(Source: the ELFA project home page, http://www.helsinki.fi/englanti/elfa/project.html)
The English language has established itself as the
global lingua franca, that is, a contact language spoken
by people who do not share a native language. This is an
unprecedented spread of one originally ethnic language,
but the origins have ceased to be the prime motivation
for the continued spread of the language. Most of its use today
is by non-native speakers, and people speaking it as a foreign
or second language have outnumbered its native speakers.
Today, English constitutes the main means of communication
in a variety of domains, including the fields of science and scholarship.
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 Universities of Tampere and Helsinki offers a contribution
towards an empirical basis for understanding this variety of English. 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 vehicular language. Like other contact languages,
it emerges in situations where interlocutors do not share
a first language, but it has certain special features.
Its speakers come from highly diverse linguistic backgrounds,
and consequently its features are not limited to the contact
between two languages, as usually is the case. Moreover,
its speakers have usually received formal instruction in English
- in the case of academic communication in particular.
It is also characteristic of ELF that it is used in mixed groups
of native and non-native speakers.
We can assume that similar tendencies are observable in ELF usage
as have been detected in language contact research, second language
acquisition research, and other studies involving more than one language,
such as translation and interpretation research. The theoretical interests
in ELF thus centre around manifestations of features like simplification,
evidence for universally unmarked features, and hypothesised universals
of communication, as well as evidence for self-regulative patterning.
The descriptive facet of ELF seeks to answer questions related to
that which constitutes the core of English in an ELF perspective.
The core elements of standard English, corpora i.e. that which is
typical, and shared by (native) speakers of English, have been claimed to
constitute the basis of standard reference works as well as reference.
It is reasonable to assume that the core emerging from its use as
lingua franca deviates from that of native speakers.
Finally, the applications of this theoretical and descriptive work
are of considerable practical significance in today's world.
The need for updated standards for international English is recognised
in applied linguistics: we need principled ways of assessing performance
for international use, and this requires large bodies of data.
Moreover, we need to supplement learner language studies with
second language user studies, where the speakers are not learners
but speak for their own purposes.
Changes in language are most readily discernible in spontaneous speech.
This is where emerging new uses and norms can be discerned, and large
databases provide the best way of observing repeated patterning as well as variation.
This research project is therefore compiling a corpus (the ELFA corpus)
of academic speaking as it occurs in international contexts of use.
Ongoing research covers both linguistic and pedagogical aspects of the field.