I was recently addressing some common folk linguistic myths about English, especially the English used as a lingua franca (ELF) between its non-native speakers. One of these myths concerns “color”, or more often than not, “colour”, since it seems the British “owners” of English are the ones most preoccupied with this trait. More specifically, you hear the charge of “colourless” English directed toward ELF speakers. You might come to think there was an expressionless room of Vulcans exchanging robotic strings of linguistic data. You can’t be human in a foreign language, can you?
Believe it or not, ELF users somehow manage to be fully human in English, even in academic settings. I’ve already blogged about the distribution of laughter in the ELFA corpus of spoken academic ELF, and there doesn’t seem to be a big difference in the frequency of laughter in equivalent native-speaker data (MICASE corpus) or between the ELF speakers from different first-language backgrounds. So you’ve got to conclude that there must be some “colour” in there somewhere.
Valeria Franceschi of the University of Verona was a visiting PhD student in Helsinki last year, and she investigated these questions in our academic ELF data. Her findings were just published in the Journal of English as a Lingua Franca, and they confirm what has already been known for some time in ELF research – when the sneering critics of “colourless” English are out of the room, ELF speakers don’t hesitate to use idiomatic and metaphoric language, borrow images from their own linguacultures, and create new metaphors on-line (see esp. the work of Marie-Luise Pitzl on metaphoric language in ELF).