Category Archives: Anna Mauranen

On dialects, similects, and the -lishes

"Billard" by No-w-ay in collaboration with H. Caps - Own work. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons.

Billard” by No-w-ay in collaboration with H. Caps – Own work. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons.

One of the major lines of English as a lingua franca (ELF) research is how to describe the features of English in interaction between second-language users. With the multitude of accents and variable usage of English you find in the world today, the most obvious quality of ELF talk is its diversity (some say it’s even superdiversity, though I’m campaigning for the shamelessly hyperbolic ultra-mega-diversity-squared). At the same time, people notice that speakers of the same first language (or L1, such as Finnish) often share similar features when speaking English. Thus, you encounter folk linguistic descriptions of L1-specific -lishes – “Finglish”, “Swenglish”, “Spanglish”, etc.

I personally avoid these typically muddled labels, as the only thing that unifies them all is their negative overtone. The term “Finglish” is most likely trotted out when mocking a public figure’s “Bad English” when speaking in international media. But there’s still something to it. It’s a well-studied fact that a person’s first language will influence the learning and use of other languages. Some features of Finnish are commonly heard when Finns speak English; for example, words starting with p, t and k sounds aren’t aspirated in Finnish, and they’re likely not aspirated when Finns speak English. On the grammatical side, you might hear a Finn say “I’m waiting the bus” or “Let’s discuss about this”, which reflect the equivalent case endings in Finnish (Odotan bussia; Keskustellaan tästä).

This doesn’t mean all Finns will display these features, nor does it mean that speakers of English from other first-language backgrounds won’t use them as well (in the ELFA corpus, discuss about occurs 20 times, but only half of those come from speakers with Finnish L1). So how do we describe these -lishes? Some would see them as dialects of English, but there’s a crucial difference between the features of English dialects and the features of L1-influenced English. Keep reading…


WrELFA 2015: the written corpus of academic ELF


During the past two years that I’ve kept up this blog, I’ve been working on compilation of the first corpus of written ELF (English as a lingua franca) for Anna Mauranen’s ELFA project. I started loitering around her group shortly after the ELFA corpus of spoken academic ELF was completed, and a written corpus was already being discussed. A couple years later, with the proper mix of time, money, and research assistants, we launched the WrELFA corpus project – the Written Corpus of English as a Lingua Franca in Academic Settings. And now we can announce that the WrELFA corpus compilation is complete.

I’ve been blogging about this work-in-progress over the past couple years, so I don’t need to repeat it all here. There are three text types included in WrELFA, each of which invites its own investigation. These three components are:

  1. Academic research blogs – this subcorpus is drawn from 40 different blogs maintained by second-language users of English and totals 372,000 words (see this and this post).
  2. PhD examiner reports – 330 evaluations by senior academics with 33 different first languages (402,000 words). I’ve discussed this data in depth in this post.
  3. SciELF corpus – a collaborative, stand-alone corpus of 150 unedited research papers by academics from 10 first-language backgrounds. Partners from 12 universities contributed texts to the 759,000 total words (see this post).

Taken together, these three components total just over 1.5 million words of text with a rough binary division between the natural sciences (55% of words) and disciplines in social sciences and humanities (45% of words). For more detailed information on the make-up of the corpus, see the ELFA project homepage, where I’ve recently done a major update of the WrELFA corpus pages, with documentation of the corpus components, compilation principles, and authors’ L1 distributions. Keep reading…

Publishing in English as an academic lingua franca

Happy Summer from the ELFA project.© Nina Valtavirta

Happy Summer from the ELFA project.
© Nina Valtavirta

Few researchers would disagree that publishing in English is a necessity. The pressure to publish in high-ranking journals means publishing in English-language journals, and academics using English as a second or foreign language often find an uneven linguistic playing field. This has received a good deal of attention in the field of English for Academic Purposes (EAP), even branching out into a designated field of English for Research Publication Purposes, or ERPP. The importance of English can’t be ignored, but an English-centered approach can fail to take note of how English functions alongside other languages used by multilingual academics.

Questions surrounding English in multilingual research settings are explored in a special issue of the Journal of English for Academic Purposes (vol. 13) entitled “Writing for publication in multilingual contexts“. Edited by Maria Kuteeva of Stockholm University and Anna Mauranen of the University of Helsinki, the special issue features six articles investigating the multilingual practices of local communities of academics in locations such as Romania, Germany, Sweden, China and Canada. The studies are primarily qualitative, exploring the researchers’ attitudes toward and experiences with the use of English for disseminating research alongside their first and additional languages (click here to view the issue’s table of contents).

These studies dealing with attitudes and experiences give insights that supplement (and are supplemented by) descriptive linguistic research. While the researchers in the special issue study experiences of using the language, other work investigates the language itself in use. For this, databases of naturally occurring English are needed that represent the English produced by academics from a variety of first-language backgrounds. Here in Helsinki, Anna Mauranen’s group has made progress on compiling the WrELFA corpus of written academic ELF (English as a lingua franca), and a companion corpus of research articles by multilingual academics – SciELF – is also underway. As these resources are naturally of interest to researchers of English as an academic lingua franca, it’s no surprise that some contributors to the JEAP special issue are also contributors to the SciELF corpus. Keep reading…

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

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. Keep reading…

Research blogging as an academic genre

Mauranen, A. (2013) Hybridism, edutainment, and doubt: Science blogging finding its feet. Nordic Journal of English Studies, 12(1). Click abstract for full text.

Mauranen, A. (2013) Hybridism, edutainment, and doubt: Science blogging finding its feet. Nordic Journal of English Studies, 12(1). Click abstract for full text.

Research blogging has become an object of research in its own right, and one area of interest for linguists is research blogging as an academic genre and means for communicating scientific knowledge. ELFA project director Anna Mauranen recently published an article on this linguistic aspect of research blogging in the Nordic Journal of English Studies. As a pilot study for the WrELFA corpus (Written English as a Lingua Franca in Academic Settings), her research focused on two well-established blogs and especially their comment threads, where ongoing scientific controversies (the Higgs boson and arsenic-consuming bacteria) were being discussed.

As I described in an earlier post (Blogging about blogging about blogging), I’ve been collecting samples from research blogs for the WrELFA corpus. This has familiarised me with the blogging conventions of 35 researchers who use English as a second/foreign language. In the process of compiling over 250,000 words of research blogs and comments (so far), I’ve gotten a bird’s-eye view of blogging as a scientific genre. For this post, I hope to add a few thoughts to Anna’s more in-depth study on two blogs over a longer period of time.

Individuals & communities

In her review of earlier research on blogging, Anna cites the broad distinction between thematic and personal blogs, stating “Clearly, it is the ‘thematic’ – or non-personal – type that bears the most relevance to science blogging” (Mauranen 2013: 11). This raises an interesting question, though, about how much research blogging actually bridges these two broad blog types. In other words, where does the science end and the scientist begin?

Keep reading…

The Guardian: chat on English in higher education


What better way to start an ELF blog than with ELF in the news – our very own Anna Mauranen was a guest for today’s live chat on English in higher education, hosted by The Guardian. The two-hour chat, entitled “Is English still the dominant language of higher education?“, was sponsored by TOEFL, who is understandably concerned with the question of dominance. The six panel participants reflected the Anglo-American orientation generally, with Anna being the only expert from outside the US/UK.

In terms of “camps”, there were two British Council administrators, and opposing voices from Theresa Lillis and Mary Jane Curry, who are critics of the disadvantages faced by academics outside the US and UK. Ben Wildavsky, an American scholar from the prominent Brookings Institute think-tank, presented another US viewpoint. Anna was thus the only voice from outside these “Inner Circle” settings.

Keep reading…