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Humanising Language Teaching
Humanising Language Teaching
Humanising Language Teaching

ELF at the gate: the position of English as a Lingua Franca

Jennifer Jenkins, King's College, London., UK
(re-published with thanks from IATEFL 2004 , Liverpool Conference Selections)

[Editorial note: the issue of "good enough international English " is central to my job of editing HLT. When I read through an article written by a non-native speaker I work on three areas:
- intelligibility
- correction of slips the writer might be ashamed of
- maintenance of the language flavour that this person's mother tongue infuses her English with.
(for an example of "flavour maintenance" see Olga Chekchuruna's Don't roar at difficult students (Short Article 3 in this issue) where I have tried to make sure her warm, expansive Russian voice is not muffled by too many niggling, mingy, anglicising corrections )]


Context, Appropriateness and Creativity
Misconception of ELF
Gate keeping Issues
ELF in Practice
The Future of ELF


The term English as a Lingua Franca, or ELF, is not yet widely-known in the ELT profession. Eight years ago I argued in an IATEFL publication (Jenkins 1996) that it should replace the traditional English as a Foreign Language (EFL), the main reason being that it emphasises the principal role of English today as a lingua franca among its non-native speakers rather than a tool for communication between native and non-native speakers. Further reasons given were that it suggests the idea of community rather than alienness; it focuses on what people have in common rather than their differences; it implies that language hybridity is acceptable (as was the case with the original lingua franca's); and its Latin name symbolically transfers ownership from Anglo speakers to all who use English. However, apart from a small number of scholars in mainland Europe, who began using the term ELF independently during the 1990s, the majority of those researching English among its non-native speakers (NNSs) in the Expanding Circle , have tended to refer to it as English as an International Language (EIL). For the purposes of this paper, then, ELF and EIL can be considered equivalent, although for reasons which will emerge later, ELF is the preferred term.

Two further points need clarifying from the start. The first concerns the difference between a lingua franca and a foreign language. A lingua franca in its original sense was "a variety that was spoken along the South-Eastern coast of the Mediterranean between appr. the 15th and the 19th century.....probably based on some Italian dialects in its earliest history, and included elements from Spanish, French, Portuguese, Arabic, Turkish, Greek and Persian" (Knapp & Meierkord 2002:9). Since then, 'lingua franca' has come to mean a language variety used between people who speak different first languages and for none of whom it is the mother tongue. In other words, according to this interpretation, a lingua franca has no native speakers (NSs), and by extension no NS targets for its learners to aspire to. This is in direct contrast to a 'foreign language' which does have native speakers - those who learn it as their mother tongue - and, by extension, whose educated version is the widely-recognised target for non-native learners. The second point concerns ELF's position vis-à-vis NSs. A few ELF researchers adhere to the 'pure' interpretation of a lingua franca, reserving the concept of ELF interaction exclusively for NNSs of English. Most, however, consider that ELF interactions can be said to include NSs, although only as a small minority within the totality of the world's ELF users.

Regardless of these differences, the essential distinction between speakers of EFL and speakers of ELF is a very simple and basic one: speakers of EFL use their English chiefly to communicate with NSs of English, often in NS settings. They need at the very least to be intelligible to NSs, to understand them, and often to blend in with them. Their learning goal is therefore to approximate as closely as possible a NS variety of English, generally Standard British or American English. The norms of EFL, then, are NS norms. Speakers of ELF, on the other hand, use their English primarily (or entirely if one takes the 'purist' interpretation of ELF) to communicate with other NNSs of English, usually from first languages other than their own and typically in NNS settings. They need therefore to be intelligible to, and to understand, other NNSs rather than to blend in with NSs and approximate a NS variety of English. Instead, ELF speakers have their own emerging norms. And if NSs participate in ELF communication it is for them to adjust the way they speak and listen in order to accommodate to NNSs rather than vice versa. The acronym ELF, in reversing the F and L of EFL, thus symbolises the conceptual and practical contrasts between EFL and ELF.

Context, appropriateness and creativity

ELF is developing into a vibrant research area in applied linguistics, with much of the work being carried out in the Expanding Circle itself, especially in mainland Europe and East Asia. Instead of accepting the designation of their Englishes as 'norm-dependent', a growing number of researchers in the Expanding Circle are collecting corpora of NNS Englishes in order to describe ELF varieties and identify systematic differences between these and NS varieties, e.g. Seidlhofer's Vienna Oxford International Corpus of English, or VOICE (see Seidlhofer 2001), Mauranen's Corpus of English as a Lingua Franca in Academic Settings (see Mauranen 2003), and James's Alpine-Adriatic Corpus (see James 2000).

The existence of ELF varieties such as Euro-English and East Asian English is for the first time being acknowledged, along with their sub-varieties such as German English, Korean English, China English and the like. And codification will no doubt follow description, so that these varieties will eventually appear in grammars, dictionaries and other reference works. My own research into pronunciation in ELF interactions has already yielded a core of phonological and phonetic items - collectively the Lingua Franca Core (see Jenkins 2000, 2002) - which, though not yet definitive, seem to be important in ensuring the intelligibility of pronunciation between ELF speakers, along with a number of non-core features which NSs like to produce and hear, but which appear to be at best inconsequential in ELF communication.

Appropriateness for use involves appropriation by the user, with speech communities appropriating English in order to make it appropriate to their own needs. Linguistic creativity plays a critical role in all this, and the processes involved in ELF creativity such as regularisation are, in many respects, no different from the processes involved in NS creativity (see Lowenberg 2002). The only real difference is that when NSs innovate with the language we accept it - eventually if not immediately, whereas when NNSs innovate, the result is labelled 'L1 transfer error' or 'L1 interference'. For example, it has become acceptable in most NS Englishes to use of certain uncountable nouns in countable ways (e.g. 'two teas', 'three coffees', instead of 'two cups of tea', 'three cups of coffee'), whereas NNS creativity of this type ('staffs', 'informations' and the like) is not considered acceptable.

This double standard is due, it would seem, to the part played by language contact in NNS creativity - both the contact NNSs have with each other's Englishes (leading to accommodation) and the contact between their own L1 and English (leading to transfer). And yet because they have at least two language systems at their disposal, NNSs have greater resources than the majority of NSs, and therefore a greater potential to innovate. In addition, as Ammon (2003) points out, in acquiring English, its NNSs pay greater attention to the language than do its NSs, which enables them to shape it into a form more appropriate for a practicable lingua franca than the form created by its NSs.

One lexical area where ELF creativity is occurring with increasing frequency, especially among young Europeans and East Asians, is the creation of hybrid words through codemixing. Young German-English speakers, for example, have created a number of half-German, half-English hybrid compounds such as 'Drogenfreak' and Telefonjunkie' (see Cheshire 2002). Similar to these is the Italian compound 'antistress' for which there is no exact equivalent in NS English. Were an Italian-English speaker to use this word in communication with a NS, however, the latter's assumption would be that the speaker had intended to say 'stress-free' but had made an error.

Research into ELF's lexicogrammatical features is nevertheless at an early stage and as Seidlhofer (2004a) points out, we are not yet in a position to report reliable findings based on quantitative investigations. Nevertheless, a number of features have already been identified by the VOICE team indicating systematic differences between NS English and ELF Englishes. These features often involve "typical errors which most English teachers would consider in urgent need of correction and remediation, and which consequently get allotted a great deal of time and effort in English lessons" but which "appear to be generally unproblematic and no obstacle to communicative success" in ELF (op.cit.). Seidlhofer singles out the following:

- 'dropping' the third person present tense -s (as in "She look very sad")
- 'confusing' the relative pronouns who and which ("a book who", "a person which")
- 'omitting definite and indefinite articles where they are obligatory in NS English, and inserting them where they do not occur in NS English
- failing to use 'correct' forms in tag questions e.g. isn't it? or no instead of shouldn't they? (as in "They should arrive soon, isn't it?")
- inserting 'redundant' prepositions (as in "We have to study about..." and "can we discuss about...?")
- 'overusing' certain verbs of high semantic generality, such as do, have, make, put, take
- 'replacing' infinitive constructions with that-clauses, as in I want that.... (e.g. "I want that we discuss my dissertation")
- 'overdoing' explicitness (e.g. "black colour" rather than 'black' and "How long time?" instead of 'How long?')

In many ways, these items are the lexico-grammatical equivalent of the non-core phonological features that emerged from my research into ELF pronunciation, in which I found that a number of items common to most NS varieties of English were not necessary in successful ELF interactions, e.g. the absence of weak forms in words like 'from' and 'for'; and the substitution of voiceless and voiced 'th' with /t/ or /s/ and /d/ or /z/ (so that e.g.'think' became 'sink' or 'tink', and 'this' became 'dis' or 'zis'). Such features did not cause intelligibility problems for an ELF interlocutor and - like the lexico-grammatical regularities above - occur regularly in ELF interactions. Indeed, their non -use may even be counterproductive. In Aviation English, for example, the word 'three' must be pronounced 'tree' because the latter is known to be more intelligible internationally (see Intemann in press).

Misconceptions of ELF

As is the case with any radical new idea, ELF is proving to be controversial and is subject to a large number of misinterpretations. Space allows me only to consider four of these, but see Seidlhofer (2004b) for others. The first is the claim that ELF researchers advocate teaching ELF varieties to all learners of English. This is not so. As my earlier discussion of the differences between EFL and ELF made clear, it all depends on the individual learner's needs and wants. ELF is only being proposed where the target interaction community is an international i.e. largely NNS community. Although ELF researchers believe that this is the most likely situation for the majority of learners in the 21st century, they are well aware that some learners will interact primarily with NSs, and accept that for them EFL is the appropriate goal. ELF researchers also believe that the choice of goal is entirely the learner's, and accept that even a learner whose target community is an ELF one may prefer a native rather than an ELF variety as their goal. All that is asked is that learners are able to make their choice in full possession of the socio-linguistic facts.

The second misinterpretation concerns the data itself. An assumption is often made that ELF data (e.g. the lexico-grammatical features described above) exemplifies the low proficiency of the speakers who provided it, with their language being labelled 'learner language', 'inter-language', 'incomplete L2 acquisition' and the like, rather than alternative, but legitimate ELF varieties. This problem seems to have arisen from a misconception about language contact - a mistaken belief that contact makes the dominant language impure by 'infecting' it with transfer 'errors'. But as Mufwene (2001) points out, contact is a normal and natural part of language evolution. The misconception about the proficiency of the speakers providing the ELF data indicates, then, a failure to understand a major effect of contact on language; the fact that in the presence of certain conditions such as those currently prevailing in the Expanding Circle, it leads to the emergence of new language forms and ultimately to whole new varieties of a language rather than to 'errors' in its native varieties.

The third misconception is that ELF researchers are anti-diversity and want to see a single monolithic version of English in use for international communication the whole world over. This is absolutely untrue. ELF researchers are in principle against any approach which promotes some kind of single English for the world. One of the main advantages, diversity-wise, of my Lingua Franca Core is that outside a small core of items (those which emerged from the ELF data as necessary to safeguard phonological and phonetic intelligibility in ELF interactions), ELF speakers can preserve as much as they wish of their L1 regional accents - and hence of their L1 regional identity, without the risk that their accent will be rendered unintelligible to another NNS. In ELF, any Expanding Circle accent (e.g. Spanish-English, China-English, German-English, Japanese-English) is at least as acceptable as an NS accent - and probably a good deal more so (see Jenkins 2004 for further details, and Walker 2001 on Spanish-English accents).

At the other extreme, it is a number of non-ELF scholars who are promoting the idea of a single world standard for international communication. Ayako Suzuki, a doctoral student at King's College London, refers to the kind of English they promote as 'sugarcoated EIL'. By this, she means to convey that while these scholars appear to support the concept of NNS-led developments in the Expanding Circle, beneath the surface they are in fact supporting a monolithic English which turns out to be largely based on Standard American or Standard British English. In effect, then, it is English as a Native Language in disguise, despite having such titles as: 'World Standard English', 'International English', 'Literate English', 'World Standard Spoken English', 'World Standard Printed English' and so on. Even 'English as an International Language' is used in this monolithic way by some scholars. Not surprisingly, one result, as Matsuda (2002) points out, is that in Japan (where English is taught as 'English for International Understanding') the word 'international' equates in the minds of Japanese-English learners with 'western', and 'English' with American-English and British-English. Hence the preference among ELF researchers for the term 'English as a Lingua Franca' that I mentioned in the introduction.

The fourth misconception is that ELF researchers are prescribing and imposing ELF forms on learners of English. Again, this is absolutely untrue. On the contrary, it is the Received Pronunciation accent and Standard British English grammar, or the General American accent and Standard American grammar that are being imposed as the default models throughout the Expanding Circle, in classrooms, coursebooks, dictionaries, grammar references and the like. Those involved in collecting corpora of ELF lexico-grammar are the first to argue against the automatic transfer of their corpus findings to ELT classrooms and materials, whereas some of those collecting NS corpora have been rather less careful to avoid the swift leap from corpus to coursebook.

Gatekeeping issues

Not only is ELF being misinterpreted in various ways, but it is also the subject of a number of gate-keeping practices by certain groups who - whether consciously or subconsciously - would prefer that it did not succeed.

One of these groups comprises a number of NSs who see themselves as custodians of the English language. These people delight in the fact that English now functions as the world's primary lingua franca. As Widdowson (1993) says: "[It] is a matter of considerable pride and satisfaction for native speakers of English that their language is the international means of communication". However, somewhat paradoxically, these NS custodians consider the only correct English to be that of their own educated varieties, essentially Standard British or American English, and do not accept that the world's lingua franca has the right to develop its own lingua franca forms. They endeavour, therefore, to protect the language from non-native 'infiltration' by the regular undermining and denigrating of NNS Englishes.

Another type of gate-keeping is carried out by ELT publishers, the majority of whom marginalise ELF speakers in their ELT materials. Although most learners would benefit from far more exposure to other NNS Englishes and far less exposure to NS standard varieties and dialects, what happens in practice is often precisely the opposite: learners are provided with recordings of a standard NS variety, a host of NS dialects, and a token recording or two of other NNS Englishes.

The same is true of books for teachers. Publishers who are keen to publish books discussing radical developments in ELF at the theoretical level seem reluctant to publish anything that would enable teachers to put the theory into practice. Admittedly, more research is needed, but enough is known for publishers at least to put teachers in a position where they could offer their learners an informed and principled choice between ELF and EFL. And for those whose learners chose ELF, publishers could provide teachers with guidelines drawn from the research findings already available. For example, they could provide materials showing teachers how to use the intelligibility criterion in order to base pronunciation teaching on local but internationally intelligible accents, rather than on traditional NS models. They could provide guidelines for the teaching of lexico-grammar which avoided NS idioms, as these have already been shown in the research to be a major cause of lexico-grammatical intelligibility problems.

Another instance of gate-keeping is the marginalising of NNSs' contributions to academic journals by means of insisting on NS norms of academic English. The effect is that NNSs' voices are not heard to the extent that they should be relative to their proportion of the world's English speakers. As Seidlhofer (2004a) points out: "questions have arisen about the legitimacy of these norms, and the extent to which written English....should be subjected to correction to conform to native speaker conventions of use, thus allowing journals to exert a gate-keeping function based not on academic expertise but purely on linguistic criteria whose relevance for international intelligibility has not actually been demonstrated". A Chinese academic, Hu Xiao Qiong (2004), takes up the issue by asking in an article in the international journal English Today why she, who has never entered a native English-speaking country, had to adjust her China English so that it conformed to one of the two main NS varieties of English, in order for her article to be accepted for publication.

Linguistic insecurity and linguistic 'schizophrenia' provide gate-keeping from the other side of the fence, i.e. from NNSs themselves. The emphasis on NS versions of correctness, whatever its source, seems to have the effect of arousing feelings of linguistic insecurity among NNSs. The term was coined by the sociolinguist Labov to describe how people feel about their language variety when it is constantly denigrated. For NNSs of English, it means their acceptance of the negative stereotyping of their English by the NS community, regardless of the fact the kind of English spoken between its NSs is not appropriate to most NNS communication.

A number of researchers have explored this issue among non-native teachers and learners, e.g. Murray (2003) in Switzerland, both Decke-Cornill (2003) and Grau (in press) in Germany, Suzuki in Japan, and Timmis (2002) with respondents from 45 countries. Their findings are telling. For example, Suzuki's Japanese student-teacher subjects were asked to indicate their level of agreement with 18 statements about English. When their responses were ranked, the statement they agreed with most strongly was "I need English for international communication". This was followed very closely by "I want to acquire a native speaker accent". Grau's German student-teachers demonstrated similar insecurity about their accents. 65% responded to a question on pronunciation by agreeing that the objective in German schools should be international intelligibility and that it does not matter if an accent is identifiably German. But in a question asking specifically about the inter-dental fricatives, 59% said that it was not acceptable to substitute 'th' with /s/ and /d/, even though these are regular features of German English, as well as being internationally intelligible - more so than the 'correct' NS variants according to aviation English and my own research.

'Schizophrenia' is Seidlhofer's term for the ambivalence revealed by NNSs who argue strongly in favour of ELF varieties of English which do not defer to NS norms, but then contradict themselves by implying that this is exactly what they should do. So, for example, Ammon (2003) argues in favour of ELF speakers' rights to determine their own lingua franca norms then describes himself as linguistically disadvantaged because he speaks German English. Similarly van Els (2000) contends that ownership of a lingua franca passes to its NNSs, but shortly afterwards warns his fellow speakers of Dutch English not to be complacent because their "proficiency in English is not good enough...only very few are able to achieve a level of proficiency that approximates the native or native-like level".

ELF in practice

On the first page of her 2002 handbook - the closest thing available yet to a book on ELF for teachers - McKay argues that "the teaching and learning of an international language must be based on an entirely different set of assumptions than the teaching and learning of any other second or foreign language". This is a fine sentiment, but as I pointed out earlier, little has changed in practice so far. While ELF is becoming an important focus of research, with a growing number of scholars writing and speaking about its norms and targets (see Seidlhofer 2004a for a state-of-the-art survey of ELF research), most of the discussion operates at the meta level, with few linking it to practical outcomes.

So what can be done? I believe it all starts with teacher education. The more that teachers and publishers learn about ELF on their diploma and masters programmes, the more likely they will be to put its ideas into practice. Although more research is needed before we have definitive pedagogic solutions, teacher education for ELF could focus far more on intercultural communication and far less on what NSs do. It could also introduce the concept of accommodation, and educate teachers in ways of helping their learners productively and receptively adjust their pronunciation, lexico-grammar, and even pragmatics (see Grundy forthcoming), in ways that make them more easily understood by and able to understand their NNS interlocutors - regardless of whether the outcome is an error in the native language.

There remains the problem of English language testing, so critical because of its wash-back effect. Students all round the world need to pass their English exams, and so long as these are heavily oriented towards NS norms, there is little hope that classroom practice will seriously embrace ELF, for to do so would be to jeopardise students' exam results. Some exam boards are beginning to grapple with the problem, and in the absence of definitive ELF data, it would be unfair to suggest that they should be establishing ELF criteria at this stage. But like the publishers, they could at least make a start. This would involve moving towards a position where they stop penalising the use of forms simply because they diverge from NS norms - especially those forms which are emerging through frequent and systematic use as potential variants of ELF varieties (e.g. substitutions of 'th', dropping of 3rd person -s in the present simple, using an all-purpose question tag such as 'isn't it?'). They could even start rewarding attempts to accommodate, regardless of whether or not the outcome is correct in NS English. For example, in the ELF data of Martin Dewey, another doctoral student at King's College London, one subject, knowing it to be wrong, used the verb "tease off" instead of "tease" because this is what her interlocutor had said, and she thought he would understand it more easily.

So where does this leave us in practice? Until we reach the stage of being able to describe ELF varieties fully and from there to making pedagogic decisions in the light of these descriptions, I have a few interim suggestions for ELF (but not EFL) classrooms (and see Matsuda 2003 for further ideas):

- Do not correct items that are emerging as systematic and frequent in ELF communication (but at this stage do not actually teach them)
- Encourage and reward accommodation skills
- Use action research and your own judgement to replace traditional NS targets with the NNS-NNS intelligibility criterion (Jennifer Bassett, personal communication)
- Expose learners to a wide range of NNS varieties of English
- In lexis teaching, avoid idiomatic language
- In pronunciation teaching, focus on the core items and leave the non-core to learner choice
- In teacher education, look at ELF within a framework of sociolinguistic variation (which means treating variation as the norm and conformity as the exception) and take into consideration social-psychological factors relating to identity, both by not denying ELF speakers their L1 linguacultural roots and by giving them space to develop their ELF shoots, i.e. their ELF group membership. This includes recognising that many ELF speakers desire the ability to express their identity in their lingua franca. They do not necessarily want either to assume the identity of some NS or, at the other extreme, have to use English in some "single monochrome standard form" (as Quirk 1985 puts it) and be restricted to expressing their identity only in their L1.
- Finally, raise NSs' awareness of the existence of ELF and its differences from ENL, preferably during secondary school education (see Kubota 2001 for a suggested modus operandi) alongside the learning of other languages.

The future of ELF

In his seminal book, Defining Issues in English Language Teaching (2003), Widdowson presents two quotations which, he says, can be read as representing two positions on language change. The first is from Yeats's TheSecond Coming:

Things fall apart: the centre cannot hold
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world

The second is from Tennyson's Idylls of the King:

The old order changeth, yielding place to new,
And God fulfills himself in many ways,
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.

In the first case, Widdowson says, "the centre can be taken as the Inner Circle and the assumption is that if it cannot hold the language in place, linguistic anarchy will be loosed upon the English-speaking world". In the second case, he continues, "whether you attribute it to some kind of divine intervention or not, the old established order of Inner Circle English changes and yields place to new varieties of English" (p.58).

Personally, I am with Tennyson. I believe that over the next decade or two, we will see a major shift in attitudes towards the Englishes of the Expanding Circle, as has already occurred in respect of many of the Outer Circle Englishes. If this proves to be the case, the gate will truly have opened and ELF's position will be assured for some time to come.


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