English as a lingua franca

English as a lingua franca (ELF) is the use of the English language as "a common means of communication for speakers of different first languages".[1] ELF is also "defined functionally by its use in intercultural communication rather than formally by its reference to native-speaker norms"[2] whereas English as a second or foreign language aims at meeting native speaker norms and gives prominence to native speaker cultural aspects.[3] While lingua francas have been used for centuries, what makes ELF a novel phenomenon is the extent to which it is used – both functionally and geographically. A typical ELF conversation might involve Swedish and Japanese business persons chatting at a coffee break during an international conference held in Nairobi, or an Argentine tourist asking a local the way around Berlin.

Globalization and ELF

Extensive technological advances in the 21st century have enabled instant global communication, breaking the barriers of space and time, thereby changing the nature of globalization. With the world turned into an interconnected global system, there is a need for a mutual language. English has fulfilled this need by becoming the global lingua franca of the 21st century. Its presence in large parts of the world due to colonisation has led to it becoming the main language in which global trade, business, and cultural interactions take place. ELF is a unique lingua franca because of its global spread, its highly diverse nature, and its interactions which include native speakers.

Language and globalization affect each other. English has facilitated communication between Chinese people and the rest of the world and has proved to be important for international trade.[4] The reshaping of communities due to globalisation means considerable changes in the English language. As English encounters new communities and cultures, it is shaped and adapted by these encounters to be used by local communities for local and international communication. Consequently, hybrid forms develop in which new words are created, while simultaneously, existing words may be assigned new meanings. This leads to a constant process of linguistic change.

Because of the use of English as a lingua franca, native speakers are outnumbered by non-native speakers of English, which is a situation that is quite atypical for western European languages.[5] A consequence of this is a sense of ownership of the language by different communities, which is reflected in the way English has become ‘multiplex’.[6]