ELFA project

ELFA project 2013: the year in review


The public defense of Diane Pilkinton-Pihko, Dec. 13, 2013. From left to right: Prof. Sauli Takala, opponent; Prof. Anna Mauranen, kustos; and Diane Pilkinton-Pihko.
© Diane Pilkinton-Pihko

I started hanging around Prof. Anna Mauranen’s ELFA project in 2008, the year in which the ELFA corpus was completed and the first international ELF conference was held at the University of Helsinki. Since then, momentum in the project has only grown, and 2013 has been a turning point for project members individually and collectively. From the public release of the ELFA corpus to successfully defended PhDs to new funding and new corpus compilation, the ELFA project is stronger than ever.

ELFA doctors: the first generation

After Jaana Suviniitty became the first project member to defend her thesis in late 2012 (read the research blog on her thesis), three more first-generation ELFA doctorates were awarded in 2013. Two of the ELFA corpus compilers – Niina Hynninen and Elina Ranta – defended their theses, along with the just-defended thesis of Diane Pilkinton-Pihko. Niina’s thesis, Language Regulation in English as a Lingua Franca: Exploring language-regulatory practices in academic spoken discourse, has been discussed in depth on this blog. Elina’s and Diane’s work are fresh off the presses.

In Universals in a Universal Language? Exploring Verb-Syntactic Features in English as a Lingua Franca, Elina Ranta has produced the first PhD based on ELFA corpus data. It is freely available online, and I will be blogging on it here in coming months. Diane Pilkinton-Pihko just defended her thesis, English-medium instruction: Seeking assessment criteria for spoken professional English, earlier this month. Also available online, it draws on her work in the Aalto University Language Centre here in Helsinki.

And as PhDs get finished, new ones are getting started – Netta Hirvensalo was admitted this year as a new PhD student in the project. She has blogged on her now-official research plan, and you can read her posts on ELF and university language policy. More recently, two ELF-based MA theses were completed by ELFA seminar stalwarts Jani Ahtiainen and Hanna-Mari Pienimäki, who are certainly contending with the powerful allure of a prospective PhD of their own. 😉

Our fearless leader: the unstoppable Anna Mauranen

ELFA project director Prof. Anna Mauranen at the public defense of Diane Pilkinton-Pihko.
© Diane Pilkinton-Pihko

ELFA project director Anna Mauranen might be the hardest working person on earth. In 2013 she completed a four-year tenure as dean of the University of Helsinki’s Faculty of Arts. In addition to these demanding duties, she supervised multiple PhD students, gave invited talks around Europe and Asia, co-edited the Journal of English as Lingua Franca, worked on another book, and generated four publications. From time to time she slept. To top it all off, she was appointed as vice-rector of the University of Helsinki from 2014-2017, where she will oversee the university’s internationalisation efforts.

I blogged about Anna’s 2013 article in the Nordic Journal of English Studies entitled Hybridism, edutainment, and doubt: Science blogging finding its feet. A study that focused on research blogging as an emerging academic genre, it became the most-commented post on the ELFA blog. In addition to this article, she contributed three book chapters to edited volumes published in 2013:

Getting paid: funding spent & awarded

The Changing English consortium will host the ChangE 2015 conference. Click the image to jump to the conference website.

In recent years, the ELFA project has operated within a larger research collaboration, the GlobE (Global English) consortium. Combining researchers from the universities of Helsinki, Tampere, and Eastern Finland, the GlobE period of funding ended in 2013. It culminated in June with an international conference held in Helsinki, Changing English: Contacts & Variation (ChangE 2013). Scholars from diverse fields such as World Englishes, contact linguistics, second-language acquisition (SLA), and ELF, came together for three days of shared research perspectives.

During the ChangE 2013 conference, we learned that our consortium had been awarded four more years of funding from the Academy of Finland. This new consortium, Changing English (ChangE): users and learners worldwide, will build on our international research networks and host a follow-up conference to ChangE 2013 – ChangE 2015: Integrating Cognitive, Social & Typological Perspectives. Set for June 8-10, 2015, the call for papers is already underway.

But this was just part of our funding success. PhD student Kaisa Pietikäinen was awarded a funded position in the University of Helsinki’s doctoral school for her research on ELF couples. You can read about her work in this research blog. Finally, your faithful blogger Ray Carey received a three-year grant from the Finnish Cultural Foundation for his PhD research. You can find more info here about his work on Linear Unit Grammar.

The ELFA blog: from webpages to journal pages

I started the ELFA project blog in February, and this is the 33rd post on the site. During this time, the blog has generated over 6000 pageviews, with the most-viewed post being In defense of good data: the question of third-person singular –s. This post, which uses VOICE corpus data to challenge Martin Dewey’s claims about third-person singular zero becoming the “default option” in ELF, has been viewed over 500 times. In second place with 300 pageviews is the post on Kaisa Pietikäinen’s study of ELF couples.

For everyone who thinks that research blogging is a waste of time, one post has opened up an opportunity for journal publication. The post entitled Laughter in academic talk: Brits, Yanks & ELF compared reproduces and questions the findings of a published article by Hilary Nesi. When she declined to respond to my request for clarification, I contacted Paul Thompson, the co-editor of the Journal of English for Academic Purposes, the journal in which the article appeared. Based on the blog post, he invited me to submit a revised version of the post for a reader response in the journal. Nesi will also be asked to respond, and I’ll update the blog with developments. In the meantime, I’ve just posted an updated version of the blog post with improvements to the accuracy of my quantitative findings.

No rest for the weary: looking ahead to 2014

A major development in 2014 will be the near-completion of compiling the WrELFA corpus of written academic ELF. I earlier blogged on our progress at the half-million word mark, but we’re already closing in on 700,000 words and completion of another sub-corpus of preliminary examiners’ statements for PhD theses. Insofar as this seems to be an unexplored, high-stakes academic genre, we’ve expanded our collection to non-native and native English authors alike. This progress would not be possible without our outstanding student assistants – Jani Ahtiainen, who worked during the spring and summer of this year, and Ruut Kosonen, who is currently employed through May 2014. Many thanks for all your help!

We began freely distributing the ELFA corpus at the start of 2013, and next year will bring the first published papers from researchers outside our project. I know of two peer-reviewed papers based on ELFA data that will be published in early 2014, and I’ll do my best to blog about them here. This expansion of the project’s international networks is an exciting development. In addition, Prof. Mauranen has been gathering international partners for SciELF, a large companion corpus of pre-language-checked scientific articles by authors of several first-language backgrounds.

Happy New Year from the ELFA project!