International Journal of Applied Linguistics w Vol. 19 w No.

2 w 2009

Issues in researching English as a lingua franca: a conceptual enquiry1
Original Article XXX © The UK 1473-4192 0802-6106 English as International Journalof a lingua franca IJAL AuthorJournal LtdApplied LinguisticsBlackwell Publishing Ltd Gibson Researching Oxford, Ferguson Blackwell Publishing compilation © 2009

Gibson Ferguson University of Sheffield, UK

This paper discusses a number of as yet unresolved conceptual issues in researching English as a lingua franca (ELF). These include: (i) the status of ELF as a variety, or set of varieties; (ii) the status of ELF features as errors or as legitimate variants; (iii) the definition of the expert ELF user; and (iv) the desirability, and consequences, of any future codification of ELF norms. Argumentation leads to the conclusions that codification may not ultimately be as advantageous as sometimes supposed, that work remains to be done in defining the expert ELF user, that EFL features cannot usefully be regarded as errors, and that if ELF cannot yet be considered a delimited variety, this may not be of such import as some believe. Keywords: English, lingua franca, variation, standard, codification En este artículo se analizan una serie de cuestiones conceptuales todavía pendientes en la investigación del inglés como lengua franca (ELF). Estas abarcan: (i) la situación de ELF como variedad o conjunto de variedades lingüísticas, (ii) la situación de las características distintivas de ELF entendidas como errores o como variantes legítimas, (iii) la definición del usuario experto en ELF, y (iv) la conveniencia, y las consecuencias, de cualquier futura codificación de las normas del ELF. La exposición de estas cuestiones nos conduce a varias conclusiones fundamentadas en que la codificación en última instancia podría no ser tan ventajosa como a veces se presupone, en que todavía queda trabajo por hacer en cuanto a la definición del usuario experto en ELF, en que las características del EFL no deben considerarse errores, y en que si el ELF aún no se considera una variedad delimitada, quizá su importancia no sea tal. Palabras clave: Inglés, lengua franca, variación, estándar, codificación

The debate over the model of English most appropriate for teaching in Kachru’s (1985: 12) Outer Circle countries is a longstanding one whose details hardly need to be rehearsed here because they are well known from the writings of the principal protagonists (Halliday, Macintosh, and Strevens 1964; Prator 1968; Quirk 1985; 1988; 1990; Kachru 1985; 1988; 1991; 1992) and because the
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Kachruvian perspective, favouring the recognition of endonormative New English norms in Outer Circle contexts, appears to be in the ascendant over the more conservative stance of Quirk’s camp – at least in academic circles. The terrain most strongly contested is thus no longer the legitimacy of Outer Circle indigenised varieties but that of English as a lingua franca (ELF), used predominantly, though not at all exclusively, across Kachru’s Expanding Circle societies (e.g. Japan, Greece, Germany,). Just as tolerance has been extended to the new Englishes of the Outer Circle, so, argue Seidlhofer and Jenkins (2003), should a greater degree of independence be accorded to users of ELF. Refined in a series of publications over the last ten years (e.g. Jenkins 2000; 2002; 2004; 2006a, b; Seidlhofer 2001; 2002a, b; 2004; 2006),2 their argument, in essence, is not just for a programme of empirical research but for a set of new norms, lingua franca (ELF) norms. And the reasons are not dissimilar to those advanced in support of the new Englishes: English cannot truly qualify as an international language if native speaker varieties remain the exclusive source of authoritative norms of usage; many learn English not to interact with native speakers but with other lingua franca users; the importance of English in their lives is such that it constitutes an element in their personal identities; and finally, these bilingual users deserve to be identified not as deficient users of a British/American standard English but as competent, authoritative users of their own self-sufficient variety. However, as Seidlhofer (2001) has pointed out, there is at present no authoritative description of how English is used as a lingua franca and no basis therefore for promulgating an alternative teaching model, never mind an ELF curriculum; it is for this reason, to fill what she calls a ‘conceptual gap’ that she (2001: 146) has initiated the compilation of the VOICE ELF corpus (the Vienna–Oxford International Corpus of English). Complementing previous research by Jenkins (2000) on the phonology of English as an international language, and work on the pragmatics of ELF use by House (1999) and others, this is intended to extend knowledge of the lexicogrammatical aspects of ELF spoken interaction. The immediate research objective, according to Seidlhofer (2001: 147; 2004: 219), is to identify ‘salient, common features of ELF use’. The long-term goal, though, is the codification of an alternative ELF norm, or so it appears.3 As one would expect, however, given the scale of this research enterprise, there are a number of as yet unresolved issues that deserve attention and that this paper focuses on. These include: (i) The status of ELF as a variety of English, or set of varieties of English. The question here is the extent to which there is at present a readily identifiable ELF variety, or varieties; and, if not, whether such varieties are emergent. (ii) The extent to which a conventional SLA framework is or is not applicable to ELF usage. This is of obvious pedagogic, if not communicative, significance because it is influential in determining whether features of
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ELF usage are to be regarded as errors or as unexceptional, legitimate instances of variation from standard L1 Englishes. (iii) The extent to which it is possible to delineate an independent ELF cline of proficiency without implicit recourse to some native or native-like benchmark – a move that might undermine the aspiration that ELF should be independent of, and non-parasitic on, native L1 benchmarks in both teaching and testing. (iv) The advisability of codifying, i.e. ‘fixing’ and stabilising, a set of ELF norms. From an ELF perspective there are, as Seidlhofer (2001: 150) – echoing Bamgbo3e (1998) – suggests, advantages to codifying a ELF norm. But there are also, as we shall argue, less widely adumbrated drawbacks. In short, though endorsed by Ammon (2000; 2006) and others on the grounds of greater equity, codification may also have undesirable side effects, especially if implemented prematurely (see Dewey 2007). Before engaging with these interrelated issues, however, it seems useful to recall some of the strengths of ELF research as a descriptive and as an ideological endeavour.

ELF and the ‘politics of recognition’
The spread of English in the 20th century has been linked with the exacerbation of two main kinds of inequality (Ferguson 2006): (i) socioeconomic inequality within societies and (ii) inequalities of communication in English between native speakers and second language users, who incur the considerable costs of formal study. The first kind of inequality lies beyond the scope of this paper. The second, however, is central to ELF research insofar as this seeks to reposition ELF speakers as competent speakers of their own variety as opposed to imperfect users of a British/American standard English.4 And an ELF norm, if implemented, might hasten the de-anglicisation of English, a process Ammon (2000; 2006) and de Swaan (2001) believe is necessary if ‘non-native’ academics are to communicate on more equal terms with their native counterparts. It is not difficult, then, to see ELF as fundamentally animated by a ‘politics of recognition’ (Taylor 1994), a struggle for the recognition of the autonomous identities of bilingual ELF users. Thus, on the ideological plane – as an endeavour of appropriation, of normative liberalisation – ELF has much to commend it.

ELF research as a descriptive enterprise
Over the past decade, descriptive work on English as a lingua franca has made progress, with perhaps the most significant advances coming in
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phonology, where Jenkins (2000; 2002) has identified a set of phonological features, a so-called lingua franca core (LFC), that is essential for international intelligibility but not identical with any one L1 or L2.5 There may be problematic issues in the specification of the core (see Dauer 2005; Field 2005 for details), but nonetheless the LFC can be seen as a significant contribution, not least because it moves innovation in pronunciation teaching from the realm of the desirable to the feasible. In lexico-grammar, meanwhile, research based on the VOICE corpus (Seidlhofer 2004) has called attention to frequently occurring features of ELF interaction that pose few or no difficulties for communication even while ungrammatical in L1 standard English (see e.g. Seidlhofer 2004; Seidlhofer, Breiteneder, and Pitzl 2006; Breiteneder 2005). Our purpose here, however, is not to review this body of descriptive research but to make a straightforward point, which is that there can be no objection to the ELF descriptive enterprise. It is clearly useful to have empirical descriptions of how English is used in lingua franca communication, of what causes misunderstanding and what is redundant to effective communication, since, among other things, this can inform the reassessment of pedagogic priorities and allow more sensible, realistic priorities to be set. More contentious, however, is how this research should be exploited, and whether the norms of an ELF variety (or varieties) should be codified with the resulting variety offered as a normative model for teaching. It is these issues we now consider, turning first to the question of whether there is in fact a distinctive ELF variety or set of varieties.

The status of ELF as a variety (or varieties) of English
Surprisingly, perhaps, given the aspiration toward eventual codification, there is some ambivalence among ELF researchers on this very issue. Seidlhofer (2006: 46), for example, observes: Whether ELF should be called a variety of English at all is an open question, and one which cannot be answered as long as we do not have any good descriptions of it.6 It is well known that divisions between languages are arbitrary, and therefore those between varieties have to be as well . . . It does not make much sense, therefore, to talk about a monolithic variety as such: a variety can be treated as if it were a monolith, but this is a convenient fiction, for the process of variation itself never stops. Kirkpatrick (2007: 156), meanwhile, refers to ASEAN ELF7 but reserves judgement as to whether this can be considered a systematic and distinct variety:
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it would be impossible to describe ASEAN lingua franca English as a single systematic system that could be codified and then used as a model for the ASEAN English language classroom. Rather than being a systematic code, ASEAN lingua franca English comprises a number of separate systems This ambivalence reflects, perhaps, an awareness of the differences between ELF and the post-colonial new Englishes, which can be summarised as follows. First, on the sociohistorical plane, ELF is a comparatively recent formation of globalisation rather than of colonialism/postcolonialism, and whereas several of the Outer Circle Englishes have progressed to phases 3 (nativisation) or even 4 (endormative stabilisation) of Schneider’s (2003; 2007) dynamic model for the evolution of postcolonial Englishes, it is not clear whether the same cannot be said of the most commonly studied European ELF variety with its very different, non-colonial origins. On the sociolinguistic plane, meanwhile, ELF appears, in Europe at least, to operate over a relatively constrained range of domains8 – primarily, though not exclusively, professional, academic, business, and inter-governmental – and thus one might argue that ELF tends to be the domain of the bettereducated, upper strata of European society. In the postcolonial Outer Circle, on the other hand, English typically has a wide range of intranational functions, and is widely employed by speakers from various social strata, one consequence of which has been the differentiation of the local variety (e.g. Singapore English, Nigerian English) into acrolectal, mesolectal, and basilectal sub-varieties that command the loyalties of local populations for whom they function as identity markers. The same cannot be said of ELF, however, for, as several commentators, including Jenkins (2007), have noted, ELF does not appear to elicit any strong emotional attachments: it appears, in Meierkord (2002) and House’s (2006: 90) view, to be more ‘a language for communication’ than one for ‘identification’. One reason for this is that there does not appear, as yet, to be a stable, settled community of ELF users to whom such traditional sociolinguistic concepts as speech or language community can readily be applied. Rather, a central motif of ELF is heterogeneity: users move in and out of ELF, constituting themselves as transient ‘communities of communication’ that continually dissolve and re-form. Thus there is, as yet, no identity-driven process of ‘nativization’ or ‘endonormative stabilization’ (Schneider 2003: 250) comparable to that found in some Outer Circle local varieties. Turning to the structural plane, it is not clear either that ELF has, as yet, the stability, regularity, or systematicity that one finds in Outer Circle Englishes. Militating against stabilisation is the aforementioned heterogeneity of ELF interactions (even within Europe); interactions that bring together speakers of many different L1s, whose version of English is marked by the substrate influence of their home languages, and speakers of differing levels of proficiency ranging from expert users to others who are still learning the
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code. The outcome is a high level of variability. Certainly, this is the opinion of commentators who might otherwise be regarded as favourable to the ELF project, such as Meierkord (2004: 128–9), who observes that ELF is a ‘syntactically heterogeneous form of English’, and that ‘it may well be that ELF never achieves a stable or even standardised form’, or House (2006: 88), who remarks: ‘In ELF there is no consistency of form that goes beyond participant level.’ Corpus-based research on the lexico-grammar of ELF spoken interaction has identified a certain number of regularly occurring features, but again it is unclear whether the evidence base is as yet sufficient to justify assertions that ELF is a distinctive, linguistically delimited variety.9 Counting against would be evidence from empirical studies reporting considerable variability and idiosyncrasy, even in prototypical ELF features such as deletion of 3rd person singular present tense -s morpheme (3sgØ) or levelling of the L1 standard distinction between countable and uncountable nouns. Breiteneder (2005), for example, drawing on a small corpus of spoken ELF interaction, found that 14 different speakers (out of a sample of 21) delete the communicatively redundant 3rd person singular -s morpheme (3sgØ) in contexts where British standard English would require it, but, crucially, they do not do so invariably. Indeed, she finds that in no less than 80% of instances the -s morpheme is supplied in conformity with L1 standard English, and that there are also 15 instances, spread over 10 speakers, where an -s morpheme is inserted superfluously.10 Mollin (2007), meanwhile, drawing on a corpus of spoken and written ‘Euro-English’, finds only 30 instances (2.5% of the 1,180 instances in the corpus) where a British English non-count noun (e.g. advice) is used as if countable (e.g. advices), with 8 of these instances deriving from a single speaker.11 Also of interest in these studies, and indeed in Meierkord (2004), is the relatively high frequency of occurrences that conform with L1 standard English usage. For example, only 20.5% of 141 instances of potential 3rd person present tense -s morpheme use in Breiteneder’s data diverge from L1 standard English, leading her to remark that ‘ELF usage in fact very largely corresponds to standard English norms’ (Breiteneder 2005: 10). Meierkord (2004: 118), finally, reports that 88% of turns in her data base of spoken ELF interaction comply with ‘the grammatical rules of L1 varieties of English’. What this suggests is that there appears, thus far, to be relatively little identification with, or attraction toward, any ELF-indigenous set of forms, and that Schneider’s (2003: 249) phases of ‘nativisation’ or ‘endormative stabilisation’ have yet to occur. The implication is that it would be premature at this stage to assert the existence of a systematic ELF variety with a linguistic identity of its own. Because there is a label ‘ELF’, referring to an important use of English, we do not necessarily have to suppose there is as yet a corresponding delimited linguistic variety. Qualifications are needed here on several fronts, however. To say that there is at present no readily identifiable, delimited ELF variety, or varieties
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of English, does not preclude the possible emergence of varieties of ELF in the future. Indeed, it may be that we are already in the initial stages of new dialect formation, a phase marked, as Trudgill (1986: 98) points out, by substantial variability before processes of levelling, simplification, and regularisation have fully played out. All varieties start out from some point of variation, however small initially.12 And the fact that there seems to be little identification with, or subjective orientation toward, features documented as occurring frequently in ELF interaction may be attributed to the relative novelty of the notion of ELF norms for the majority of L2 users of English. Another future possibility is the construction of a European ELF variety through language planning intervention, perhaps arriving at a point where a composite ELF variety based on corpus research would serve as a new standardised norm. There are L1 precedents.13 An example would be Ivar Aasen’s 19th-century construction of Landsmål, later named Nynorsk – one of two Norwegian standard languages – out of a composite of several rural Norwegian dialects.14 There are advantages to such procedures, but (as we shall see later) intervening to standardise and codify an ELF variety might also have some potentially undesirable side effects. Having discussed the status of a putative ELF variety, we move on to the second of our concerns: whether features reported as common in spoken ELF should be regarded as errors or, alternatively, as mere deviations from L1 standard English.

Features of ELF usage: errors or variation?
Various objections have rightly been raised against treating innovative features of postcolonial New Englishes as errors within a conventional SLA conceptual framework (see Brutt-Griffler 2002; Ferguson 2006; Jenkins 2006a). The relevant points here are: (i) that in Outer Circle contexts it is highly problematic to assume that the target of second language acquisition is a standard metropolitan variety, first of all because there is little or no input available from metropolitan native speakers; second because local varieties index valued identities; and third because nativised local varieties are, in any case, moving toward a stage of ‘endonormative stabilisation’ (Schneider 2007), and (ii) that conventional SLA concepts such as error and fossilization may be appropriate when applied to individuals acquiring a second language whose speech is punctuated by individual idiosyncrasies, but are highly problematic applied to features that are widely distributed and accepted in the local speech community. In this case it is more convincing to speak not of individual SLA but of what Brutt-Griffler (2002: 135) refers to as ‘macro-acquisition’ – the acquisition by a community of a new variety that does not antedate but is forged in the very process of macro-acquisition itself.
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However, as we have seen, the sociolinguistic and sociohistorical circumstances of the postcolonial new Englishes are rather different from those of ELF, and it may be the case, therefore, that the arguments deployed on behalf of the former will not apply to the latter. Indeed, evidence from the studies cited above (e.g. Breiteneder 2005) that there is considerable intra- as well inter-speaker variability in ELF leads some commentators (e.g. Mollin 2007: 183) to suggest that what we are dealing with when looking at ELF usages is a form of learner English. There are grounds, however, for believing the normative situation to be more complex than this view allows, and for refraining from classifying as erroneous all attested ELF deviations from L1 standard English. First, it cannot be taken for granted that in ELF interactions from which native speakers are absent, there is, or should be, a speaker orientation to the norms of British or American standard English (Jenkins 2006b: 139). Second, as Jenkins (2006a, b) and others have pointed out many times, ELF is a sociolinguistic domain of use where speakers are beginning to remake English on their own terms, according to their own needs, audiences, and knowledge of other languages. It is not obvious, therefore, that a SLA conceptual framework, primarily psychological in orientation, focusing on the process of individual acquisition of a language assumed to be a L1 standard language, is appropriate, or to be preferred to a more socially oriented variationist approach. Here, rejecting the centrality of the native speaker, two strands of argument converge, but by rather different routes. The first strand, principally associated with Cook (1999), argues that bilingual L2 users are almost invariably different from monolingual native speakers in their knowledge of the target language. It makes sense, therefore, to treat them as persons in their own right, as bilingual users, not as aspiring native speakers, and to adopt a bilingual as opposed to a monolingual norm in English language teaching. The argument is persuasive up to a point, but there remain at least two areas of contention, one of which is that this approach – disappointingly from an ELF perspective – does not propose an alternative ELF variety, independent of native speaker norms, as a possible or appropriate target. Rather, it regards native-like monolingual competence as an unnecessary, ultimately irrelevant goal. The second related issue is that, having dispensed with native-like competence as a goal and settled on the successful L2 user as a yardstick, it provides little detail on just what constitutes such a successful user (a point we shall return to later). Meanwhile, the second strand of argument, associated principally with Jenkins (2006b), diagnoses SLA’s difficulties as stemming from a failure to distinguish between EFL (English as a foreign language) contexts, where near-native competence in a L1 standard English may be an appropriate goal, and ELF (English as a lingua franca) contexts, where native speakers are not the target interlocutors and where consequently their norms are not ‘the reference point against which correctness is judged’ (Jenkins 2006b: 139).
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Thus, argues Jenkins, the same linguistic feature (e.g. absence of 3rd person singular present -s) might well be treated as an error in an EFL context but as a legitimate variant in an ELF context. There are, however, two difficulties with Jenkins’s (2006b) argument worth briefly commenting on. The first is that, while Jenkins’s distinction is cogently argued, it may also, from the perspective of a learner (and possibly of a teacher also), seem highly idealised, in that the two (EFL and ELF) may not be perceived as mutually exclusive. Indeed, a learner (perhaps most learners) may wish – at one and the same time – to learn EFL for communication with native speakers and ELF for communication with other bilingual users – in which case the teacher has the complex but not impossible task of communicating to learners that different norms apply in different contexts depending on the interlocutor. The second difficulty – temporary perhaps but potentially graver also – is that if native speakers and L1 standard English cease to be the reference point ‘against which correctness is judged’ (and I for one have no objection to this in principle), there is a pedagogical need for some alternative reference point. But at present, as we have seen, there is no such empirically validated yardstick for correctness. True, research (e.g. the VOICE corpus) is beginning to identify commonly occurring lexico-grammatical features of ELF that deviate from L1 standard English yet pose no difficulties for communication. But these findings are preliminary, and new norms have yet to gain widespread acceptance in what is still a very heterogeneous and inchoate ELF ‘speech community’. Again, one can assume the existence of expert ELF speakers, but precise definition of these individuals remains elusive, as we shall see presently. The normative situation would thus seem to be ambiguous: on the one hand, the norms of a native standard English do not seem especially relevant or applicable, on the other, alternative ELF norms have yet to emerge, never mind be codified. Relevant here also is the problematic character of the ideologically charged notion of linguistic correctness, and, thence, the inadvisability of rushing to label as erroneous perfectly intelligible ELF spoken forms. The first point one might make is that linguistic (in)correctness in the case of L1 users, and error in the case of L2 learners, is usually determined by reference to the standard language. But the standard language, usually a prestige variety held up for the less educated to emulate, is itself in part an ideological construction. Indeed, the very notion of correctness, the idea that there is only one correct form of the spoken language, is one element in what Milroy and Milroy (1998) and Milroy (2001) refer to as a ‘standard language ideology’.15 A further complication with the standard language as yardstick of correctness is that it remains unclear just what the standard encompasses. Most commentators would accept the notion of a written standard, with standard forms of spelling and written morphosyntax, and would also accept
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that there is no standard pronunciation, only more or less prestigious accents. But there is far less consensus regarding the existence of a standard spoken English (see Crowley 2003: 259), from which it follows that, whereas it is relatively easy to discern what is non-standard in writing, this is a more fraught process with speech, especially as significant differences have been reported (see e.g. Carter and McCarthy 1995) between the grammar of speech and writing. And by contrast with writing, there are, as McCarthy and Carter (2002: 70) point out, no ‘obvious authorities’ for the grammar of conversation. The implications stretch beyond native L1 language use to the treatment of error in L2 language learning, in that, even with a L1 standard English as target, it becomes more difficult in the case of informal speech to identify particular features or constructions as unambiguously erroneous. It is not obvious either why one would wish to embark on such an exercise, for the question whether a particular features is erroneous only arises in rather specific situations of language use – for example, in L2 classroom contexts, in assessments focusing on accuracy, and in writing for formal, public purposes. In informal speech, on the other hand, and indeed in many other communicative situations, the issue of error is far less salient: what matters more is whether what is said is clear and intelligible to the relevant interlocutors. Cumulatively, these various arguments point to the conclusion that it is difficult to justify treating attested ELF features (e.g. variable or non-use of 3rd singular person -s, variation in prepositional usage, invariant all-purpose question tags), as they occur in informal spoken discourse, as errors. More appropriate would be to regard them as non-standard variants, relative to L1 standard English, that have the potential to stabilise as regular features of a new variety of spoken English. With writing, on the other hand, the situation is less clear (research into ELF writing is at a far less advanced stage), and consequently the teacher might be best advised, for the time being, to caution against the use of such variants in formal written genres.

Defining the expert ELF user
As we have seen, both ELF researchers and scholars such as Cook (1999) argue that the successful bilingual L2 user should replace native-like proficiency in a L1 standard English as the yardstick, or target, of successful L2 acquisition. Jenkins (2006b: 141) adds that ELF has its own sui generis proficiency cline, a cline independent of the trajectory followed in EFL learning. ELF speakers just like EFL speakers (and for that matter, native English) speakers come in a range of proficiency levels. Some are expert users . . . Others are still learners, and yet others have ceased learning some way short of expert (ELF) level.
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However, little detail is provided to delineate this alternative proficiency cline, to define more precisely the language of the expert ELF user, or, indeed, to provide a means of distinguishing between ELF acceptable features and others not so acceptable. Thus, we remain uncertain whether or not such an intelligible and attested expression as they didn’t interest in my work is acceptable in ELF terms. Both Jenkins (2006b) and Cook (1999) prefer to defer consideration of these matters, arguing that progress along ELF clines is still ‘largely an empirical matter’ (Jenkins 2006b: 141); and, to be fair, this is probably the case. Corpus research, combined with appropriate sociolinguistic investigation and proficiency testing, is likely to produce relevant information. But, as Jenkins (2006b) herself hints in her use of the word ‘largely’, not all questions are entirely empirical. The definition of the ‘ELF end-point’, for example, cannot be straightforwardly ‘read off’ from corpus data, as ultimately some evaluative, even ideological, judgement as to what the ELF community would deem definitive of an expert speaker is required. The main problem, however, with waiting for empirical evidence to establish an ELF proficiency cline is that it becomes well-nigh impossible for the duration of the wait to construct an ELF test of English, as Jenkins herself implicitly acknowledges (2006c: 49): ‘it is too early to suggest that the examination boards should be establishing EIL criteria.’ The technical reason is that test construction requires some clear definition of the end-point of ELF acquisition and of the proficiency cline up to that point; the descriptive reason is that we still lack a settled account of what linguistic features ELF varieties actually encompass. For the time being, then, the best that can be done in testing terms is to refrain from penalising those non-standard features that are characteristic of ELF discourse. Here Jenkins (2006c: 49) and Elder and Davies (2006: 289) find themselves, perhaps unexpectedly, in accord: Presumably non-standard and discoursal features characteristic of ELF would be overlooked if the overall message was clear. (Elder and Davies 2006: 289) . . . examination boards . . . could at least move to a position where they refrain from penalizing the use of those NNS variants which are emerging as potential forms of future EIL varieties. (Jenkins 2006c: 49) Also relevant in this context, because it may assuage some of Jenkins’s (2006c) concerns about the conservatism of examination boards, is the point made by both Taylor (2006: 52) and Elder and Davies (2006: 295) that accuracy of linguistic form now assumes less importance than it once did, with criteria such as task fulfilment, effective communication, and responsiveness to interlocutors coming more to the fore.
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Problems of codification
For some time ELF researchers have looked to an eventual codification of an ELF variety; some enthusiastically (e.g. Kirkpatrick 2006: 79), others, like Seidlhofer (2001: 150), more cautiously and circumspectly: The importance of codification is too obvious to be belaboured . . . one of the major factors militating against the emergence of endonormative standards in non-native Englishes precisely the dearth of codification . . . What I propose, then, is to . . . explore the possibility of a codification of ELF with a conceivable ultimate objective of making it a feasible, acceptable and respected alternative to ENL in appropriate contexts of use. This is, of course, a long term project and a huge and laborious task – an undertaking which must be carried out with extreme care, and which should not give rise to exaggerated expectations. Following Bamgbo3e (1998), they see codification as one means of conferring legitimacy on ELF variants and of enhancing the feasibility of teaching an alternative form of English, a variety different from the hitherto hegemonic L1 standard English. Ammon (2006: 25) suggests another reason for codifying an international lingua franca variety with norms ‘close to but systematically different from native-speaker English’, which would be to redress the unmerited advantage Anglophone scientists enjoy over their non-Anglophone peers in international scientific communication. This unfairness stems, Ammon (2000; 2006) believes, from an unnecessary insistence on native-like L1 standard norms in scientific texts. For Ammon (2006: 25), the proposed new codified variety would most appropriately be referred to not as ELF but as ‘Globalish’, the name reflecting a variety no longer under the normative control of native speakers of English. The motives for codification are, then, straightforward and impeccable: to make feasible the teaching of a alternative variety distinct from the L1 standard form of the language, and to afford non-Anglophone scientists the opportunity to participate in international scientific communication on more equal terms. There is little doubt, too, that progress in describing ELF will eventually make codification feasible. But before pressing ahead, researchers should be aware of the possible drawbacks outlined below. The first point is that proposals for the codification, in effect the reification, of an ELF variety contrast uncomfortably with recent interrogations of traditional conceptions of languages as natural bounded entities, scholars pointing out that, far from being natural, they are ‘historical constructs’ (Joseph 2006: 145), and that far from being clearly bounded, as Western language ideologies would have it, they interweave in the habitual speech of bilinguals (Heller 2007). There are also some (e.g. Makoni and Pennycook 2007; Pennycook 2007; Thorne and Lantolf 2007) who question the utility,
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even the coherence, of the notion of languages as autonomous linguistic systems, a notion taken for granted in popular discourses and, to an extent, in formal linguistics. There is a discernible movement, then, toward a more ‘processual’ view of language as situated and contingent performance – as ‘languaging’ – toward a greater emphasis on the communicative activity of speakers as opposed to an emphasis on the properties of a code autonomous of and external to those speakers, and toward a view of grammar as emergent, with only provisionally valid rules, rather than as a fixed, bound, pre-existing body of rules (see Hopper 1998; Makoni and Pennycook 2007). A number of significant consequences follow if one adopts this theoretical perspective. First, ELF could be viewed not as a set of varieties but as a fluid cluster of communicative practices where speakers draw on a wide, not clearly bounded range of linguistic features – some standard, some non-standard, and others not English at all (at least according to the conventional view). And, of course, if one takes ELF to be a kind of speaker activity from which distinctive grammatical-lexical regularities may eventually sediment (Hopper 1998), the previous discussion as to whether ELF constitutes a variety or not loses much of its import. Thus, the pursuit of codification might be regarded as lending support to a particular, questionable view of language and to an ideology of language that has performed few favours for non-standard users of English, whether these be native or second language speakers. From this perspective, to codify ELF might be to remove its fluidity, its openness as communicative practice. However, even if one does not wish to commit to the theoretical outlook espoused by Makoni and Pennycook (2007) and others, there are other reasons to be cautious of codification, three of which come immediately to mind. The first is that ELF is still very much an emergent, rather fluid phenomenon in which a whole range of speakers of different backgrounds and levels of proficiency participate; in such circumstances, premature codification may, as Dewey (2007: 348, echoing Joseph 2006) suggests, short-circuit processes of stabilisation and sedimentation, putting in place an artificial construct that does not engage the loyalty of users. A second risk is one pointed out by Elder and Davies (2006: 296), a risk that attends most efforts at codification and standardisation; namely, that in codifying an ELF variety one may be constructing an alternative set of norms that has the same potential to exclude, even demoralise, non-standard ELF users in ways not dissimilar to how L1 standard English has at times functioned to exclude and marginalise. This leads us to the third point: that establishing a codified standard form for ELF will not in itself win widespread acceptance. All that codification accomplishes is that it stabilises and documents a particular set of linguistic norms, and while this may be necessary, it is not sufficient to gain widespread acceptance. History is replete with standardisations, and constructions (e.g. Ogden’s ‘Basic English’), which have withered away because they have not won the loyalty of those whom the standard is supposed to serve. To endure,
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a newly codified, standardised variety needs the support of political authority or that of the relevant speech community; but attitudinal data supplied by Timmis (2002), Jenkins (2007), and others suggests that in the case of ELF this remains uncertain. Finally, standard language ideology is powerful and intra-language hierarchies widespread, and it may turn out to be the case that, far from conferring legitimacy, codification of an ELF variety may encourage unfavourable comparisons between ELF and L1 standard English, and cause some, misleadingly, to speak of ELF as a ‘reduced variety’. However, these remarks should not be taken to imply that codification of ELF is unfeasible or necessarily undesirable. Indeed, if ELF is to be taught in schools, some degree of codification will eventually be necessary. What we are arguing, rather, is that codification should be regarded circumspectly with due attention, given to its potential drawbacks.

This paper has reviewed a number of conceptual issues in ELF research: the status of ELF as a variety or set of varieties, the treatment of ELF features as errors or legitimate variants, the definition of the ELF expert speaker, and finally the question of codification. Clearly, these are interrelated: a good description, for example, is a fundamental requisite for codification, and this, in turn, is necessary for consistent teaching and assessment. The fact the issues are discussed in sequential order should be regarded as an expositional device, and an indication that they are distinguishable, rather than as an assertion of their independence. Turning now to the first issue discussed, we concluded that ELF has not yet developed into a variety of comparable status to Outer Circle nativised varieties. On the question of error or variation, we argued that there was no compelling reason to regard recurrent, documented features of ELF, as they occur in spoken interaction, to be anything other than communicatively effective variants. Writing may be a different matter, however – in pedagogy at least. This is because the standard is most clearly realised in the grammar of the written language, and because there already exists a widely used de facto World Standard Print English (WSPE), a form admitting only minor regional variants. Even here, however, divergent ELF features could be conceptualised not as errors but as non-standard variants, with the pedagogic goal not one of error eradication but of repertoire expansion We then turned to an issue recognised to be problematic for ELF testing and teaching (see Jenkins 2006b: 175) – the continuing absence of any clear definition of the expert ELF speaker, one that does not covertly invoke a L1 standard or native-like proficiency criterion; and the absence of a clearly delineated proficiency cline along which ELF users move as they progress from lower to higher levels of ELF proficiency. Further empirical research is
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likely to cast light on these matters, but until it does, ELF teaching and testing will be hampered. Finally, we considered the possible codification of ELF norms, arguing that, while codification may seem to hold out the promise of legitimation, it also has a number of drawbacks, not least of which is the possibility of the newly codified variety becoming a new mechanism of exclusion. It is not obvious, then, that the most effective form of resistance to standard language ideology lies in the construction of an alternative standard. It appears, then, that there is considerable work to be done before ELF can be taught in its own right – and not necessarily work originating with ELF researchers alone. Descriptive ELF research cannot be expected to provide answers to all the outstanding questions. In the meantime, it is important to acknowledge the contribution ELF research continues to make to our knowledge of variation within English, to our understanding of intelligibility in communication, and to our understanding of how linguistic norms operate. It has also helped to bring English language teaching closer to the ‘real world’ (Gupta 2006: 96) by breaking down monolithic, outdated conceptions of what is correct, by forcing acknowledgement that lingua franca users form an important, distinctive constituency of learners, and by suggesting alternative pedagogic goals. It is unclear at present, however, whether ELF will make a lasting mark on how English is taught internationally. The greatest obstacle probably is attitudes, and in particular the historically ingrained assumption that nativelike proficiency and conformity to L1 standard norms is the most secure benchmark of achievement in second language learning.

1. I would like to thank two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions on this paper. 2. There are, however, differences in the emphasis of Jenkins and Seidlhofer’s ELFrelated work: Jenkins focusing more on phonology and pedagogy; Seidlhofer more on theoretical and descriptive issues, and lexico-grammar. 3. The reason for inserting the phrase ‘or so it appears’ is that Seidlhofer (2006) and Jenkins (2007) have frequently claimed that ELF is misunderstood. Whether this is the result of misreadings, lacunae in their exposition, or, possibly, shifts in their conceptualizations of ELF and in the aims of ELF research remains unclear. 4. There are various reasons why native speaker L1 varieties of English should, indeed, cease to be the ultimate source of authoritative norms; but it strikes me that the argument from demography (the sheer number of lingua franca users) is not as compelling as it is sometimes presented as being. What matters, surely, is the frequency and the range of functions for which ELF users employ English, rather than a head count of all those individuals who claim to use English to whatever degree for lingua franca purposes. Here, I would argue, adopting a somewhat different emphasis to Jenkins (2007: 8), that ELF researchers would
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132 w Gibson Ferguson profit from initiating a macro-sociolinguistic survey into who uses English as a lingua franca in Europe, to whom, how regularly, and for what purposes. Features of the LFC are detailed in numerous publications (e.g. Jenkins 2000; 2003), so will not be rehearsed here. In fact, as an anonymous reviewer points out – correctly, I think – the recognition of a cluster of speech forms as a distinct variety is rarely, if ever, based only on description. Description is necessary but not sufficient, because acceptance as a variety is also conditioned by sociopolitical and attitudinal factors. The acronym ‘ASEAN’ stands for Association of South-East Asian Nations. The wording ‘appears to operate’ is important in this context, for, as Jenkins (2007: 10) points out, there is a dearth of empirical evidence regarding just how widely English is used as a lingua franca, by whom, and for what purposes. Mounting such a survey would be a priority for ELF research. In saying this, I do not wish to imply that it is either necessary or necessarily desirable to demonstrate that ELF is a delimited, distinctive variety, though some advocates of ELF as well as opponents do seem to believe this is necessary to legitimate ELF as a valid form of communicative practice. The same is true of many non-standard L1 varieties of English, e.g. They knows where she is. It is worth pointing out here that Mollin’s (2007) and Breiteneder’s (2005) data sources and stances toward ELF are very different. I am grateful to an anonymous reviewer for drawing attention to this fact. These are not, of course, entirely equivalent or comparable to standardising and codifying a second or formally learnt language variety. Deumert and Vandenbussche (2003: 4) note that many standard languages are composite varieties based on ‘polycentric selection’ from several dialects. The belief that there is one correct form for the spoken language is what leads a not inconsiderable number of native speakers to stigmatise their own speech as ‘incorrect’ or ‘ungrammatical’.

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