The globalization of English is now an undisputed fact. One of the major effects of this is that English has taken on the role of lingua franca in many contexts. The Toyota-Peugeot factory in the Czech Republic, for example, uses English as a lingua franca among the staff who work there, as do the Nokia factories in Finland. English is also the working language for major international trade associations such as the G7, BRIC or ASEAN. That is to say, the globalization of English has added a new role to the existing ones, namely the role of English as a Lingua Franca (ELF). This new role requires us to rethink our goals for the language classroom. It is no longer appropriate to assume that what native speakers (NS) do when they use English amongst themselves is automatically relevant to communication between non-native (NNS) interlocutors.
A critical outcome of English becoming a lingua franca is that it will be modified through use. One of the principal mechanisms in language change anywhere is contact with the speakers’ first language(s). This mechanism has already given rise to Indian or Nigerian Englishes, for example, and Henry Widdowson argued some time ago that with English the non-native speakers have the right to make changes, since ownership of the language belongs as much to them as to its native speakers. His article, The ownership of English, was published in TESOL Quarterly (28/2, pages 377-389).
Of course, it is possible that language contact might drive the emerging Englishes in different directions depending on the L1s at play. This could lead to the development of mutually unintelligible variations. However, David Graddol contests this outcome in English next, and even suggests that it is frequently the absence of native speakers in ELF interactions that results in communication being successful.
Research has been going on for some time as to the nature of English as a Lingua Franca. In terms of grammar, certain features of ELF, such as the “s” of the 3rd-person singular of the verb, are regularly seen to differ from standard NS English norms without impacting negatively on communication. ELF is also characterized by lexical variation. In some cases, such variation is the result of poor English or of performance mistakes, and is not effective. Thus, May I forguest Please reftain no check good. (seen on the door of a public toilet) is neither good ELF nor good EFL (English as a Foreign Language). The English used completely fails to convey any intended message.
In contrast, Please do not plug out!, which I found by a telephone jack-point in a Prague hotel, is entirely effective. Even though plug out does not conform to the NS norm, which only permits plug in, the ELF coinage not only displays a full understanding of the meanings of plug and out, but also reveals competence in the functioning of English phrasal verbs. The NNS author of the sign has merely “played” with the potential for meaning of the language. Legitimate, effective creativity of this sort characterizes ELF vocabulary, and learners need training in such creativity if they are to make the most of their own language resources.
The area of ELF most people are familiar with is pronunciation. Analysis of empirical data from NNS-NNS spoken interactions gave rise to the Lingua Franca Core (LFC) (Jenkins 2000). In her seminal work, Jennifer Jenkins suggested that mutual intelligibility would be retained when speakers are competent in the main areas of the LFC, namely:
- the consonants of English (except voiced and voiceless “th”);
- the correct treatment of word-initial consonant clusters;
- variation in vowel length (as opposed to vowel quality);
- tonic stress placement.
Robin Walker is a freelance teacher, trainer and ELT author. He has been in ELT for 30 years, and is the current editor of Speak Out!, the newsletter of the IATEFL Pronunciation Special Interest Group. He is the author of Teaching the Pronunciation of English as a Lingua Franca, a title in the Oxford Handbooks for Teachers series.
© Robin Walker 2011
Next post: You speak with an accent. I don’t. Saturday 16th April 2011.