The ELFA project

Studying in English as a Lingua Franca (SELF)

On this page you can find:

Description of the SELF project

English has become the global lingua franca of the academic world. English is the principal language of research publication, and the number of English-medium degree programmes has risen steeply. In these contexts, English is overwhelmingly used among non-native speakers. Its main role is a lingua franca, a contact language among speakers who do not share a mother tongue.

The accelerated mobility and global use of English expose the language to an unprecedented wealth of contacts with other languages and thereby potentially rapid change. To capture the changes in English as they are taking place and to understand the processes involved, we need to document uses of English as it undergoes these transformations.

Project SELF sets out to provide research-based evidence on present-day English as a lingua franca (ELF), with a focus on academic discourses in university settings. Academia has been one of the prime domains to adopt English as its lingua franca, and provides a fruitful context for exploring new developments in English: it is a demanding, verbally oriented and influential domain of language use.

SELF focuses on English-medium university studies, adopting a microanalytic, ethnographically influenced perspective on the social contexts of ELF, tapping the speakers' experience along with their language. As a large-scale sounding board for its linguistic analysis, the research utilises the one-million-word ELFA corpus. A combination of the corpus-based and the discourse analytic approaches seeks to achieve a well-rounded understanding of current ELF usage.

Findings from the SELF project serve theoretical and descriptive interests on issues of language change and new developments in English. In addition, they serve important applications, primarily in university contexts for the benefit of students and teachers in English-medium programmes. To this end, we co-operate with the Helsinki University Language Centre (click here to go to their project Language Support for English-Medium Master's Programmes). We also expect to contribute to wider applications to teaching, translation and interpretation.

The project was funded by the University of Helsinki Funds for three years (2008–2010).


Click below to download the SELF project poster. The poster was presented by Niina Hynninen at the Professionalising Multilingualism in Higher Education conference in Luxembourg, 4–6 Feb 2010.

Current research

For ongoing research in the areas covered by the SELF project, see the Latest research page. A complete list of publications related to the SELF project can be found under Publications.



  • 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).