Tag Archives: SELF project

Who’s in charge of English? Uses and descriptions of ELF

The late October view up Unioninkatu toward the Helsinki Cathedral

The late October view up Unioninkatu toward the Helsinki Cathedral

One of the recent topics here has been language regulation – what are the norms of English when it’s used as a lingua franca (ELF), when most of the parties in interaction aren’t native speakers of English? The only way to find out is to investigate the practices of ELF users in naturally occurring interaction, and also to inquire into their beliefs and expectations of what is good or acceptable English. Niina Hynninen researched these questions in her 2013 PhD thesis on language regulation in academic ELF, and this is the final post of a three-part review of her work.

I first outlined her data and methodology, which draws both interactive and interview data from the same participants in three university “study events”. These events – a lecture course and two groups of students doing out-of-class projects – were held over several weeks. Thus, interactive data was recorded from the same groups over multiple meetings, with interviews held with the same participants at the end of these periods. In the last post I discussed some of Niina’s findings about language regulation in the groups’ spoken interaction. Today I consider the interview data and how the ELF users’ beliefs about English connect to how they actually use ELF.

Student interviews: interpretations & expectations of ELF

In the analysis of her interviews with 13 students from the study events, Niina discusses three broad interpretive repertoires emerging from the interview data. They involve the students’ descriptions of their own and others’ use of ELF and how English ought to be used. These three interpretive repertoires are described as follows:

  • clarity & simplification – recurring themes across student interviews involved descriptions of “clear”, “simple” or “simplified” English. This came out in descriptions of “clear sentences” or avoiding “long sentences”, as well as adapting one’s speech for another speaker’s perceived proficiency. The two native speakers of English interviewed from the study events were also aware of these adaptive strategies and reported their own efforts to simplify and clarify their speech. Keep reading…
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Language regulation in academic ELF interaction

This is the first in a series of posts on the recently defended doctoral dissertation of Niina Hynninen. Click on the image for a link to the dissertation's full text.

This is the first in a series of posts on the recently defended doctoral dissertation of Niina Hynninen. Click on the image for a link to the dissertation’s full text.

When English is used as a lingua franca (ELF) between second-language speakers, there is still the question of what is normative – what is acceptable English in a lingua franca setting, and in a group of speakers with diverse backgrounds, which linguistic norms can be said to shape the interaction? These are questions that go beyond talk about “good English” or who can claim ownership of a language. This involves what ELF users themselves believe about acceptable English, and also what they actually do in interaction.

This construction of “living norms”, or norms that are co-constructed in interaction, was a topic of Niina Hynninen’s PhD dissertation, Language Regulation in English as a Lingua Franca: Exploring language-regulatory practices in academic spoken discourse. Language regulation is a broad concept covering the many ways we orient to what is appropriate language, from prescriptive grammatical rules to the ways we correct ourselves and others in interaction. If standardised rules are seen as “top-down” regulators of language, then Niina’s research focused on the “bottom-up” language regulation that is enacted by real people in authentic lingua franca interaction.

The construction of living norms in interaction might well incorporate these prescriptive norms, but not necessarily. Niina clarifies the distinction as follows:

Living, or non-codified, norms emerge as a result of acceptability negotiation in interaction, whereas prescriptive, or codified, norms arise as a consequence of linguistic description and codification. What is crucial, however, is that codified norms are not treated as relevant at the outset, but rather only to the extent that they are maintained and accepted in interaction.

(Hynninen 2013: 22)

In other words, prescriptive norms become living norms when they are realised in interaction. But this also highlights the gap between belief and behavior, which may not correspond in practice. What ELF users believe about acceptable English and how they actually negotiate acceptable ELF in interaction are two questions that must be studied separately. Niina also points out the need to distinguish between beliefs and normative expectations in specific contexts, including academic discourse. This is not so much a question of “correctness” as how to function appropriately or according to expectations within a community of practice.

Keep reading…

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