English as a lingua franca

English as a lingua franca (ELF) is the use of the English language as "a common means of communication for speakers of different first languages".[1] ELF is also "defined functionally by its use in intercultural communication rather than formally by its reference to native-speaker norms"[2] whereas English as a foreign language aims at meeting native speaker norms and gives prominence to native speaker cultural aspects.[3] While lingua francas have been used for centuries, what makes ELF a novel phenomenon is the extent to which it is used – both functionally and geographically. A typical ELF conversation might involve an Italian and a Swede chatting at a coffee break of an international conference held in Brussels, a Spanish tourist asking a local for the way in Berlin, or a Punjabi Indian negotiating with a Tamil Indian salesperson in Chennai.

Globalization and ELF[]

Extensive technological advances in the 21st century have enabled instant global communication, breaking the barriers of space and time, thereby changing the nature of globalization. With the world turned into an interconnected global system, there is a need for a mutual language. English has fulfilled this need by becoming the global lingua franca of the 21st century. Its presence in large parts of the world due to colonisation has led to it becoming the main language in which global trade, business, and cultural interactions take place. ELF is a unique lingua franca because of its global spread, its highly diverse nature, and its interactions which include native speakers.

Language and globalization affect each other. English has facilitated communication between Chinese people and the rest of the world and has proved to be important for international trade.[4] The reshaping of communities due to globalisation means considerable changes in the English language. As English encounters new communities and cultures, it is shaped and adapted by these encounters to be used by local communities for local and international communication. Consequently, hybrid forms develop in which new words are created, while simultaneously, existing words may be assigned new meanings. This leads to a constant process of linguistic change.

Because of the use of English as a lingua franca, there is an unprecedented[dubious ]linguistic situation in which native speakers are outnumbered by non-native speakers of English. A consequence of this is a sense of ownership of the language by different communities, which is reflected in the way English has become ‘multiplex’.[5]


The way English is used as a lingua franca is heavily dependent on the specific situation of use. Generally speaking, ELF interactions concentrate on function rather than form.[6] In other words, communicative efficiency (i.e. getting the message across) is more important than correctness.[7] As a consequence, ELF interactions are very often hybrid.[8] Speakers accommodate to each other's cultural backgrounds and may also use code-switching into other languages that they know.[9] Based on the Vienna-Oxford International Corpus of English (VOICE) and additional research, the following features of ELF lexicogrammar have been identified:[9] [10]

However, these features are by no means invariant or “obligatory”. Rather, these forms do not seem to compromise effective communication within an ELF setting when they do occur.

"Neutrality" of ELF[]

Although some researchers hold that English as a lingua franca is a neutral and culture-free tool,[11][12] others hold that it carries the culture and language of its speakers.[13][14][15][16] Recent linguistic discussions by ELF experts treat the interactants' cultural and linguistic background as a factor influencing language performance. For Hülmbauer, for instance, “it seems likely that the ELF users develop their own markers of identity (be they a common 'European' or 'international' nature or more individual ones which are created online, depending on the community of practice they are emerging).”[17] In this view, ELF is multicultural rather than culture-free.

ELF and the native speaker[]

ELF is used most often between non-native speakers of English but this fact does not mean that native speakers are excluded from ELF communication.[6] However, very often they form a minority of the interlocutors.[18] In ELF interactions, the importance lies on communication strategies other than nativeness, which can lead to communicative situations where those English native speakers who are not familiar with ELF and/or intercultural communication are at a disadvantage because they do not know how to use English appropriately in these situations.[19][20]

Most data on ELF interactions has been drawn from the domains of business and higher education,[21] and that in largely European contexts, perhaps factors accounting for the relatively rare instances of miscommunication.[22] Studies of Medical English as a Lingua Franca (MELF)[23] provide opportunities to investigate ELF interactions where communicative precision is critical, and the migration of healthcare practitioners across international borders (a phenomenon consistent with the "deterritorialisation" of ELF generally)[24], have created conditions where MELF interactions are increasingly commonplace. A research study of MELF interactions where nurses negotiated a patient handover simulation indicated that areas of unintelligibility represented a potential threat to patient safety, through misrecognition of vocabulary related to medication, as well as other areas of lexical imprecision.[25]

One study of a Japanese Medical English as a Lingua Franca (MELF) context[26] showed that student doctors made use of empathic accommodation and solicitation strategies to make interactions more intelligible. Applying nonverbal cues was seen as being of importance to encourage simulated patients to express concerns, because silence may be interpreted as a sign of potential problems. Empathic doctor-patient communication then means not only mean understanding and sympathizing but having the ability to bridge the gap when patients are not willing to talk.

An important issue when discussing ELF is the notion of speakers of ELF being active language users in their own right, who do not need to adhere to native speaker norms but use ELF to meet their communicative needs.[6] Proponents of ELF thus reject the notion that it is a form of ‘deficient’ English and describe ELF speakers as users of English, not as learners.[27][28]

Attitude and motivation[]

Several attitude studies on the topic of ELF have already been conducted. One overarching factor seems to be a discrepancy between perceptions on the role of ELF in everyday interactions all over the globe on the one hand, and the dominance of as well as reliance on native speaker norms on the other hand.[29][30][31][32][33][34][35][36] Breiteneder argues that learners of English as a Foreign Language (EFL) often have an integrative motivation for learning and using English since they wish to identify with the culture and values of English native speakers.[37] Thus, native speaker norms occupy a central place if English is studied as a foreign language. In contrast, English as Lingua Franca users tend to focus on effective communication with speakers of other linguistic backgrounds. In ELF interactions, intelligibility is key, which may not necessitate an advantage for native speakers (see above).


Criticism of ELF generally fall into three camps:[citation needed] Those who argue that the language studied consists of learner errors rather than authentic variation; those who argue that ELF scholars are perpetuating the idea that ELF is a reified variety of English; and those who feel it is upholding notions of neutrality in the face of global domination through languages and discourse.

Regarding the first stance, some linguists claim that variation in ELF is completely haphazard and devoid of any patterns, and therefore not worth studying. Most importantly, proponents of this view reject the idea that emerging insights into how English is used as a lingua franca can provide useful input with regard to the aims and methods of English language teaching.

Regarding the criticism of ELF and variety building, some claim that ELF research has inherited the legacies of traditional linguistics, which contain some obstacles when considering language use in context. For example, there are claims that variationist discourses have entered into some ELF accounts, creating too much emphasis on accounting for language forms and authenticating them numerically, rather than considering all the contextual factors and variations that constitute communicative practices across ELF settings.[38][39][40] This leads to linear connections between intention, behaviour, culture, etc., and English usages, which can be false lines of corrolation. It also creates a focus on what is different rather than what is there, which moves from a descriptive agenda to a pragmatic (and, arguably, problematic) one. Such criticisms tend to be cooperative and complimentary to the ELF field of enquiry, and not as overtly confrontational as those who either take the previous or following stance.

The other line of criticism argues that concepts such as ELF provide a useful (terminological) veneer for continued (linguistic) domination by English-speaking countries through their political, educational, and cultural institutions. This concept of linguistic imperialism has been developed and heavily used by Robert Phillipson.[41] Although Phillipson suggests this idea, there are some controversial facts which put Phillipson in a contrast situation.

Another example is the case of Juliane House,[42] a German scholar who explains in her article "English as a lingua franca: A threat to multilingualism?" her relation to English after World War II. Contrastingly, Davies criticises the concept and argues that it is “inhabited” by two cultures: one is a culture of guilt ("colonies should never have happened") the other is that of romantic despair ("we shouldn’t be doing what we are doing").[43]

Related terminology[]

Other terms with slightly different meanings have been used in the debate and research on the global spread of English, including "English as an International Language" (EIL), "Global English", "Global Englishes", "International English", "World English" and "World Englishes", and "Globish" (Global English).[44] "Global Englishes" (GEs) is generally seen to align closely with ELF,[45][46] seeing that language use is variable and is very much intermingled with cultural flows, situated contextualisation, and complex interactional alignment between people; whereas the other terms mentioned above tend to be seen as more linguistic in nature (e.g., "'Globish", proposing forms of simplified English needed for communication, vs. ELF and GEs, describing what people actually do when communicating [simple or not]; and "World Englishes", generally accounting for language features and commonalities by region/group, vs. ELF, looking at situated communicative use of English).

One of the key aspects of terminology used in the ELF field of enquiry is that a standardized version of any English variety is not implied, with the dynamic, situated and complex nature of language brought to the fore.[47]

See also[]


  1. ^ Vienna Oxford International Corpus of English [VOICE]: FAQ
  2. ^ Hülmbauer, Cornelia et al. 2008 "Introducing English as a lingua franca (ELF): Precursor and partner in intercultural communication." Synergies Europe 3, 25-36. p.27 http://ressources-cla.univ-fcomte.fr/gerflint/Europe3/hulmbauer.pdf Archived 2011-07-21 at the Wayback Machine.
  3. ^ (cf. ibid 2008: 27-28)
  4. ^ Wang, W. (2016). "Chinese English in as lingua franca in global business setting". Web of conferrences: 25.
  5. ^ Sergeant, Philip. 2012. "English and linguistic globalisation". In: Sergeant, P. and Swan, J. (eds). English in the World: history, diversity, change. Abingdon, Oxford: Routledge, 178-187.
  6. ^ a b c Paradowski, Michał B. 2013. Understanding English as a Lingua Franca: A Complete Introduction to the Theoretical Nature and Practical Implications of English used as a Lingua Franca. Barbara Seidlhofer. The Interpreter and Translator Trainer 7(2) [Special Issue: English as a Lingua Franca. Implications for Translator and Interpreter Education], 312–20 [review article]. DOI:10.1080/13556509.2013.10798856
  7. ^ Cogo, Allessia. 2008. “English as a Lingua Franca. Form follows function.” English Today 95 (3), 58-61.
  8. ^ Firth, Alan. 2009. “The lingua franca factor.” Intercultural pragmatics 6: 2, 147-170. p.161-163
  9. ^ a b Cogo, Alessia and Dewey, Martin. 2006. “Efficiency in ELF communication. From pragmatic motives to lexico-grammatical innovation.” Nordic Journal of English Studies. http://gupea.ub.gu.se/handle/2077/3148
  10. ^ Seidlhofer, Barbara. 2006. “Towards making ‘Euro-English’ a linguistic reality.” In: Bolton, Kinglsey; Kachru, Braj B. (eds.). World Englishes. Critical Concepts in Linguistics. Volume III. London: Routledge, 47-50.
  11. ^ House, Juliane. 2002. “Developing pragmatic competence in English as a Lingua Franca.” In Knapp, Karlfried; Meierkord, Christiane (eds.). Lingua franca communication. Frankfurt am Main: Peter, 245-267.
  12. ^ House, Juliane. 2003. “English as a lingua franca: A threat to multilingualism?” Journal of Sociolinguistics 7: 4, 556-578.
  13. ^ Klimpfinger, Theresa. 2005. “The role of speakers' first and other languages in English as a lingua franca talk.” Unpublished MA Thesis, University of Vienna. http://www.univie.ac.at/voice/page/abstracts/klimpfinger_2005.pdf.
  14. ^ Pölzl, Ulrike. 2005. “Exploring the third space. Negotiating culture in English as a lingua franca.” Unpublished PhD thesis, University of Vienna
  15. ^ Pölzl, Ulrike; Seidlhofer, Barbara. 2006. “In and on their own terms. The ‘habitat factor’ in English as a lingua franca interactions.” International Journal of the Sociology of Language 177, 151-17.
  16. ^ Meierkord, Christiane. 2002. “’Language stripped bare’ or ‘linguistic masala’? Culture in lingua franca conversation.” In: Knapp, Karlfried; Meierkord, Christiane (eds.). Lingua franca communication. Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 109-133.
  17. ^ Hülmbauer, Cornelia. 2007. “'You moved, aren't?' The relationship between lexicogrammatical correctness and communicative effectiveness in English as a lingua franca.” Views 16: 2, 3-36. http://anglistik.univie.ac.at/fileadmin/user_upload/dep_anglist/weitere_Uploads/Views/Views_0702.pdf Archived 2011-07-06 at the Wayback Machine
  18. ^ Paradowski, Michał B. 2008, Apr. Winds of change in the English language – Air of peril for native speakers? Novitas-ROYAL (Research on Youth and Language) 2(1), 92–119. http://www.novitasroyal.org/paradowski.pdf
  19. ^ Hülmbauer, Cornelia et al. 2008 “Introducing English as a lingua franca (ELF): Precursor and partner in intercultural communication.” Synergies Europe 3, 25-36. http://ressources-cla.univ-fcomte.fr/gerflint/Europe3/hulmbauer.pdf Archived 2011-07-21 at the Wayback Machine.
  20. ^ Seidlhofer, Barbara. 2004. “Research Perspectives on teaching English as a Lingua Franca.” Annual Review of Applied Linguistics 24, 209-239.
  21. ^ Jenkins, J.; Cogo, A.; Dewey, M. (2011). "Review of developments in research into English as a lingua franca" (PDF). Language Teaching. 44 (3): 281–315.
  22. ^ Firth, A. (2009). "The lingua franca factor". Intercultural Pragmatics. 6 (2): 147–170.
  23. ^ Tweedie, M.G.; Johnson, R.C. (2018). "Listening instruction and patient safety: Exploring medical English as a lingua franca (MELF) for nursing education". Journal of Belonging, Identity, Language, and Diversity. 2 (1).
  24. ^ Wang, Y. (2018). "Chinese English as a lingua franca: an ideological inquiry.". In Jenkins; et al. The Routledge handbook of English as a Lingua Franca. Abingdon: Routledge. pp. 151–164.
  25. ^ Tweedie, M.G.; Johnson, R.C. (2018). "Listening instruction: Exploring nursing education where English is a lingua franca". In Siegel, J. International perspectives on teaching the four skills in ELT. London: Palgrave. pp. 65–77.
  26. ^ Nozawa, Yukako; Yamauchi, Kazuyo; Salcedo, Daniel (2018). "'Empathy' in English as a lingua franca: How student doctors solicit concerns from simulated patients by turn-taking". Journal of Medical English Education. 17 (3): 97–99.
  27. ^ Firth, Alan. 1996. “The discursive accomplishment of normality. On 'lingua franca' English and conversation analysis.” Journal of Pragmatics 26, 237–59, qtd. in Lesznyák 2002.
  28. ^ Björkman, Beyza. 2008. “'So where we are?' Spoken lingua franca English at a technical university in Sweden.” English Today 94 (2), 35-41.
  29. ^ Adolphs, Svenja. 2005. “’I don’t think I should learn all this.’ – A Longitudinal View of Attitudes Towards ‘Native Speaker’ English.” In: Gnutzmann, Claus; Intemann, Frauke. (eds.) The Globalisation of English and the English language classroom. Tübingen: Gunter Narr Verlag, 118-131
  30. ^ Grau, Maike. 2005. “English as a global language – What do future teachers have to say?” In Gnutzmann, Claus; Intemann, Frauke (eds.). The Globalisation of English and the English Language Classroom. Tübingen: Gunter Narr, 261-274.
  31. ^ Jenkins, Jennifer. 2007. English as a Lingua Franca: Attitudes and Identity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  32. ^ Kalocsai, Karolina. 2009. “Erasmus exchange students. A behind-the-scenes view into an ELF community of practice”. Apples – Journal of Applied Linguistics Series 3 (1), 25-49. http://apples.jyu.fi (6 July 2010).
  33. ^ Mollin, Sandra. 2006. Euro English. Assessing Variety Status. Tübingen: Gunter Narr.
  34. ^ Timmis, Ivor. 2002. “Native speaker norms and international English: a classroom view.” ELT Journal 56, 240-249. http://biblioteca.uqroo.mx/hemeroteca/elt_journal/2002/julio/560240.pdf Archived 2011-07-22 at the Wayback Machine
  35. ^ Seidlhofer, Barbara; Widdowson, Henry G. 2003. “House work and student work. A study in cross-cultural understanding. Übersetzen, Interkulturelle Kommunikation, Spracherwerb und Sprachvermittlung—das Leben mit mehreren Sprachen“. Festschrift für Juliane House zum 60. Geburtstag. Zeitschrift für interkulturellen Fremdsprachenunterricht. 8: 115-127. http://zif.spz.tu-darmstadt.de/jg-08-2-3/docs/Seidlhofer_Widdowson.pdf Archived 2011-07-19 at the Wayback Machine.
  36. ^ Zeiss, Nadine. 2010. English as a European lingua franca. Changing attitudes in an inter-connected world. Berlin: VDM Verlag Dr. Müller.
  37. ^ Breiteneder, Angelika Maria. 2005. “Exploiting redundancy in English as a European Lingua Franca: The case of the ‘third person –s’.” Unpublished MA Thesis, University of Vienna. http://www.univie.ac.at/voice/page/abstracts/breiteneder_2005.pdf
  38. ^ Baird, Robert (2012). English as a lingua franca: the study of language practices. Englishes in Practice, Issue 1, 3-17. http://www.southampton.ac.uk/cge/working_papers/ Archived 2013-12-13 at the Wayback Machine
  39. ^ Mortensen, J. (2013). Notes on English used as a lingua franca as an object of study. Journal of English as a Lingua Franca, vol. 2, No. 1, pp. 25-46.
  40. ^ Pennycook, A. (2010). Language as a Local Practice, London: Routledge.
  41. ^ Phillipson, Robert (1992), Linguistic Imperialism, Oxford University Press
  42. ^ Juliane House
  43. ^ Davies, Alan. 1996. “Review Article: Ironising the myth of Linguicism.” Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development. 17:6, 485-596.
  44. ^ Spichtinger, Daniel. 2000. The Spread of English and its Appropriation. Unpublished MA Thesis, University of Vienna. http://spichtinger.net/Uni/sp-dipl3.pdf.
  45. ^ Jenkins, Jennifer (2014). English as a lingua franca in the international University: The Politics of Academic English Language Policy. Oxford: Routledge.
  46. ^ Galloway, Nicola & Rose, Heath (2015). Introducing Global Englishes. Arbingdon, UK: Routledge.
  47. ^ Baird, Robert, Baker, Will and Kitazawa, Mariko (2014). The Complexity of ELF. Journal of English as a Lingua Franca.

References and further reading[]