English Language
English as a lingua franca

English as a lingua franca

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The Use of English as a Global Language When People Don't Share the Same Mother Tongue

When individuals with different native languages come into contact, the most common language used for communication is English. This is because English has become a global lingua franca, meaning it is the commonly chosen language for people with different first languages to communicate with each other.

The Definition of a Lingua Franca

A lingua franca is a shared or bridge language used between individuals with different first languages. It is usually a pre-existing language with a history of colonization, such as English or French, and is learned by non-native speakers as a foreign language to communicate with other non-native speakers. Unlike regional dialects, lingua francas are used well beyond their country of origin. For example, English is used as a lingua franca in Europe, Asia, and Africa.

While similar to pidgins, which are simplified forms of language used for communication between speakers of different languages, lingua francas have some distinct differences. While pidgins develop over time due to the influence of its speakers, a lingua franca is an established language used by both parties. However, some pidgins can also serve as lingua francas.

Lingua francas are functional languages used solely as a tool for communication and are not tied to a specific linguistic history or culture. However, this is no longer entirely accurate for English due to its extensive use as a lingua franca - a concept we will explore further.

English as a Global Lingua Franca (ELF)

English as a lingua franca (ELF) refers to the use of English as a shared language for speakers with different native languages. While the use of English as a lingua franca existed since the 16th century in British colonies, its usage has significantly increased in recent years, making it a widely used language globally. As a result, linguists and language teachers have become more interested in studying ELF.

ELF is considered a communicative tool used at various levels - locally, nationally, regionally, and internationally. This leads to significant variation within ELF, and there is no standardized version. There is an ongoing debate as to whether ELF should be classified as an English variety or not. Some may view ELF as "foreigner speak" or "bad simple English," but many linguists argue against this perspective. Barbara Seidlhofer, a prominent theorist of World Englishes, states:

  • ELF, like any other language, undergoes changes and variations over time. Therefore, it is illogical to refer to it as a single, monolithic variety. (Seidlhofer, 2006)¹

This observation suggests that ELF should not be seen as a singular variety of English but rather as a language that is continuously evolving and varying, much like any other language.

Kirkpatrick, another leading theorist in the study of World Englishes, found that the level of variation within ELF depends on its usage in a specific region. In local settings, such as two Southeast Asian individuals communicating in a Southeast Asian country, code-switching may occur, resulting in the use of local vocabulary, slang, and grammar.

  • Code-switching: the alternate use of two or more languages or language varieties.

As mentioned earlier, English has been used as a lingua franca in former British colonies for decades.

The Evolution of English as a Global Lingua Franca

English has become a widely used language and has given rise to various variations such as Indian and African Englishes, as it is adaptable and can be modified to suit the needs of individuals from different countries. In recent times, we have seen an increase in the use of English as a lingua franca by people from expanding circle countries (following Kachru's three concentric circles of English model), such as China, Vietnam, and many European countries, on local and global levels. This has resulted in the emergence of new varieties like Vinglish (Vietnamese English) and Chinglish (Chinese English).

The Significance of English as a Global Lingua Franca

Despite Mandarin Chinese and Spanish having more native speakers than English, it is still considered the world's lingua franca. This is largely due to the dominance of its speakers, as linguist David Crystal stated, "A language has traditionally become an international language for one chief reason: the power of its people."

The Rise of English as a Language of Globalization

English's dominance as a global language can be attributed to a combination of historical, political, and technological factors. The expansion of the British Empire, the industrial revolution, the USA's rise as a superpower, the internet, and popular culture have all played a role in establishing English as the world's lingua franca.

The Role of English in Globalization

With the growth of globalization, there has been a need for a common language to facilitate communication and trade. English has stepped in and become the language of choice for international business, diplomacy, medicine, and science. It is an official language in over 67 countries and is used as the working language in various organizations like the United Nations, The European Union, and The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Features of English as a Lingua Franca

In recent years, linguists have studied the norms and characteristics of English as a Lingua Franca (ELF). While there is diversity in how ELF is used, some commonly observed features include dropping the 's' in third person singular, interchangeable use of relative pronouns, the omission of articles, and the use of tag questions and extra prepositions. Additionally, speakers of ELF tend to be more explicit in their speech, using phrases like 'red colour' instead of 'red.'According to research from the University of Southampton, other features of ELF include:

  • Dropping the 's' in third person singular verbs, such as 'she run' rather than 'she runs'.
  • Using 'who' and 'which' interchangeably as relative pronouns.
  • Omitting articles like 'a' and 'the'.
  • Using tag questions like 'isn't it?' or 'no?' to confirm understanding.
  • Using extra prepositions, such as 'we have to study about...'.
  • Using that-clauses instead of infinitive constructions, e.g., 'I want that we go to the cinema' instead of 'I want to go to the cinema'.
  • Being more explicit, e.g., saying 'red colour' rather than 'red'.

The study of English as a lingua franca is still in its early stages, and there is limited data available. Researchers typically analyze documented ELF conversations in the VOICE corpus (Vienna-Oxford International Corpus of English) and the Lingua Franca Core (LFC) created by linguist Jennifer Jenkins in 2000.

The Lingua Franca Core

The Lingua Franca Core is a list of essential pronunciation features that are necessary for effective communication in ELF. While other pronunciation features can still be taught, they are not considered crucial for intelligibility (the ability to be understood).

Examples of English as a Lingua Franca

As mentioned earlier, there is a lot of variation in how English is used as a lingua franca. However, here are some sentences that demonstrate common features of ELF:

  • 'I have red colour bag.'
  • 'She like to visit Spain.'
  • 'We will go together, isn't it?'
  • 'I see moon.'

Teaching English as a Lingua Franca

When teaching English as a second language, it is crucial to consider the needs of the students. Interestingly, non-native English speakers are more likely to use English to communicate with other non-native speakers than with native speakers. This highlights the importance of being understandable rather than sounding like a native speaker.In order for students to effectively communicate in an ELF setting, it is vital for them to grasp key aspects of pronunciation. According to Jenkins' lingua franca core, these include:- Correct pronunciation of consonant sounds- Distinctions between short and long vowels- Nuclear stress, which emphasizes the importance of word stress in conveying meaningTo expose students to different accents and real-life situations, it is essential to use authentic materials such as news reports, interviews with non-native English speakers, and international newspapers. However, despite its widespread use, there has been criticism of ELF as a language variety. Some argue that the features of ELF are simply errors with no underlying pattern and therefore not worthy of study. Additionally, there is debate over whether ELF should be taught in classrooms or replace Standard English as the default global language.

The Power of English as a Global Lingua Franca

The concept of a lingua franca, or a common language used to bridge communication gaps between individuals with different native tongues, is essential in today's globalized world. And in this role, English reigns supreme as the world's dominant lingua franca.

The reasons behind English's dominance are multifaceted. British colonialism and imperialism during the 16th to 20th centuries played a significant role in spreading the language across the world. America's political and economic dominance has also contributed to the widespread use of English. With technological advancements and the internet, English has become the primary language of communication in various online platforms. The growing trend of globalization has further cemented the use of English as the lingua franca for international business and communication.

Distinct Features of English as a Lingua Franca

As with any language, there are distinct features that set English as a lingua franca apart. Omitting articles, dropping the final 'S' in words, and the use of tag questions, such as 'isn't it?' and explicitness, are common features found in English used as a lingua franca.

While the dominance of English as a global lingua franca may seem like a natural progression, there are valid concerns about its impact on non-native speakers and cultural identity. However, an alternative perspective argues that ELF is merely a language in its own right, with its own dialects, slang, and lexicon. Studies have also shown that individuals who use English as a lingua franca take pride in their use of the language, using it as a means of self-expression and cultural identity.

The Relevance of English as a Lingua Franca

Despite ongoing debates and differing opinions on the use and significance of English as a lingua franca, it remains an essential aspect of global communication. It is crucial for language education to acknowledge and study English as a lingua franca to support effective international communication and understanding. Resources for further reading on this topic include B. Seidlhofer's "English as a Lingua Franca in the Expanding Circle: What it Isn't" (2006) and J. Jenkins' "The Phonology of English as an International Language" (2000).

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