The ELFA project

Description of the project "English as a Lingua Franca in Academic Settings"

The English language has established itself as a global lingua franca, a contact language spoken by people who do not share a native language. Most of its use today is by non-native speakers, who have far outnumbered its native speakers. English constitutes the main means of international communication in a variety of key domains in the world.

In view of this, there is surprisingly little empirical research into English as used internationally. The project "English as a Lingua Franca in Academic Settings" (ELFA) at the University of Helsinki offers a contribution towards an empirical basis for understanding this variety of English. The project falls into two main parts, the ELFA corpus project and the SELF project. The ELFA team has also compiled a database of written academic ELF (WrELFA).

Investigating English as lingua franca (ELF) serves three kinds of research interest; theoretical, descriptive, and applicational.

The theoretical interest arises from the nature of ELF as a contact language: the language contact situation is more complex with English than other languages, since virtually any other language in the world can be in contact with English. The theoretical interests around ELF centre on manifestations of features like simplification, evidence of universally unmarked features, hypothesised universals of communication, as well as evidence of self-regulative processes.

Descriptively, ELF research seeks to establish its characteristic features which deviate from Standard English, and look for possible 'core' features of ELF. The description helps understand the ways in which English is currently changing and how its variability takes shape. Moreover, it contributes to an understanding of what second language use is like in authentic contexts, as opposed to learner performance in educational settings.

The applications of this theoretical and descriptive work are of considerable practical significance in today's world. We need principled ways of focusing language teaching on aspects which are crucial for smooth communication in the real world, and we need research-based ways of assessing learner performance for international use.

In all, it is important to understand language change as it takes place in the communities of practice which have adopted English as their lingua franca. It is also important to capture the ongoing changes to see where English is going and, not least, to contribute to the practical challenges of coping with a global language along with local languages.

Project director:

Professor Anna Mauranen
University of Helsinki


  • For research blogging on ELF, see the ELFA project blog.
  • Anna Mauranen has published a chapter on academic ELF in New Frontiers in Teaching and Learning English, edited by Paola Vettorel (Cambridge Scholars).
  • An intensive course on ELF is offered by researchers from the ELFA project in the Helsinki Summer School, Aug. 4–20, 2015. For description of the course, see the ELFA blog.
  • Niina Hynninen has published an article in the Journal of English as a Lingua Franca 3(2) entitled "The Common European Framework of Reference from the perspective of English as a lingua franca: What we can learn from a focus on language regulation".
  • Svetlana Vetchinnikova has defended her PhD thesis, Second language lexis and the idiom principle. Read the abstract and download the full text from Helsinki's E-thesis service.
  • Maria Kuteeva & Anna Mauranen have edited a special issue of the Journal of English for Academic Purposes 13: Writing for publication in multilingual contexts. Find their introduction here.
  • Kaisa Pietikäinen has published an article entitled ELF couples and automatic code-switching in the Journal of English as a Lingua Franca 3(1).