English as a lingua franca: A
threat to multilingualism?
Juliane House
1. Clarifying the term „English as a lingua
franca (ELF)
2. ELF as a threat to multilingualism or a
chance for global understanding from three
(1) socio-political
(2) linguistic
(3) psycholinguistic (linguistic relativity)
3. Conclusion
1. ‚English as lingua franca’ (ELF)
Functional flexibility, global spread over many
domains of language use, openness for
foreign forms (Firth 1996)
Decreasing influence of „inner circle“
(Kachru 1992) as a hegemonic variety
ELF is not a language for specific
purposes, a pidgin- or creole language,
„foreigner talk“ or learner language
The interlanguage paradigm is inadequate
The multilingual individual and its
„multicompetence“ as norm (Cook 1992)
Simultaneous activation of L1 und ELF
(Grosjean 2001)
ELF as „register“ (Widdowson 2003) and
as a language for communication (House
Crucial difference between a language for
communication and a language for
2. ELF viewed from three perspectives
(1) The socio-political perspective
Why English? Crystal‘s (1997) so-called
„triumphalism“. Former British empire, present
day US global power
Preference for a „simple language?“
ELF as Threat, Killer Language, Agent of
Linguistic Imperialism?
Voluntary use of ELF as language with wide
communicative range
Subjectively felt difference between languages
for communication and for identification
Artificial dichotomy through assumption of
monolingual individuals and societies
ELF as language for communication und L1(s)
as language(s) for identification are NOT in
competition, but supplement each other
“I really don’t mind speaking English at all,
I speak it fairly well – and I have to in this
multinational company. But German, my
mother tongue, is something completely
different. German will for me be linked for
ever with my childhood, my family, my
grandparents and my dreams”
(MCInt 13,3)
"As for English I do speak the language
but I don't think I'll ever talk it. English
flows from the mind to the tongue and then
to the pages of books... I only talk
Vietnamese. I talk it with all my senses.
Vietnamese does not stop on my tongue,
but flows with the warm, soothing lotus tea
down my throat like a river giving life to the
landscape in her path. It rises to my mind
along the vivid images of my
grandmother's house and my
grandmother...“ (Kramsch 2002: 98-99).
“Linguistic Human Rights” ?
ELF speakers often know what they’re doing
when they choose to use ELF
De Swaan: “Alas, what decides is not the
right of human beings to speak whatever
language they wish, but the freedom of
everybody else to ignore what they say in the
language of their choice.” (2001:52)
Double Bind Situation for ELF speakers
A Chinese colleague from Hongkong:
"I always feel that non-native speakers of English are
forever caught in a kind of double bind. Take for
example those of us who were brought up in Hong
Kong. I got criticized at school and at university if I
didn't speak English, but I also got criticized (mostly
by those who pretended to be politically correct) if I
spoke English. It was only in the last few years that I
stopped wishing I had two mouths. English, I believe,
can never replace our mother tongue, certainly not
where the emotional intensity of feelings is
Paradox: Use of ELF as language for
communication often provokes and strengthens use
of indigenous languages and dialects for
identification purposes and as a vehicle of protest
against ELF dominance
Strong counter-currents even in modern music
scene and INTERNET, classic „killers“ of other
languages: ELF and native varieties increasingly coexist or merge
- Expression of Chinese rhetorical traditions
in medium of English (Bloch 2004)
- New „mixed varieties“ of ELF and Chinese
used to demonstrate and expand their multilingual
competence (Lam 2004)
(2) The Linguistic Perspective
Main argument against ELF: Disadvantage of
non-native speakers („reduced personality“)
Results of empirical studies of ELF interactions
contradict this claim (Firth 1996; House 2002;
Lesznyák 2004)
No misunderstandings, no repairs (stark
contrast to native/non-native interactions)
Tolerant “Let-it-Pass“ behaviour,
„Robustness“ and „Normality“ of ELF talk
despite its „seemingly linguistically lawless
nature“ (Firth and Wagner, to appear)
The Hamburg ELF Project
Data Basis
1. Interactions in L1 English
2. Interactions between L1 English
speakers and ELF speakers
3. ELF interactions between speakers of
different L1s
4. Retrospective interviews re 3 for
collaborative interpretation
Confirmation of previous findings
Three further ELF characteristics.
1. Transfer of L1 Discourse Conventions
Example: Asian ELF speakers‘ tendency
towards cyclical topic management.
Result: Non-sequitur turns. This is
however consistently ignored by other
participants: Discourse remains totally
„normal“ and „ordinary“.
DATA Excerpt 1
Joy: Does maybe the nationalism erm in Quebec
Wei: For us we don't have problem I mean Asian people Chinese for example
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Brit: I've seen several movies in Japanese recently like Manga Comics are very popular
Wei: Since perhaps twenty years (2 sec) a lot of Chinese people began to learn a
second foreign language it’s..@
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Joy: When you speak English so you can @ translate in English or you can use the one
language and not three languages
Wei: You know the problem is Taiwan Hongkong and Mainland China and the different
and the difference (2 sec) how to say and the very different history this is the
problem @
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Brit: But people have an interest in keeping their languages (1 sec) like Wales or erm in
Ireland they try to revive the Gaelic Irish (2sec) I think it's got something to do
with identity
Wei: I think in South-East Asia perhaps the first foreign language be English and a
second foreign language perhaps Japanese or German (5sec) perhaps a Chinese
2. Frequency of Multi-functional Gambit
„Represent“ (Edmondson and House
(Parts of) previous speaker‘s moves are “represented“ - Why?
Supports working memory in comprehension
and production
Creates coherence (construction of lexicalparadigmatic clusters)
Signals receipt and confirms understanding
Functions as meta-communicative
procedure, thus strengthening awareness
Data Excerpt 2
Joy: And you mean that English (2sec) is
really getting important or taken for the
education because the grammar is
syntactic erm the grammar is very
Wei: is easy is very easy
Represents (also “echo-, “mirror- or
“shadow elements“ ) are typical of psychotherapeutic interviews, instructional- and
aircraft control discourse, where
information is deliberately restated to
create coherence
ELF speakers‘ imitation of this convention
is proof of their strategic competence!
3. Solidarity and consensus through co-conconstruction of utterances
Demonstration of consensus in the face of
cultural differences leads to a feeling of
community and group identity (Tajfel 1981)
ELF as egalitarian tool („We are all in the same
boat“). Speakers support each other, even pay
each other compliments („My English is I think
very bad“----“No no no it’s much better than
mine“, Firth und Wagner, to appear).
Data Excerpt 3
Joy: I recently read an article in a Korean
erm (2 sec) Moment (4 sec).
Brit: Newspaper, Internet?
Joy: Yes thank you @ erm the article is
about new foreign language
education in Japan
Data Excerpt 4
Mau: I think it begins erm of course with the
colonialism I think too because the
history of this development how the
language in the very early period erm
(3 sec)
Joy: Build up this basis
Mau: Yes
Joy: To be a world language
Mau: Yes
ELF users‘ strategic competence intact:
They are able to carry out meaningful,
normal discourse.
No reduced personality syndrom!
ELF as a useful tool for communication
and understanding whenever no other
common language available
Another argument against ELF: It
„contaminates“ other languages
This argument can be relativised on the
basis of the results of another empirical
research project.
The Project “Covert Translation“ in the
German Science Foundation‘s Research
Center on Multilingualism
Intitial Hypothesis:
Due to ELF‘s global status and massive
uni-directional translations from English, it
influences – over and above lexical
invasions – communicative norms in other
Communicative Norms
English – German
(House 1996)
Orientation towards
Verbal routines
German Imitation
Orientation towards
English-German originals and translations (French and Spanish
control texts)
Popular Science Texts
– Scientific American, New Scientist and their satellite journals
– Micro-diachronic: 1978-1982; 1999-2002
– 500 000 Words
Economic Texts
– Annual reports by internationally operating companies
Letters to shareholders, Missions, Visions, Corporate statements
– Reverse Translation Relation: German-English, French/SpanishEnglish
– 130 000 Words
Combination of qualitative and quantitative
Qualitative: House Translation Evaluation Model
Quantitative: Frequency Counts
Renewed qualitative analysis
Three Phases of Study
Phase 1: Qualitative Analyses
- Result: differences in subjectivity and addressee
orientation in originals and translations
Phase 2: Quantification
- Result: differences in frequency of linguistic means of expressing
subjectivity and addresssee orientation
Phase 3: Re-contextualising qualitative analyses: isolation of all
occurrences of vulnerable elements
- Manual annotation to locate co-occurences with e.g. tense, mood
- Do equivalent elements occur in same linguistic context?
- Are equivalent elements used for same communicative function?
- translation relation, genre-contrastive
Statistics: Multivariate analyses, complex co-occurrence patterns
Refined Hypothesis: Increased frequency of
certain means of realising subjectivity and
addressee orientation in German texts over
past 25 years imitating Anglophone
communicative norms. E.g.:
- Speaker-hearer deixis
- Modality
- Mental processes
Popular science articles
 Orientation towards persons
Genre-specific results
Preliminary Results
Changed use of certain forms expressing
subjectivity and addressee orientation
Only for German, not for French and
Spanish texts!
Did communicative norms change because of
direct contact with English in translation?
Mono-causal interpretation of results too easy.
Also: in some cases, originals change more
than translations! At least three explanations:
1. The Booh-Faktor: Translation as Mediator of
the English Take-over
Translation EFFECTS change!
2. The X-Faktor: Universal Impact of
Globalisation: Translation reflector of change, not
instigator thereof
Translation REFLECTS change!
3. The Green Factor: Translation as cultural
Translation RESISTS change!
(3) Psycholinguistic Perspective
(Linguistic Relativity)
Claims that masssive import of English
lexis influences thinking and concept
formation in L1 is compatible with strong
Humboldt-Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis
Accordingly, L1 speakers‘ thinking is
exposed to „acts of organized violence“
through ELF, which damages their L1mediated knowledge
This strong linguistic relativity hypothesis can be
refuted for at least three reasons:
1. The universal possibility of translation
(Jakobson 1966)
2. Languages in use are „anachronisms“: their
forms do not normally rise to our
consciousness (Ortega y Gasset 1960)
3. Converging evidence suggests that
multilinguals possess a „deep“ common
conceptual store to which „lower level“
language-specific systems are attached
(Grosjean 2001; Myers-Scotton 2006)
Neurolinguistic studies of translation (e.g. Altarriba
1992; Price et al 1999) show: multilinguals move
flexibly from L1 to L2, and L2-L1, the two systems
being distinct but permeable.
With experts, processing often „shallow“, i.e., no
semantic-conceptual processing at all (Sanford &
Graesser 2006).
No proof of a direct link of only one particular
language to thinking and conceptualizing.
Consequence: Increased use of ELF as language at
tertiary levels of education must not necessarily
inhibit knowledge in students‘ indigenous language.
3. Conclusion
ELF not necessarily a threat to multilingualism.
Useful tool for communication, additional language,
never a substitute for L1s.
Neurolinguistic studies of translation and codeswitching do not confirm that ELF inhibits or
damages conceptualization in L1
ELF is both a pheno- and a geno-typically hybrid
language: Transfer from L1 widespread. ELF users‘
L1s live on underneath the English surface!
Because of ELF speakers‘ inner dialogicity
evaluation norms should not be L1 English
speakers‘ competence, but multilingual ELF
Influence of ELF on German, but not French and
Spanish, communicative norms, confirmed for
specific linguistic forms, origin however unclear.
Association of ELF with global US
economic power. English language is but
an instrument.
Power via language may lead to
deplorable sameness, e.g. in service
encounters in global chains (Cameron
2000). But: Mounting resistance!
Challenge to the academy: instead of
blaming ELF from academic distance,
research that may help expose and
change real social and political injustice,
discrimination and oppression.
Thank you very much!

Englisch als globale lingua franca: Gefahr oder Chance?