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


The ELFA team is a part of the Changing English (ChangE) consortium, funded by the Academy of Finland from 2014 to 2017. In collaboration with researchers from the Tampere University and the University of Eastern Finland, we share diverse research perspectives on English in the world today, incorporating World Englishes (WE), second-language acquisition (SLA), and ELF approaches.

Recommended citations

Please cite this website as http://www.helsinki.fi/elfa/. When citing the ELFA corpus as a primary source, 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/ (date of last access).