English as lingua franca (ELF) is more prevalent than the language of native English speakers in that users of this language (non-native— non-native interactions) out-number native speakers four to one. ELF is utilized by individuals who do not share a common language. The norms of ELF are not defined by native speakers of English and is not considered a pidgin language in large part due to its lack of a restrictive code It is “a language that shows a full linguistic and functional range” (p. 557). House concludes that ELF is a functional language for communication— “useful instrument for making oneself understood in international encounters” (p. 560) and is distinguishable from languages for identification— “main determinants of identity” (p. 560). She explains that ELF is not connected to a singular culture, but instead a tool— a transactional language— that is utilized by an international group.
Within the European Union, House notes that arguments favouring a resistance to ELF are based on fears of imperialism.
The perception of ELF and English as an imperial language is unsupported, according to House in that it is chosen by users as an “auxiliary language” in contrast to the situation in Eastern Europe in which the Russian language was imposed upon the satellites of the former the Soviet Union. ELF is utilized functionally in inter-cultural communication, but does not replace the native and minority languages for intra-cultural communication.
The costs associated with a policy of multilingualism in the EU are becoming prohibitive and likely wasteful, in that the sheer number of current translations required for documents that are likely redundant in that the “working papers are quickly read in English; by the time the translations are ready, the new information is old information” (p. 562).
House outlines three empirical research projects from Hamburg University that supports the argument that ELF should be adopted as the vehicular language for the EU as a “true second language” (p. 562).
Examines the impact English is having on world languages by evaluating parallel pairs of English source texts and the German translations using House’s (1997) translation model and reconstructing and comparing “the types of motivated choices text producers made in order to create” the translated text and to “establish the extent to which ‘cultural filtering’ has taken place” (p.564). The extensive study confirmed that despite wide-spread borrowing of “lexical items and routines” of English by Germans, the German texts still favoured the “didactic manner of information presentation” and the “interpersonal orientation” of German communication. The German writer “elaborates the information content by pre-empting imaginary reader questions about specific circumstantial elements of extent, location in time and place, manner, etc.” (p. 565). “Local discourse norms” (p. 566) were represented in all of the observed translations, supporting the argument that the German language and cultural norms were unaffected by the original English text to any great extent.
Communicating in English as a Lingua Franca
House reports that in interactions using ELF as the language of communication between participants in a mixed group (all participants had a different first language: German, Korean, Chinese, and Indonesian) of non-native speakers relied on “foreign conventions…[in their] ELF discourse” (p. 567) however, each was able to make themselves understood to the others. Participants employed the use of represents— “echoing, mirroring, or shadowing devices— ” (p. 568) to create linkages in the discourse through redundancy as well as to reinforce the connection between the multilingual communicators while they used ELF.
Participants also demonstrated collaborative behaviour during the discourse thus creating a “solidarity of non-native ELF speakers” (p. 569) although this may have been an artifact introduced by the three Asians in the group. The German in the group expressed dissatisfaction with her counterpart’s passiveness during the interchange. This study concluded, non-native speakers of ELF bring their culture-conditioned interactions into the “medium of the English language” and even with demonstrably limited competence in English, each employed strategies to enable “meaningful negotiation” (p.569).
English as a Medium of Instruction in German Universities
House notes the upward trend of the use of ELF in European tertiary education. In Germany this is attributed, in large part, to attempts to attract international students. This study investigates the effects of studying in English and using German in everyday life on the international student’s motivations to study, use of both languages, and their perceptions of their experience in their academic program. The study participants articulate an appreciation for the gradual progression from English only instruction to predominantly German instruction in their program as it facilitates mastery of the language. None of the participants, teachers or students, thought English was “in competition to German,” but as a “supranational, auxiliary means of communication” (p. 571).
Relevance and Implications
House concludes that these three studies demonstrate that ELF is not a “serious encroachment…upon a native language” (p. 571).
House proposes research to examine and document how “psycholinguistic processes develop in the interaction of the individual with other speakers in different contexts” within the paradigm of social acquisition theory (p. 571).
A second study proposes that a model of a speech community of practice in contrast to— but based upon— the current models of speech communities that are tied to “stable and homogeneous” relationships of community members due to shared cultural norms. As ELF is a language of communication, rather than an language of being, understanding the means by which individuals demonstrate the following dimensions: “mutual engagement, a joint negotiated enterprise, and a shared repertoire of negotiable resources” will help differentiate this language outside of “fixed social categories and stable identities” (p. 573).
A third study calls for the development of a model that defines the linguistic norms of the hybrid language— ELF. House explains that defining these norms based on norms of the monolingual English speaker are counter to the primary goals of ELF, the communication of non-native speakers who prefer/expect to retain their own cultural identities.
House is very detailed in addressing and debunking the perceived risks of ELF to indigenous languages and their associated culture and the argument in favour of adopting ELF as the language of communication for the EU is very compelling. From the perspective of a linguist, this argument is logical and strong and is supported by expedience in that ELF has already been informally adopted in this environs. She seeks to extract the argument from the emotional discourse of “(neo)imperialism and (new)colonialism.
However, the psychological implications, which she wishes to dismiss are not so readily diminished. Language as identification is exactly that, self-identity. ELF is first cousin to a dominant language that is the language of identification for one of the member states in the EU and the language of the United States another dominant partner in global interactions. It is highly doubtful that the individuals representing the member states actually fear that ELF will diminish their language or culture, and studies such as those conducted, summarized and proposed by House support this conclusion.
These models of language use demonstrates the relative innocuousness of ELF in relation to existing languages and cultures, however, they do not address the emotional affect relating to the choice. A study that examines the psychological implications of selecting ELF over other lingua franca options should be conducted, within the appropriate academic sphere, in parallel to this study in order to understand, document, and overcome all potential obstacles in order to contribute to improved communications that are not burdened with ill-will due solely to the language in use.