shows up sometimes in signs and Painting the Medium captions, but for the most part, the reader benefits from the main character's Translator Microbes.

    Web Original 
  • English is the common language of the entire universe in Chaos Fighters, as explained here.
  • The First Federation of Orion's Arm attempted to standardize "Anglic", but once the Feds lost power Anglic evolved into a family of languages several times more diverse than the current Indo-European family. The prevalence of Translator Microbes in the setting makes it a moot point anyway.
  • The Most Popular Girls in School: Played for laughs and lampshaded. The cheer squad is accused of being misinformed as, apparently, everyone in France speaks english with a heavy French accent.
    Julliette: Nobody speaks French in France. Everybody speaks english. With French accents.
    Trisha: That'll be convenient.
  • Everyone on Remnant in RWBY speaks the same language and almost all in the same accent as well. The amount of non-English names (Yang Xiao Long and Weiss Schnee, for example) imply that other languages exist(ed) but none are shown. Even flashbacks to thousand of years in the past use modern day English.
  • The universe of Epithet Erased, where a significant chunk of the population is born with word-based superpowers, functions like this.

    Western Animation 
  • In The Lion Guard, the characters speak a generalized language (in addition to Swahili), but also have species-specific tongues as well (or at least elephants do). As you’d expect, the language a species uses would correspond to the sound they would make in the wild.
  • Baby Talk in Rugrats seems to be this. The American babies have no issue speaking with Kimi, who has been raised in France.

    Real Life 
  • The alternative name for common language is lingua franca, which translates literally into "Frankish language". The original lingua franca was a pidgin language based on Medieval northern Italian dialects, but also containing elements of Medieval Latin, Medieval French, Medieval Ibero-Romance languages (e.g. Old Spanish) and Arabic. It was used as a trade language all around the Mediterranean during the Middle Ages. Since all Romance languages stem from Latin (even today they are mutually intelligible to some extent, and in the Middle Ages they resembled each other much more closely than today), it was easily understood everywhere. This was true even in the Eastern Mediterranean (where the dominant languages were Greek and Arabic for most of the Middle Ages), as most merchants usually picked up some Romance language or other (or just the lingua franca itself), though since Eastern Med merchants usually also picked up Arabic and Greek, they usually used the lingua franca for trade with the Farangnote /Phragkoinote .
  • Creole languages have their origins in this trope. All creole languages are descended from pidgins, which are the methods of communication used by people who speak different languages. Because they cannot communicate purely in their languages, they have to use other methods, possibly by creating new lexicons or repurposing others. The pidgins can then expand their use as common tongues by continuing to evolve and being learned by the children of their speakers, until eventually everyone uses the pidgins both at home and in public. By this time, these "pidgins" are no longer known as pidgins, but creoles, and have every right to be seen as real languages.
  • English is the most universal example of this trope in Real Life, due mostly to the very expansive English-speaking British Empire and later the global dominance of The United States in the latter half of the 20th century. Although it is not the most natively-spoken language, it is the most often taught as a second language, and thus the most widely spoken. This is confirmed by international treaty, which stipulates English as the official language of aerial and maritime communications, and is considered a working requirement for various scientific fields. They don't call it "the world language" for nothing.
    • Previously, French held a similar position due to its widespread use among the aristocracy of Europe. Today, French is still extremely common as a second language.
    • While German is still a fairly universal language in mainland Europe, it is mostly useful when talking to older people who never learned English in school but learned German for historical reasons (especially World War II). Many younger people can still speak some German, but as a second language English has gotten much more popular (few young Europeans without German as their native language speak it fluently, while many young Europeans without English as their native language do speak it fluently). So when the older, German-proficient generation has died out, it seems that English will be even more universal and German will not be that useful anymore.
    • English is also the de facto common language of many wikis, including of course TV Tropes, but also of the many inter-linguistic parts of the Wikimedia Project, for example Commons and Wikidata. However, Spanish has become popular as a common language among the different peoples of Ibero-America (which include Catalan, Portuguese and other non-Spanish but similar language speakers).
  • Spanish was once this for much of Europe and the Americas due to the vast Spanish Empire of the 16th century and its great amount of mutual intelligibility with southern and central Italian dialects (fairly important given the trade importance of the Mediterranean). It has since yielded its ground to other languages, but to this day it's still the thirdmost widely-spoken language in the world only after English and Mandarin. It's also the fourth language by number of countries where it's spoken and second by number of native speakers, with native speakers located in Spain (other languages like Basque, Catalan and Asturian are spoken as native tongues, but "Castilian"note  is the common language for the entire country), most of Latin America, parts of the United States,note  a couple of African countries, and a minority of people in the Philippines. Since the Spanish language is supervised by the institution known as the "Real Academia de la Lengua Española" or R.A.E.,, grammar rules are 99% the same in all of them. However, vocabulary and idioms vary a lot from country to country, and even from region to region. There are around 9 different accents in Spain alone. Nevertheless, when something needs to be written or translated for all Spanish speaking countries equally, there is a convention known as "Neutral Spanish", which consists in using the most plain, common words in the language and a pronounciation and intonation that can be best described as "accent-less Mexican", so anyone can understand it without major confusions. Not a perfect solution, though, since there are always words or sentences that sound a little bit unnatural to people from one country or another, not to mention that it limits the quality of the writing.
    • Spanish is also the de facto common tongue in international politics involving Latin America. Is basically what is use in the Ibero-American summits which include Spain (where some other languages like Catalan are spoken), Brazil and Portugal, similarly with the OAS despite having English, French and Portuguese as official languages most sessions are held in Spanish and normally the ambassadors from the US and Brazil speak Spanish, also to some degree whenever the Caribbean is involve despite, again, having many French and English speaking countries although with a lesser extend. Most Portuguese and Brazilian high ranking politicians speak Spanish fluently. Also regional organizations like the Sao Paulo Forum and the Lima Group use mostly Spanish despite having English and Portuguese speaking members.
  • Esperanto, the Universal Language was an attempt at this. Its creator's goal was to create a language that was easy to learn and easy to speak, no matter what one's native language was, a "universal second language". While it did manage to gain a small but fierce group of followers that to this day still maintains publications, websites and books written in Esperanto, the language has by and large failed to catch on (obviously, otherwise we'd probably be speaking it now). Critics of the lingual construction noted that it is based almost exclusively on European languages, with no thought given to other language groups. Its defenders, meanwhile, claim that it would be nearly impossible to create a universal language that also accounted for non-European languages like Arabic, Hindi or Mandarin Chinese.
  • Transpiranto is a parody of this.
  • Further constructed languages attempting this: Interlingua and Ido. Also Loglan and its offshoot Lojban (short for "logical language" in English and Lojban respectively). The former of these was mentioned in a couple of Robert A. Heinlein's novels for use with A.I.s.
  • As part of the legacy of the conquests of Alexander the Great, Greek used to be pervasive in the Middle East, to the point where even the Tanakh (AKA the Hebrew Bible) was translated into it so that it could be understood by Hellenized Jews; this translation, the Septuagint, is one of the major influences on the Christian Bible and is also a useful guide for scholars of Jewish history. Hellenistic Greek is actually the Trope Co-Namer, as its most basic and used variety was known as Koine Dialektos (literally, the Common Tongue). Koine Greek is also the original language used to write the New Testament; the idea was to capture as much audience as possible in the Eastern Mediterranean.
  • Before Greek, Aramaic was the Common Tongue of the ancient Middle East. Originally used by a bunch of trading city states around Damascus, it was co-opted as the lingua franca by the Assyrian Empire when it conquered Syria in the early 1st millennium BC. Afterward, it spread quickly, penetrating all parts of the empire, including Babylon, Elam, Egypt, and Canaan. However, it was not until the Achaemenids came around in the 6th century BC and expanded the policy that it was firmly planted in the population. The Macedonian invasion led to its decline in Egypt and Northwest Syria, but the language continued to flourish everywhere else. In some places, it was promoted from being a unifier to an outright vernacular. By Roman times, it was the first language of basically everyone in Palestine. Jesus has been theorized to speak Aramaic, not because it was the lingua franca (Greek served that purpose), but because he was raised speaking it (Hebrew had long been relegated to religious purposes).
    • Aramaic, Hebrew, and many other languages then spoken in the area were as closely related to each other as the Romance languages are to each other—in other words, mutually intelligible to a fairly large extent.
  • Russian enjoyed this status in the Communist bloc. Learning Russian there was like learning English in Western Europe. It still works that way in the countries of the former Soviet Union — though among newer generations, not so much. Russian, with English, also functions as a common tongue language in outer space.
  • There have been attempts to "reconstruct" the original Sioux language, before the splitting into five dialects. This results in things like a sound not unlike the Japanese R instead of the /l/, /d/, and /n/ that are so famous, though no r-like sound exists in modern-day Sioux languages.
  • In past centuries, French was the language of choice for international communication. Many French are still bitter about it being supplanted by English. French still enjoys official status as the language of diplomacy and the Olympic Games. All public addresses at the Olympics are translated into English, French, and the language of the host country.
  • A rather surreal example is Madagascar. It is an island about thrice the size of New England. There are a lot of natural barriers (mountains, jungles, etc.) there. The people currently living there trace their ancestors no later than the 3rd century AD. Yet, there is precisely one native mother language, and that is Malagasy, spoken by the entirety of the island's 24 million-plus souls. And what is more, it did not come from the African mainland (285 miles away), but from Borneo (more than 4,000 miles away, as the crow flies). Either the Borneans really were the first people to colonize the island, or the Africans already living there (assuming they did live there) adopted the newcomers' language as soon as possible, or...
  • The language people know as "Chinese" is actually only Mandarin, which is spoken largely everywhere due to it being taught as part of the official curriculum. Otherwise, people in China speak a large family of languages sufficiently dissimilar that knowing one doesn't help in understanding another — from Germanic and Romance languages written in the Latin alphabet (Portuguese and the note  Macanese Patuá in Macau, and English in Hong Kong), to Turkish languages written in Arabic alphabet (Uyghur in Xinjiang), to Mongolian written in either Russian or classical Mongolian script (in Inner Mongolia).
    • However, their common descent (from the Old Chinese language spoken up to about the Warring States Period) means that learning them is easier once you know one of them. Ask a native English speaker who has taken French and then Spanish (or any other combination of Romance languages) how much easier the second language was than the first for a comparable phenomenonnote .
    • Chinese linguistic unity is further increased by its logographic (each symbol represents a word) system of writing. The same glyph is pronounced differently in each language, but the meaning usually remains the same. Therefore, a written language independent of speech, known as Classical Chinese, developed, serving as a Common Tongue (or Common Pen?) for the educated not only in China, but also countries under Chinese influence (Japan, Korea, and Vietnam). However, Classical Chinese was based on Late Old Chinese and thus did not reflect several features of more modern Chinese languages, including pronunciationnote  and grammar. Classical Chinese fell out of use shortly after the Xinhai Revolution of 1911, but the Republic of China (Taiwan) used it well into the 1970s for certain government documents.
      • That said, the bit about each character having the same meaning in different languages only bears true for single-character words. Various languages and dialects in Chinese will use different character groupings to describe the same thing, particularly for things that did not exist until recently. This is what was lost with the end of Classical Chinese: it was exclusively a written language which carried the same meanings across dialects but which would be pronounced differently based on who was reading it. When that was abolished, the ability to communicate in writing across linguistic boundaries in a "neutral" manner also disappeared.
    • As a bonus, the name of the official national language is Putonghua, which literally means "common speech"; it is essentially a standardised version of Mandarin. After the Communists took over the mainland, a committee they set-up considered adding some features of Guangdong's language ('Cantonese' in English) to Putonghua, particularly sounds made at the beginnings of some syllables, but this was eventually rejected.
  • India is in the same boat as China: there are thousands of languages, but almost everybody there speaks Hindi or English. After India became independent, there was a movement to purge British influences, including English. The return to traditional languages failed because it was far too useful to have a single standard language that most educated people already knew. Moreover, English persisted because attempts to make Hindi the universal standard met stiff resistance from (among others) the Dravidian-speaking states of South India, who view attempts to promote Hindi (an Indo-Aryan language) as an imposition of a specifically North Indian identity over the South rather than developing an All-India culture. English, being completely foreign to India, is neutral and therefore preferable to Southerners, and they pushed hard (and still do) to keep English in place. Economic reforms in The '90s, which opened India to the wider world economy in which English is a huge advantage, put the final kibosh on any attempts to remove English from the country (and gave rise to the Operator from India trope).
  • In even earlier centuries, Latin was the preferred language for scholarly discourse. Latin is still in use by the Roman Catholic Church as its preferred language for edicts and internal documents.
    • A working knowledge of Latin was still vitally important for students of zoology, biology and medicine until well into the second half of the 20th century, and has occasionally been used as a lingua franca when scientists from many different cultures lack another common language.
  • The Malay language serves as one for the Malay archipelago, thanks to its long-standing use as a trade language since the 7th century Srivijayan Empire made it the lingua franca of the western part of the archipelago. When that empire fell, the language already took hold in various coastal ports of the eastern part due to the Malays' seafaring tradition and became firmly established by the time the Europeans, especially the Dutch, came over and realized what a wonderful coincidence of a language already existing to unify their humongous and culturally diverse colonies. It continues to be a unifying language to the present day. While it's true that Brunei and Malaysia are not completely homogeneous ethnically and linguistically, Indonesian (a modern register of Malay) is basically one of the few things that enables the over 300 ethnic groups with their over 700 (!) languages in Indonesia to associate with each other. Without it, forget about inter-island communication. People living on different corners of the same island wouldn't be able to form intelligible conversations.
  • A similar situation exists in the Philippines, where Filipino, a standard register of Tagalog, is used to unify the country's roughly 175 ethnic groups and languages. Modern era has slowly replaced (or rather, assimilated) it with English, but it won't disappear anytime soon.
  • Hebrew served as a lingua franca for Jewish traders throughout Europe and the Middle East for centuries. Later, other languages written with Hebrew characters and with Hebrew loan-words were used: within Europe Yiddish (descended from mediæval German), in Spain and later North Africa and Greece and Turkey, Ladino (Judeo-Spanish), further East Judeo-Arabic and Judeo-Persian. Hebrew still was used between regions.
  • Due to its rather tumultuous history, Italy had more than a few, depending on which of the local states was preminent at a certain time and in a certain area.
    • By the time of the Renaissance, things had stabilized...with three, depending on what one was doing: Florentine (a dialect of Toscano standardized and made acceptable as a literary language by Dante Alighieri through his The Divine Comedy) was the language of literature and arts, Venetian was the language of trade, and Ligurian (or Genoese) had supplanted the lingua franca as the language of international trade.
    • By the 17th century a "purer" variant of Standard Florentine (as in, the version codified by Dante, as opposed to spoken Florentine that had slowly evolved) was adopted as standard Italian and became the lingua franca against the opposition of proponents of spoken Florentine (mostly Florentine themselves), courtiers that proposed a Conlang derived from all local dialects, and the official version of Romanesco (a fusion of Rome's defunct language and Toscano spoken in the Papal Court and, at the time, inside the walls of Rome, without the immense amount of vulgarities that to this day are the signature of the people's Romanesco), opposition won once and for all in the 19th century due the popularity of The Betrothed (originally written in his native Milanese by Alessandro Manzoni but later rewritten in Italian), before eventually spreading to the people. Standard Italian would remain a common tongue, as opposed to the day language, until radio broadcasts started spreading it, and it wouldn't be until the late 20th centurynote  that most Italians in certain regions spoke Italian as a home language.
  • In general, when a large empire spreads its language around and then dies (either by being conquered or by splitting up into squabbling fiefdoms...or as often happens, both), the language usually starts to diverge into dialects, which eventually become mutually unintelligible. However, that language may persist as a Common Tongue for the educated.
    • One of the weirdest cases of this has to be the situation of Arabic. Nationalism and the printing press — factors that tend to stabilize languages — arrived at a time when the dialects of Arabic formed a continuumnote  with only one significant break (between Western "Maghribi" and Eastern "Mashriqi" dialects,note  right about where the border between Egypt and Libya is today), and even that wasn't a complete one. Additionally, everyone in the region used various forms of Classical Arabic (the language of The Qur'an) for educated writing. As a result, Arab scholars developed Modern Standard Arabic, a streamlined form of Classical Arabic that also tends to get flavored with the dialect of the usernote , but which is universally understood by anyone who has been to school in an Arab country. However, people still speak their native dialects in all but the most formal circumstances. Even in semi-formal situations, people will speak in their native dialect but use a lot of Modern Standard vocabulary. This last bit is the cause of a major fight among the Arab literati — many feel that this "educated colloquial" should form the basis of a new standard, abandoning the Classical entirely. Those who accept this view themselves bicker about whether one "educated colloquial" should be adopted as a single standard for all Arab countries (creating a new Common Tongue) or whether each country or group of countries should adopt their own standards (abandoning the idea of a single Arabic language altogether). Those who agree that there should be a single new standard are wont to bicker over whether it should be based on one dialect of the "educated colloquial" (usually Egyptian, because everyone knows it anywaynote ) or some kind of amalgamation (in which case, how would you do that, etc., etc., etc...).
      • Arabic itself could count as a common tongue, since it is widely used in Muslim countries for studying the Qur'an, though only a fifth of all Muslims use it as everyday speech.
      • To complicate things even more, Algeria and Morocco often don't even use Arabic in educated or formal speech — they just use French, and most Moroccan universities list a French certification as an admission requirement.
      • As a side note, until the early 19th century you heard more Arabic than Latin in medical schools in Europe, the reason being that most actually useful medical texts were written in either Greek or Arabic, and it was considered imperative for a doctor to be able to read Avicenna in the original language.
  • Japanese dialects aren't so different that people would have too much trouble communicating with each other (aside from a few cases of Separated by a Common Language and the Ryukyuan dialects of Japanesenote ), but they still have a hyojungo, or "standard language", that is roughly based on the Kantō dialect.
  • American Sign Language is this for the deaf world, mainly because for the longest time, the United States was the only country with colleges for the deaf, and even today, it remains the only country with the only university for the deaf (Gallaudet University). Many American deaf students would grow up, and go to establish schools for the deaf in other countries. Therefore, many of the countries' own sign languages are either derived from or affected by American Sign Language — or they simply use American Sign Language. (Fun fact: American Sign Language originally derived from French Sign Language, with strong influence from the old sign language of Martha's Vineyard. British Sign Language is totally different.)
    • Part of this lies in the difficulty of translating sign languages into spoken languages or into other sign languages. Grammar, syntax, and morphology are also different in every language and are difficult to grasp well through sign language because word order is often highly dependent on context.
  • Computer science has a few examples.
    • In a more literal sense of this trope, almost all programming languages are in English.
    • Software often can be described into a common tongue, mostly by using pseudo-code. This breaks it down a routine into commonly used keywords that can be "translated" into other languages easily. Another method is describing it with diagrams and models, for which the Universal Modelling Language (UML) was designed to do.
    • High level programming languages are this by design, since they allow a program to be written once and then compiled to work on all sorts of different architectures. Prior to the use of these languages, programs were written in machine code or assembly languages that were specific to certain machines, necessitating that they be entirely rewritten for each target platform.
    • Modern compilers typically compile high-level programming languages to an intermediate language (IL), which is then itself compiled into the machine code of the desired instruction set architecture (ISA). This simplifies the process of adding support for both additional programing languages and ISAs: the former only requires compiling to the intermediate language, and the latter requires compiling the intermediate language to it, rather than having to write individual compilers for the myriad combinations of languages and ISAs. Languages and runtimes that use this technique include Java, .NET, and LLVM.
  • While it's impossible to know the true extent of it due to European observers being biased and the language itself being suppressed in colonization, Plains Sign Talk is a signing language that was used by at least 37 tribes in North America as a trading language, as well as for the deaf and for certain social functions.
  • Swahili is one of the most widely spoken languages in East Africa, with official status in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Rwanda, as well as being the only native African language to be official in the African Union. It's the main language of business, education, and urban life in East Africa. However, it exists practically only as a common tongue, as it has a mere 2 million native speakers against more than 100 million nonnatives; it's spoken natively only in a small area of Tanzania called the Swahili coast, but the people living there became the main intermediaries between native Africans and Arab merchants, which led to Swahili becoming the main trade language of the area. This balance is shifting, though, as many urban East Africans are now being raised with Swahili as their primary language.
  • In West Africa, the Hausa Language is the most widely spoken, as the Hausa people were traders that moved around with caravans, and it is popular in Nigeria and neighboring countries.
  • Sango, in the Central African Republic, only has a few hundred thousand native speakers, but it is the main language used in the country for business and local government and in urban centers. The Sango tribe lives along the Ubangi River and they were mostly a trading/merchant people, leading to their language becoming the main trade language of the area.

Alternative Title(s): The Universal Language, Universal Language, World Language, Global Language