The ELFA project

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Description of the ELFA corpus project

The ELFA corpus was completed in 2008 and its development work is ongoing. Altogether, the corpus contains 1 million words of transcribed spoken academic ELF (approximately 131 hours of recorded speech). The data consists of both recordings and their transcripts, which are freely available to researchers. The recordings were made at the University of Tampere, the University of Helsinki, Tampere University of Technology, and Helsinki University of Technology.

The speech events in the corpus include both monologic events, such as lectures and presentations (33% of data), and dialogic/polylogic events, such as seminars, thesis defences, and conference discussions, which have been given an emphasis in the data (67%).

As for the disciplinary domains, the ELFA corpus is composed of social sciences (29% of the recorded data), technology (19%), humanities (17%), natural sciences (13%), medicine (10%), behavioural sciences (7%), and economics and administration (5%).

ELFA domains
Distribution of disciplinary domains in the ELFA corpus
Source: Elina Ranta; see also Mauranen, Hynninen & Ranta (2010) English as an academic lingua franca: The ELFA project. English for Specific Purposes, 29. 183-190.

Also the speakers in ELFA represent a wide range of first language backgrounds as the data comprises approximately 650 speakers with 51 different first languages from several continents (see the complete list here). The percentage of speech by native English speakers is 5%. Also, considering that the recordings were made in Finnish speaking universities, the percentage of speech by Finnish mother tongue speakers is relatively low at 28.5%.

As a general principle, all data in the corpus is authentic in the sense that it is not elicited for research purposes but occurs naturally. It consists of complete speech events, i.e. complete individual sessions. Long monologues (e.g. conference presentations or course lectures) by native speakers of English are not transcribed, but if English native speakers are present in groups, this is coded. Sessions with speakers who all share an L1 are not included, neither are English language courses.

Compilation criteria are external, that is, they are not determined on the basis of linguistic register features, but by socially-based definitions of the prominent genres of the discourse community. The basic unit of sampling is speech event type. This is a looser concept than genre, and therefore likely to be more appropriate, as the discourses represent a variety of events, some of which are much further established as genres (e.g. lectures) than others (e.g. workshops).

Two fundamental selection criteria are genre/event type and discipline, whose primary categorisation is made by the labels and descriptions given by the relevant discourse community (folk genres), for instance lecture in political history or seminar in economics. Other external criteria involve institutional hierarchies, which affect the speakers' interpersonal relations: peer sessions (student groups, conference presentations), vs. groups mixed with respect to academic status (lectures, seminars, other sessions with teacher + students) are included, with emphasis on the asymmetrical event types since they dominate the discourse community.

ELFA events
Distribution of event types in the ELFA corpus
Source: Elina Ranta; see also Mauranen, Hynninen & Ranta (2010).

Most recordings are single events, but some seek to observe the chain-like nature of academic courses, to track changes in group cohesion and familiarity effects; for instance, we can expect more initial facework in a new group than in seminar or lecture sessions from later stages when degrees of familiarity/formality have been negotiated.

The main selection criteria for event types are related to their perceived importance in one way or another:

  • prototypicality, or the extent to which genres are shared and named by most disciplines, for example lectures, seminars, thesis defences, conference presentations.
  • influence: genres that affect a large number of participants, for example introductory lecture courses, plenary lectures
  • prestige: genres with high status in the discourse community, for example guest lectures, plenary lectures at conferences.

The selection of disciplines has been limited in part by their availability in the universities concerned, and in part by practical considerations: a broad division based on disciplinary domain suits the size of the corpus as well as most research questions likely to arise at this stage.

The only language-internal classification applied has been the distinction between monologic and dialogic speech. Both types are included, with an emphasis on dialogic events.

Finally, more information about the speakers have also been included in file headers, such as age group, gender, nationality and mother tongue.

The ELFA corpus project was funded by the Academy of Finland from 2004–2007.


Recommended citation

When citing the ELFA corpus in publications, we recommend the following citation:

ELFA 2008. The Corpus of English as a Lingua Franca in Academic Settings. Director: Anna Mauranen. http://www.helsinki.fi/elfa/elfacorpus. (date of last access).


Compilers & assistants

Project leader: Anna Mauranen (University of Helsinki)

Team members / researchers: Elina Ranta (University of Tampere), Maria Metsä-Ketelä (University of Tampere)

Current assistants: Ray Carey (University of Helsinki)

Former assistants: Mari Sihvonen (University of Tampere), Pirjo Surakka-Cooper (University of Helsinki), Svetlana Vetchinnikova (University of Helsinki), along with a number of short-term student assistants


Current research

The project director, Anna Mauranen, has written extensively on the ELFA corpus. Her latest monograph, Exploring ELF: Academic English shaped by non-native speakers (CUP, 2012), is the first book-length study based on ELFA corpus findings. For ongoing research involving the ELFA corpus, see the Latest research page. A complete list of publications related to the ELFA corpus project can be found under Publications.


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