A million words of English

A language that is spoken throughout the world cannot remain unchanged. But how exactly does language change?


The English Department of the University of Helsinki is the home of the world’s largest collection of material in English as a lingua franca: a corpus of one million words of recorded spoken academic English. The material in the corpus has been collected by Professor Anna Mauranen and her research team in genuine situations where English is spoken ─ seminars, classrooms and doctoral defences. The speakers' native languages range from Romanian to Swahili.

The vocabulary of academic English develops according to the needs of the various disciplines. Native speakers have less authority in this field than in other areas of spoken language.

“On the other hand, the language of science is regulated by scientific communities; you can’t use it just any which way,” Mauranen points out.

The next extensive corpus of global English is currently being collected in Vienna, Austria. Finland, Austria and the United Kingdom lead the way in this field, and researchers are collaborating closely.

The first international conference on English as a lingua franca was held at the University of Helsinki last year.

“When we applied for funding, we had no idea how large the conference audience would be. We were planning a workshop for 30 people.”

Registrations started to pour in, however. Although a total of 150 registrations were accepted, there was not enough room for all those interested so some had to be turned down.

In the midst of a changing language >>

Text: Kati Puhakka
Photo: Wilma Hurskainen

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