Riassunto esame Lingua inglese I, prof. Seidlhofer, libro consigliato Understanding English as a lingua franca, Seidlhofer
1. The problems that were caused by this disagreement…
2. The problems that emanated from this dispute…
3. The problems attendant on this contretemps …
Style shifting between 1 and 2. Code-switch 3. In 3 there is the use of a French word that
however exists in the Oxford English Dictionary. We can say that this word has become
naturalized as English, so even 3 is an example of style-shifting. But many people don’t know
the word so for them it is an example of code-switching. So, the distinction between code-
switching and style shifting is based on linguistic demarcation but not necessarily represents
the reality of the user’s experience.
The English language that linguists describe in grammar and dictionaries is not the actual
language that individuals use. ELF is often said to be deficient, incomplete. But all English as
used is incomplete. Bilingual and multilinguals do not know two or more languages in their
entirety but only partially, each complementing each other. It is not a matter of cumulative
collection of different codes but of knowing how to use their partial knowledge strategically and
appropriately as a composite linguistic resource.
The gap can only be closed if we take a different perspective and think not of varieties but of
variations, not of how far forms of language conform to codified norms, but how they function as
the exploitation of linguistic resources for making meaning.
‘In the discourses that one can call ‘postmodern’, there is now much more of a preoccupation
with fragmentation, contingency, marginality, transition, indeterminacy, ambivalence, and
ELF can be characterized as hybrid, fragmented, contingent, marginal, indeterminate use of
language. So rather than excluding it from serious enquiry because it is difficult to keep it in
established conceptual frameworks, lets revise or replace these old frameworks.
4.4 ELF ‘World Englishes’, and the concept of ‘variety’.
We have seen how in ELF there is the same process of natural appropriation and adaptation
that occurs in post-colonial settings. In these settings, the process results in ‘World Englishes’
and is assigned legitimacy. In the case of ELF, legitimacy is usually withheld. Why?
Kachru points to the need to take into account new linguistic realities that he calls ‘innovations in
paradigms of creativity’. He asks for a response from linguists.
‘There are two types of response. One is to view this overwhelming linguistic phenomenon as
an age-old process of language dynamics accentuated by the complex culturally and
linguistically pluralistic contexts of language acquisition, language function, language contact,
and language creativity. This response demands questioning the earlier paradigms and asking
new questions and looking for new theoretical and methodological answers. The second
response, is to marginalize any question – theoretical, methodological and ideological – which
challenge the earlier paradigms or seek answers appropriate to new global functions of English.
Kachru is talking about English in his Outer Circle but it is the same for ELF as it occurs across
all three Circles. So the same welcoming of new challenges that Kachru demands regarding
developments in the Outer Circle should now also be expected when dealing with ELF.
One way of denying legitimacy to ELF and reducing its status as ‘an overwhelming linguistic
phenomenon’ is to associate it with earlier phenomena that went under the name ‘lingua franca’
(an intermediary contact language used primarily by the Arabs and then the Turks with travellers
from Western Europe, by prisoners of war, and by the Crusaders – Kachru)
It may be that the term lingua franca triggers, for some people, an association with ‘low-level
makeshift’ language. Lingua franca is not ‘low level’. Isaac Newton’ account of gravity laws of
motion in his Principia Mathematica and Francis Bacon’s utopian novel Nova Atlantis were
written in a lingua franca. English when used as an international language can either be a lingua
franca, which is by definition low-level and makeshift or a clearly distinguishable variety. As a
variety then it’s legitimate and worthy of study.
‘We need to acknowledge that while the Three Circles model has provided us with a convenient
shorthand for labelling contexts of English worldwide, the categories that the model created
have also had the unfortunate side-effect of reifying the content of these categories and of
encouraging the notion that Englishes, regardless of circle’ (Bruthiaux).
Bruthiaux seems preoccupied with who should be ‘in’ and who should not, what should count
as a variety and what should not:
‘For a variety to emerge, local practices must surely gain norm value through recurring,
spontaneous use across a range of communicative functions as well as in emblematic domains
such as the media, artistic creation, and popular culture’ (Bruthiaux).
This insistence on ‘variety-creating conditions’ is surprising because it is a redrawing of circle
boundaries and is the opposite of what he says at the end of his paper: ‘much is to be gained by
focusing less on where the speakers of English come from and more on what they do – or don’t
do- with the language’ (Bruthiaux).
Academics have believed that recognizing ‘more varieties’ as independent entities is progress
because it values diversity. In a conference in Regensburg in 2007 there was a discussion on
the different meaning of English in Ghana and Ghanaian English . Jemima Asabea Anderson
explained that in Ghana the label ‘Ghanaian English’ is still associated with imperfect usage and
error varieties used among Ghanaians and lack codification. The view contrasted with that of
her audience in Regensburg where the label ‘Ghanaian English’ was favoured by the
sociolinguists present as expressing the claim to, and recognition of the Ghanaian English as a
legitimate and distinct national variety. What this example makes clear is that in sociolinguistics,
putting the modifier (in this case Ghanian) in front of English is generally seen as expression of
recognition of a distinct variety.
The term English as lingua franca (ELF) is now sometimes replaced by Lingua Franca English
(LFE). ‘This distinction is important since the former tends towards an understanding of a pre-
given language that is then used by different speakers, while the latter suggests that LFE
emerges from its context of use. According to Canagarajah, ‘LFE does not exist as a system out
there. It is constantly brought into being in each context of communication’. (Pennycook)
‘If languages are invented and languages and identities are socially constructed, we need to
realize that at least some language users at least some of the time, hold passionate beliefs
about the importance and significance of a particular language to their sense of ‘identity’.
(Blackledge and Creese).
To think in terms of discrete linguistic units is consistent with established folk-linguistic notions
about the close correspondence between language and communitiy. These language varietions
are tied to a shared social and cultural history, a shared physical space, a shared knowledge
and experience that makes for a sense of community – a speech community indeed. These
communities are stable places in which local culture can thrive and find expression. These
indigenized/ nativized varieties as Indian English, Nigerian English etc. are important because
they assert the right of the speakers in these ex colonies to their own Englishes independent of
the language of the former colonizers. To these speakers the suggestion that their English is
just a lingua franca, a low-level, is anathema.
‘In the colonies there was a kind of colonial homogeneity. Same texts, same educational
methods, same songs were practised in every part of the British Empire. On the other hand the
politics tend to break away from that homogenized hegemony in an attempt to recover national
shape, rhythm, and identity, the uniqueness of the precolonial – and in some cases the colonial
– inheritance. In these literatures there is an attempt to restore dignity, to re-establish the self,
and to compensate for deprivation and depersonalization (Thumboo, talking about various
Englishes emerged in Asia).
We understand then, why variation in Outer Circle English is described in terms of discrete
varieties. Such description is in effect a declaration of independence with each separate variety
representing a separate communal identity. Each is recognized as an English in its own right,
distinct from and independent of the Inner Circle language, though still bearing its prestigious
name as a guarantee of equality – hence the insistence on Englishes in the plural.
‘English has successfully worked as a language for inculcating nationalism and cultural
renaissance in South Asia, West Africa and East Africa. Through English, ethnic, linguistic,
religious and regional barriers were crossed to mobilize the educated class about the pan-
regional political, social, educational issues’. (Kachru). Kachru here describes ELF but for him
the premium is on what is culturally and linguistically distinct about each variety rather than on
commonalities that could facilitate global international/intercultural communication. The situation
in non –post-colonial contexts is different.
Where languages have not been imposed upon by colonisers but by local governments and
education systems, different sentiment prevail. We can’t generalize too much but what happens
in different parts of the world from Japan to Portugal, China to Iran etc varies but in all these
Expanding Circle settings is a fairly strong reliance on national linguacultures coupled with
efforts to participate in the ‘international community’.
In Europe the debate revolves around how to protect the minorities and celebrate the linguistic
and cultural diversities and at the same time have a common means of communication
The lingua franca in Europe now is English. So we get two images of lingua franca undesirable
To a European the term lingua franca has positive connotation also because it triggers
associations with what was the lingua franca of the past, Latin. The term itself has Latin roots.
Frank comes from Old French meaning free, lingua is Italian for language. So it means ‘free
language’. (International Handbook of the Science of Language and Society – Ammon).
An alternative theory is that it means free of connections with particular countries and ethnicities
4.5 Rethinking the concept of community
Freeing of a language from particular territories and groups of people is one of the conceptual
challenges that we face in the age of globalization.
For the Oxford dictionary a community is a group of people living together in one place.
International community is a metaphorical extension. There is also the idea of sharing values
and beliefs, stability and permanence. Hymes describes a community as a ‘local unit with
common locality and primary interaction’. According to Fishman its ‘ a set of speakers of the
same native language’.
There is an interdependence between community and variety. In his ‘Dynamics model of the
evolution of postcolonial Englishes’, Schneider says ‘both settlers and the indigenous people
who share a piece of land increasingly share a common language experience’.
As opposed to the evolution of post-colonial Englishes, the evolution of English as lingua franca
has not been tied to interactions among people who share a piece of land.
ELF is the means of wider communication for conducting transactions and interactions outside
people’s primary social spaces and speech communities, for enabling ‘transcultural flows’
The concept of community can be problematic when applied to diaspora communities: groups of
people originally sharing the same ethnic, cultural spaces but have geographically been
dispersed. Diaspora is rather distribution than spred (Widdowson’s distinction).
The dispersed group retains the linguistic and cultural identity. ‘Diaspora identities are
constantly producing and reproducing themselves anew, through transformation and difference’
‘Language is the focal centre of our acts of identity’ (Le Page and Tabouret-Keller). Previously
varieties were dialects which had to do with primary socialization and happened within a close-
knit primary community.
In the postmodern world the metaphor of international or global community and of diaspora has
turned into an everyday reality. Countless interaction networks are independent of physical
proximity often with the participants never meeting in the flesh. Virtual communities have
become significant giving raise to a different meaning of community. ‘A new identity rises
around a sentiment of belonging that can no longer be identified with purely territorial
dimension, and finds its expressions in the creolized, mixed idioms of polyglottism’
With the proliferation of possibilities created by electronic means and easy global mobility,
English is in a pivotal position because it is world spread. People who want to ‘get on in the
world’ need a means of communication that takes them beyond traditional community
boundaries. Wider networking needs a lingua franca.
English as lingua franca is a language of secondary socialization a means to conduct
transactions outside one’s primary social space and speech community. Instead of varieties in
the sense of dialects as used in the primary communities, ELF uses different registers. Dialect is
a variety with reference to the user, register is a variety with reference to use. Many young
people communicate happily in chat rooms populated by interactants from all over the world and
say that the communities they are part of there are as real to them as their classroom ones. An
Austrian ‘gamer’ who has stopped talking to his family because he never leaves his computer,
got married in cyberspace and invited other 30,000 gamers to his wedding. How’s that for a
strong sense of community?
At a time when many of us spend time communicating with people via emails and Skype more
than in direct conversations with partecipants in the same physical space, the old notion of
community based on frequent local, non-mediated contact among people living in close
proximity cannot be upheld anymore. In contrast with local speech communities, these global
communities can be referred to as , with a common communicative purpose (Swales). We also
have communities of practice (Eckert and McConnell-Ginet), people who come together around
mutual engagement in an endeavour.
For Wenger the community of practice is defined by a process of social learning with:
1. mutual engagement in sharing practices
2. taking part in some negotiated enterprise
3. making use of member’s shared repertoire.
This repertoire consists of linguistic and other resources which are the agreed result of internal
negotiations which can also be used for international/intercultural communication (Seidlhofer).
Communities of practice (CofP) might not have the same native language. So, alongside local
speech communities sharing a dialect, we see the emerging of global discourse communities, or
communities of practice, or other groupings sharing their particular modes of communication ,
with English being the most widely used code. This development has a momentum of its own,
and is happening at a pace that gives us little time to adjust our conceptual categories. But we
must adjust them. That is what Kachru refers to.
What we see in ELF is the process of language dynamics whereby the language is adapted and
altered to suit the changed circumstances of its use. The appropriation of the language as
lingua franca focuses attention not on what is proper English in reference to standard or native-
speaker norms, but what is appropriate English for new and different communicative and
4.6 Rethinking the concept of competence
Chomski defined competence as ‘ the linguistic knowledge of an ideal speaker-listener in a
completely homogeneous speech community, who knows his language perfectly’.
Critics have pointed out that there is no such thing as a homogeneous speech community.
Chomsky doesn’t say that there exists a homogeneous speech community: it simply suits his
purpose to think of communities as if they were homogeneous, just sociolinguists as Trudgill
thinks of varieties as if they were discrete.
Hymes argues that Chomski concept of competence needs to be revised to take in account
what people know of their language beyond the formal rules of its grammar. There are he says,
four kinds of judgement that somebody competent in language is capable of making, and only
one of these concerns what is grammatically possible.
The other three judgements are:
Whether (and to what degree) something is feasible in virtue of the means of implementation
Whether (and to what degree) something is appropriate (adequate, happy, successful) in
relation to a context in which it is used and evaluated;
Whether (and to what degree) something is in fact done, actually performed, and what its doing
The question is, how does one judge the relative possibility, feasibility, appropriateness, and
attestedness of some linguistic expression? Relative to what? Clearly such judgements can be
only made in reference to some established norm or other. Hymes has a norm in mind.
‘There is an important sense in which a normal member of a community has knowledge with
respect to all these aspects of the communicative systems available to him’.
But speakers of a language are notoriously unreliable in their judgement as to whether an
expression ‘in their language’ is possible (i.e. grammatically correct or not) or, given the
immense variety of contexts in which the language can be used, whether and to what degree it
This ‘normal’ member of a community is in effect Chomsky’s ideal speaker-listener in a
completely homogeneous speech community, who knows his language perfectly, or who at
least knows what is normal and normally used in the language.
As Hymes implied, these judgements have to be made by native-speaking communities and
what is appropriate, for example, must be in relation to their context of use. But we can
uncouple these aspects from these primary social-native speaking communities and relate them
to other kinds of community – community of practice, for example, which cut across the
native/non-native distinctions and where different judgements are likely to be made about what
is feasible, appropriate etc.
English has spread because it has been appropriated to serve the social and communicative
needs and purposes of communities of users beyond those residing within the Inner and Outer
Circle. And as the language has been appropriated, so it has been adapted, since the norms of
use that to use Achebe’s words ‘suit the surroundings’ of these Circles are no longer
The emergence of ELF as a global phenomenon is a linguistic development without
precedence, and one therefore, that calls for a reconsideration of established concepts and
assumptions, especially those that relate to variety, community and competence.
It may be convenient to think of languages or varieties as self contained and stable entities for
the purpose of linguistic analysis, and this way of thinking may indeed correspond with how the
language users themselves conceives of ‘their’ language as something that defines their
But the concept of community itself as a relatively self-enclosed network of social interaction
calls for radical revision in the contemporary world of in creased mobility and the unbounded
extension of interaction over the internet.
What it means to be communicatively competent in English can no longer be described with
reference to norms of linguistic knowledge and behaviour that are relevant only to particular
Conformity to these norms is either necessary nor sufficient to meet the international demands
for the effective use of English as a lingua franca. What is unprecedented and new about ELF
is the extent of its use as both the cause and the consequence of the unprecedented and new
socio-economic, political, and technological developments in the world that go under the name
of globalization. But the kind of linguistic adaptation that it represents is not unprecedented and
new at all, but, on the contrary, is a striking example of what Kachru called ‘An age-old process
of language dynamics’.
How ELF actually exemplifies this process will be the concern of the next two chapters.
5 The dynamics of ELF usage
‘I shall call the whole, consisting of language and actions into which it is woven, the ‘language-
game’. One learns the game by watching how others play. But we say that it is played according
to such-and-such rules because an observer can read these rules off from the practice of the
game – like a natural law governing the play. But how does the observer distinguish in this case
between player’ mistakes and correct play?’
(Ludwig Wittgenstein: Philosophical investigations)
5.1 Variety and variation: state and process
Like any other language, English is a dynamic process and naturally varies and changes as it
spreads into different domains of use and communities of users.
The spread of English is unlike that of any other language but the process is not unusual.
As we have seen, ELF is often characterized negatively in terms of its non –conformity to the
established norms of grammar (and perhaps lexis) that are said to define the standard version.
ELF non conformities are too irregular, not systematic enough to make for varies status. They
are seen as deficiencies, errors. But ELF is measured against an undetermined norm based on
variety, community, competence which are elusive. They are arbitrary constructs designed for
convenience and some people use them to dismiss ELF as deviant. They are arbitrary because
they represent a dynamic process as a fixed state of affairs. But language is not fixed but
continually in flux, always variable.
So we are interested in seeing not so much ELF as a variation but how ELF users exploit the
resources of the language to communicate.
In short, how do the dynamics of ELF, or any lingua franca, work?
There are in Outer Circle English norms of three different types, code norm, feature norm, and
behavioural norm. ‘Of these three norm types the one frequently appealed to is the feature
norm, and this is largely because nativization is often narrowly constructed as predominantly
linguistic. The fact however is that linguistic nativization is only one of the processes of
indigenizing a non –native variety of English. Equally important are pragmatic and creative
nativization both of which fall largely within the scope of behavioural norms’. (Bamgbose)
Accomplished ELF speakers who know on the basis of their experience that they can rely on
their ‘ways of speaking’ (Hymes) for fulfilling whatever communicative needs they have, are
likely to develop both a sense that the language is theirs to use and a good capability to
accommodate to their interlocutors.
‘Creating nativization’ emphasizes the active and shaping role of the speaker. Pennycook
observes that performativity ‘provides a way of thinking about relationships between language
and identity that emphasizes the productive force of language in constituting identity rather than
identity being a pregiven construct that is reflected in language use’ . We must take the
‘vernacular voices of the popular seriously’. ‘We must consider languages from an anti-
foundationalist perspective, whereby language use is an act of identity which calls that language
into being’ (Pennycook)..
It seems that Pennycook conceives creativity and conformity as in conflict, ‘pulls’ in opposite
directions that are to be avoided. I don’t think they can be avoided because they are
conceptually interdependent – you cannot have one without the other. So the issue here is how
they are conciled in actual performance. As far as ELF is concerned, the crucial question is
what aspects of English, what norms or rules of the language, are exploited as a performative
5.2 Performativity and creativity in ELF
In the hundreds of ELF speech events in various domains that we have closely observed in the
VOICE project over recent years there is a real sense of speakers performing their own ELF,
shaping both the language and their identities in the process. Empirical ELD studies gradually
becoming available show how speakers assert their multilingual identities and their joint
ownership of the lingua franca they are using – and shaping and developing them in the
process. We see people how they use the language to negotiate meanings with each other in
communicative context and on line interactions. This could be called languaging which is ‘an
endless social process of orienting and reorienting ourselves to the environment’ (Becker).
Languaging is ‘employing whatever linguistic feature is at disposal to achieve the communicate
aims, and is a ‘full, embodied and engaged interaction with the world’.
‘Languagers are people who engage with the world-in-action, who move in the world in a way
that allows the risk of stepping out of one’s habitual ways of speaking and attempt to develop
different, more relational ways of interacting with the people and phenomena that one
encounters in everyday life. ‘Languagers’ use the ways in which they perceive the world to
develop new disposition for poetic action in another language and they are engaged in
developing these dispositions so that they become habitual, durable, Languaging then is and
act of dwelling’. (Phipps).
ELF quite unselfconsciously can push the frontiers of Standard English, they are fully involved in
interactions, they are focused on the interactional and transactional purposes and on
interlocutors as people rather than on the linguistic code itself. They ‘act upon and sometimes
against norms and standards’ (Jorgensen), they ‘develop new dispositions for poetic action’.
When people choose to communicate via a lingua franca and settle for the means of
communication that excludes as few of the participants as possible (Van Parijs), they are
usually conscious of having to make a certain effort to ensure mutual intelligibility and
communicative efficiency. There is thus a premium on maximising pragmatic clarity (Kecskes).
Clarity can be enhanced by giving importance to certain elements, redundancy , explicitly,
regular patterns, word classes and semantic relations, repetition, paraphrase, synonyms.
‘Successful ELF communication relies on adaptive accommodation skills along with
appreciation and acceptance of diversity’ (Cogo).
Ex: Repetition. You have to move, you have to move out totally, you have to the your things out
of your room. The speaker wants to make sure that his message come across. This is self-
repetition, paraphrasing. There is also other- repetition. Speaker 2 will echo what speaker 1
(See page 100
Designing English as an International language
‘One of the unanticipated achievements of the twenty-first century was the rapid diffusion of
Basic English as the lingua franca of the world and the even more rapid modification, expansion
and spread of English in its wake…
No deliberate attempt was made to establish it as the world language . It had many natural
advantages over its chief competitors, Spanish, French, Russian, German and Italian. It was
simpler, subtler, more flexible and already more widely spoken, but it was certainly the more
flexible and already more widely spoken but it was certainly the use of Basic English which gave
it its final victory over these rivals’
(H.G.Wells: The Shape of Things to Come)
7.1 Linguistic description and prescription
I have been drawing on the data of occurring usage mainly in the VOICE corpus, to show how
ELF functions as natural phenomenon, one that exemplifies the dynamic processes of variation
and adaptability that constitute the vitality of any living language. I have given empirical
description of how linguistic forms are actually used in ELF interactions.
Not everyone is content to allow natural linguistic processes to take their course and some
people feel obliged to intervene and arrest and direct their development in one way or another.
There may be good reasons for intervention: natural processes can often be improved on. Let’s
consider the prescriptions of how English should be used. ELF is not a set of reduced forms that
can be used for rudimentary communication like ‘Globish’ which is an example of linguistic
engineering of language planning, the most recent attempt to create a more elementary version
7.2 Language Planning and linguistic intervention
The general field of language planning covers different areas like status planning that assigns
different languages or language varieties to certain domains of use so that they effectively
complement each other. In Chapter 4 we saw the co-existence of English with other languages
in a composite repertories of linguistic resources. This coexistence is possible if English is
dissociated from its status as language of its native speakers and reconceived as a lingua
franca. My argument in this book is that an understanding of ELF depends on the recognition of
its independent status as a legitimate use of language in its own right but also of its inter-
dependent statuts as complementary component in a plurilingual repertoire. Only when its
statuts is this first sense is recognized can there be any realistic possibility of planning its status
in the second.
A second kind of intervention via language planning is corpus planning. Whereas status
planning deals with languages as they exist in their current form, corpus planning has to do with
making changes in the formal properties of the languages themselves, often involving lexical
and/or grammatical elaboration to make them measure up to a changed status. In the case of
ELF it is the change of status, its role as an international means of communication that brings
about the linguistic changes. These are not planned. They occur naturally as a consequence of
communicative adaptation. There might be an increasing explicitness and redundancy and
repetition but usually it reduces the complexity of the language.
So as any other language, the forms of ELF derive from the functions they have evolved to
Corpus planning intervenes to make the language better and more effective.
‘Whether linguistic modification is planned and deliberately imposed or naturally occurs as an
adaptive process, it has a direct bearing on a third aspect of language planning referred to as
acquisition planning (Ferguson). This is to be prescribed for learning and teaching, with the
planning and design, in other words, of the language subject. This is a kind of educational and
Corpus planning proposals to reform English go back a long way. Thomas Sprat in 1667 printed
The History of the Royal Society of London. The royal Society was established in the mid-17h
century for the purpose of the ‘improving of Natural Knowledge’. In that period there was a lot of
eloquence, ‘luxury and redundancy of speech, a vicious abundance of phrase, trick of
metaphors, volubility of tongue that make so great a noise in the world’ (Sprat).
Members of the Royal Society took corrective action against this.
‘They have rigorously put into execution the only remedy against extravagance, a constant
resolution to reject all amplifications, digressions, swellings of style to return back to a primitive
purity, and shortness, when men delivered so many things, almost in an equal number of words.
They have exacted from their members a close, natural way of speaking, positive expressions,
clear senses, a native easiness. Bringing all things as near the mathematical plainness as they
can. ‘ (Sprat).
This belief in the need to protect the language from abuse carries over to the next century. It is
expressed in Jonathan Swift’s pamphlet entitled A proposal for correcting, improving and
ascertaining the English tongue, written in 1712. He proposed the setting up of a Society whose
members would control the language.
‘Besides the Grammar where we are allowed to be defective, we see many gross improprierities
which are authorized by practice and grown familiar. These must be discarded. We will find
many words which should be thrown out of the language; others should be corrected and many
that are considered antiquated restored on account of their energy and sound’ (Swift).
In the 20 Century we find others. For example George Orwell. In his essay Politics and the
English Language, he writes: ‘Most people recognize that we need to fight against bad English’.
Orwell too makes a plea for a plain language that would convey the meaning better and is
morally superior in that it lends itself to express better ‘The truth’. He adds ‘Elaborate verbiage
non only results in an increase in slovenliness and vagueness but also in swindles and
The reform Spat is arguing for is meant to modify the language to make it better suited for a
particular domain of use – the domain of scientific enquiry of the Royal Society. The ‘improving’
of the language is seen as a necessary requirement for the ‘Improving of Natural Knowledge’.
Sprats proposals resemble more recent corpus planning prescriptions that have been proposed
to regulate how English is used in certain domains. It’s not that English is ‘going bad’ but that in
certain domains it has to be simplified. These domains are the ones where there is a
transactional exchange of information, where the ideational function takes precedence over the
A typical example is the Seaspeak, the English for international maritime use, or the language
of traffic control. These specify a restricted set of expressions for the carrying out of operational
procedures, versions of existing usage adapted to as and as precise as possible to make them
functionally appropriate for their use. Clearly for this purpose any variation is arrested for a fixed
7.3 The prescription of an international language
The strategy of ELF users is to exploit the resources inherent in the virtual language by focusing
on features of maximal functional value and discarding those that are surplus to their
communicative requirements. They focus on what is essential in the language and project their
non-ENL identities. Many worry that once the control of native-speaker norms is relaxed the
language will disintegrate and become unintelligible. Here then a corpus planning could be
made for prescribing adaptations to stabilize and regulate the language to suit its status as an
international means of communication.
Globish was created to improve communication. It’s a list of 1,500 English words, which the
inventor J.P.Nerrière identified as the most commonly occurring among non native users of the
language. These users claim ownership of the language for their own purposes and get by
effectively without conforming to native speaker norms.
The most recent publication on globish is ‘Globish The World Over’ (Nerriere and Hon),
translated into several languages. But we must understand that Globish is not the globalized
use of English as lingua franca the world over but a reduced version of the language that is
recommended should be used the world over. In the words of its inventor ‘It is designed for
trivial efficiency, always, everywhere, with everyone’.
According to the website in the section ‘Talk the talk’, the Globish gives these instructions:
Use only words in Globish glossary
Keep sentences short
Avoid metaphors and colourful expressions
Avoid negative questions
Avoid all humour
Use gesture and visual aids
The glossary has many international words, like piano telephone and university. Globish is in
essence a restricted language. Seaspeak however was designed to meet specific purposes.
Globish is for universal use in all domains and kinds of unpredictable contexts ‘always,
everywhere, with everyone’.
There have been other proposals for regulating English and designing it to make to make it
more effective as a means of international communication – proposals that are based on an
explicit rationale and that deserve to be taken seriously. We will now consider these two corpus
7.4 Nuclear English
This proposal comes from Quirk in a paper entitled ‘International communication and the
concept of Nuclear English’. The name might suggest a new model for English. Quirk gives
his ideas about the ways in which native English might be modified to make it easier to learn as
a foreign language and easier to use as an international language. He does not propose a
completely reformed system but examples of preferred forms already existing in English. He
proposes that when meaning may be expressed in different structural ways, we should choose
the simpler. For example non restrictive relative clauses might be replaced with adverbial
clauses, as in:
I expressed my sympathy to the captain, who had been reprimanded.
I expressed my sympathy to the captain because he had been reprimanded.
Ditransitive constructions might be replaced with the corresponding prepositional alternative:
We offered the girl a drink.
We offered a drink to the girl.
As Quirk points out, problems arise with modal verbs since the same forms encode different
meanings. The expression He may come may signal epistemic meaning (‘It is possible that he
will come’) or deontic meaning (‘It is permitted for him to come’).
He proposes a possible way to resolve the ambiguity.
‘We would retain the full range of modalities but restrict their expression to carefully prescribed
and maximally explicit paraphrases, banning the use of the normal modal verbs altogether. In
requiring paraphrase, we would be insisting on a speaker’s clarifying his own intention in
advance, while yet expressing himself without departure from fully acceptable forms of ordinary
Paraphrases like ‘It is possible that this is not true’, ‘It is not possible that this is true’ present the
means not only of separating modality from preposition but of stipulating such features as the
scope of negation, frequently obscured in ordinary language’.
Quirk’s English would then be a sub-set of ‘fully acceptable forms of ordinary English’ selected
for their clarity and explicitness and greater communicative efficiency. But acceptability here has
to do with conformity to encoded standard language and not to the conventions of usage. By
‘ordinary language’ Quirk does not mean the ‘real’ or ‘authentic’ English of usage. He specifies
his English would be quite inauthentic in respect to the ‘ordinary’ language fo the native-
‘The ‘solution’ never goes beyond the rules of ordinary acceptable English, nor has the
proposed solution any bearing upon the frequency of occurrence in ordinary English. If anything
the most frequent items (like the modal auxiliaries) are to be excluded from Nuclear English
since they are the most polysemous’.
So Nuclear English is entirely conformed to the rules of the standard code, but entirely
extraordinary in its contravention of the conventions of usage.
7.5 Basic English
Quirk refers to the drastic constraints that NE would impose on its users. Even more drastic are
the constraints imposed by another proposal: Basic English. Its originator, the Cambridge
philosopher and logician C. K. Ogden, was like Quirk, motivated by the awareness of the need
for an effective means of international understanding, especially after the First World War.
Basic English (basic for short) is a bit like Globish, but Ogden had more than ‘triavial efficiency’
in mind. In his words, Basic was to be ‘an International Auxiliary Language, a second language
for all who do not already speak English’.
Basic has 850 abstract units of meaning identified and categorized. 600 are nouns denoting
‘things’, 400 are ‘general’ and 200 ‘pictured’, the latter being susceptible to specific visual
representation (for example apple, dog), the former not (fruit, animal). 150 words are adjectives
denoting ‘qualities’, 100 of which are said again to be ‘general’ (male, fat) and 50 ‘opposites’
(female, thin). The remaining 100 words are so called ‘operation’ and are various kind of
‘function’ words – adverbs, conjunctions, prepositions. There is also a brief set of rules to
combine these elements.
These 850 words have been ‘scientifically selected’. Ogden says it took 10 years.
He studied semantics with Richards and with him pubblicated The meaning of Meaning (Ogden
and Richards 1923).
‘There is a lot of theory behind Basic and Basic could no more do what it does than an airplane
could fly the Pacific without the theoretical engineering behind its design’ (Richards). In ‘The
background and Origins of Basic English’ (1950) in the journal English Language Teaching,
Catford explains how Ogden drew on Jeremy Bentham’s distinction between ‘real’ entities and
‘fictitious’ entities, whereby ‘every fictitious entity has some relation to some real entity, and
cannot otherwise be understood than in so far as that relation is perceived’. (Ogden quoted in
Catford). Catford’s example for illustrating the distinction is ‘the belief that in talking of such
things as freedom and redness we are referring to independent entities not in space or time,
instead of simply free actions and red things’. Bentham’s distinction was crucial for Ogden’s
work on definition on getting at the ‘central, pivotal or key meaning’ of each word (Richards)
It would seem to have been Bentham’s thinking, then, that informed the ‘theoretical
engineering? That resulted in Basic. As Ogden explained:
‘How is Basic able to get so far with only 850 words? The reason may be given in the simplest
language. The greater part of words used in science and for everyday talk are what may be
called shorthand for other words. That is to say they are taking the lace of other words which
are clearly, in some sense, nearer the facts.
The greater part of the things we generally seem to talk about are what may be named fictions:
and for these again there are other words in common use which get nearer to fact…
The most important group of ‘shorthand’ words in European language is made up of what are
fictions; ‘credulous’ and ‘courteous’ say something about our feelings in addition to their
straightforward sense’. (Ogden 1930).
It was the power of definition which made it possible to say essentially everything with a very
‘In our study we came to the theory and practice of definition. In comparing definitions – be it a
rabbit or a concept or a quality – some words kept coming back. Define them and you could
define anything. This suggests that there might be some limited sets of words in terms of which
the meaning of all other words might be stated. I fo, than a very limited language – limited in its
vocabulary but comprehensive in tits scope would be possible’. (Richards)
In Basic the word lists constitute a defining vocabulary. If a lexical item can be decomposed
into semantic features which are lexicalized in a word, then there is no place for it in Basic.
Example puppy and bitch can be dispensed because they can be replaced with young puppy
and female dog. Ascend and descend can be replaced by go up and go down. Basic is a
language stripped down to its conceptual essentials: ‘It is an English in which 850 words do all
the work of 20,000, and has been formed by taking out everything which is not necessary to the
sense. Disembark for example, is broken up into get off a ship. I am able takes place of I can;
shape is covered by the more general word form; and difficulty by hard.
By putting together the names of simple operations – such as get, give, come, go, put, take –
with the words for directions like in, over, through and the rest, two or three thousand complex
ideas, like insert which becomes put in, are made part of the learner’s story. (Ogden)
Ogden and Quirk use the same procedure to simplify modality: the replacement of existing
expressions with ’carefully prescribed and maximally explicit paraphrases’.
Ogden and Quirks proposals are conservative in that they do not involve ‘going beyond the
rules of ordinary acceptable English’. The Basic allows the using of un- words (to express
negatives like unprobable – but it is better to avoid the un if the result is a non standard
formation. In this case it is better to use not (not frequent instead of unfrequent). But how do we
know if we should use not or un-? And why should we use un- only for 50 adjectives and not
the 150 adjectives listed under Qualities?
If we can have unhealthy why not unfat? Ogden insists that his Basic is ‘sufficient for ordinary
communication in idiomatic English’ (Ogden)
Ogden like Quirk can only conceive an international language as a reformed version of a
national language and this is explicit in the name Basic English which not only is a descriptive
label (it is basic, necessary, essential English) but also an acronym: British American Scientific
So Basic is an international English, national property of the British and the Americans. This
supports the view that the use of English is hegemonic.
Ogden says that Basic English ‘has been formed by taking out everything which is not
necessary to the sense’ eliminating words ‘unnecessarily coloured by some form of feeling’.
There is another project called Newspeak designed by Orwell in 1984. it applies Ogden’s
One of the Newspeak researchers, Symes, says: ‘We’re destroying words –scores of them,
hundreds of them, every day. We’re cutting the language down to the bone. It’s a beautiful thing
the destruction of words. Of course the great wastage is in the verbs and adjectives, but there
are hundreds of nouns that can be got rid of as well. It isn’t only the synonyms; there are also
the antonyms. After all what justification is there for a word which is simply the opposite of some
other word? A word contains it’s opposite in itself. Take ‘good’ for instance. It you have a word
like ‘good’, what need is there for a word like ‘bad’? ‘Ungood’ will do just as well – better,
because it’s the exact opposite, which the other is not. Or again if you want a stronger version of
good what sense is there in having a whole string of vague useless words like ‘excellent’ and
‘splendid’ and all the rest of them? ‘Plusgood’ covers the meaning, or ‘doubleplusgood’ if you
want something stronger still. Of course we use these forms already, but in the final version of
Newspeak there’ll be nothing else. In the end the whole notion of goodness and badness will be
covered by only six words – in reality only one word’.
In Newspeak there are no opposites, only the systematic use of un-, and no ‘vague useless
words’ like excellent and splendid, words that are, as Ogden puts it, ‘unnecessarily coloured by
some form of feeling’. Of course Newspeak is a fictional reduction ad absurdum,
Basic was not designed to capture the nuances of literary style. ‘It cannot retain the charm and
completeness of a native language. It lacks the satisfying quality of an intimate and exclusive
possession. …Despite its awkwardness, its colourless vocabulary, it can yet convey many
meanings. It cannot give flood to the human soul, but it can provide a bridge to human thought’.
Basic cannot be used for eloquence or expression of an intimate experience. Ogden’s aim is to
get rid of the influence of feelings. It’s ok for transactions –maritime manoeuvres, air traffic
control, call centre routines and in other domains where the expression of conceptual meaning
is prioritized and there is natural synergy between form and function.
An interesting example is the book Twentieth Century Houses, written by McGrath and
published in 1934. It is considered a successful, elegant work written entirely in Basic in order to
make it more accessible to an international readership.
7.6 Basic English and ELF
We saw that ELF users create new words by making use of morphological rules without regard
to norms of regulative convention. Users could use Basic rules creatively in the same way.
Being Basic an artificial construct, unlike any occurring language, it has no dynamism or vitality
of its own but this is not to say that it could not develop a dynamism in use. What Ogden does is
increase the artificiality of Basic by setting limits on its vitality.
Vitality is one of the four attributes of language that Stewart, in an influential paper, identifies as
relevant to the definition of general language types. The other attributes are standardization,
autonomy, and historicity.
In Stewart’s typology, an artificial language like Basic has the attributes of autonomy and
standardization, but lacks historicity and vitality, as compared like for example with a classical
language like Latin, which has all three attributes except vitality.
Stewarts four attributes are helpful to understand the nature of ELF and how it differs from
Basic as a new coding system has standardization, autonomy, because even if derived from an
exiting language, it si independent of it, except that its autonomy is a little compromised by the
requirement that it should conform to normal English usage. It obviously lacks historicity and
vitality. But these two features can be acquired once the new coding system is put onto
operation and naturalized by use. It is possible for an artificial language to be vitalized as it is for
a classical language to be re-vitalized like modern Hebrew. Basic as an artificial construct is not
vital but has to be made vital. Vitality is a function of use. Its in the matter of vitality that ELF
differs from Basic (and from artificial auxiliary languages such as Esperanto and Globish).
It is the actual vitality of ELF, as evidenced from its widespread and continuing use, that makes
it autonomous, separate from native-speaker English.
The vitality of ELF has to do with the way formal linguistic properties are made to function and
are adapted to serve communicative purposes. With ELF its formal properties are a reflex of
communicative functions, but with Basic the formal properties are defined in advance and how
they might function and get vitalized is a matter of speculation.
One speculation is provided by the quotation at the head of the chapter. This comes from a
novel by H.G. Wells, The Shape of Things to Come, which is a projection of future world history
supposedly written by a Dr Philip Raven from 1929 to 2106.
Basic English is presented has having achieved vitality having become the lingua franca by the
21 century. This is seen as catalyst for the subsequent ‘modification, expansion and spread of
English. This English prevails modified in ways beyond the prescription of Basic. The two parts
of the quotation at the head of the chapter are connected by this passage:
‘The English most of us speak and write today (2106) is a very different tongue from the English
of Shakespeare, Addison, Bunyan or Shaw; it has shed the last traces of archaic elaborations
as a subjunctive mood; it has simplified its spelling, standardized its pronunciation, adopted
many foreign locutions, and naturalized and assimilated thousand of foreign words’ (Wells: The
Shape of Things to Come).
Away from fantasy and back to the present, we know that Basic did not get adopted as Wells
imagined and ELF has spread without any help. But some modifications that Wells imagined like
the shedding of archaic elaborations and adoption of foreign locutions, has occurred naturally.
It is inappropriate to insist that standard ENL should enjoy privileged status as an international
means of communication.
ELF assumes that status quite naturally as a function of its unplanned development.
In this chapter I have also considered another aspect of language planning: so called corpus
planning, an alternative to the maintenance of the status of the standard ENL and to the
acceptance of naturally occurring ELF.
Because such corpus planning interventions, from Basic to Globish, prescribe alternative
versions of the language that claim to be better for international use, we have seen how these
prescriptions relate to the way English is actually used.
Hence they are relevant to understanding ELF.
I have paid particular attention to Basic English because it is the most detailed prescription.
I believe that rather than modify a code, or reconstruct one, and then seek to give it vitality by
persuading people to use it, it is preferable to find out and describe how people actually exploit
the potential of an existing language.
ELF and English Language Teaching
‘Setting objectives for learners to achieve must take account of the way language has been
appropriated internationally as a means of communication, and that this should lead us to think
again about defining such objectives in reference to native-speaker norms. I have suggested
that rather than seeking to specify goals in terms of projected needs, which for most part are
highly unpredictable, it would be preferable, and more practicable, to focus on the development
of a more general capability which would serve as an investment for subsequent learning’.
(H.G. WIDDOWSON: Defining Issues in English Language Teaching)
8.1 Prescriptions for use and learning
The prescriptions described in the last chapter were for use, exercises in corpus planning
concerned with making English more effective as a means of international communication. We
turn now to prescriptions for learning, the acquisition planning.
In designing English as a subject, prescriptive decisions have to be made about which features
of the language are to be selected and how they are to be presented. This book examines what
bearing ELF has on making these pedagogic decisions.
Acquisition planning for English (syllabus design and teaching methodology) has a long history.
Ideas about what is the best teaching methodology have varied. Structural language teaching
(STL) is superseded by Communicative Language Teaching (CLT), itself then mutating in recent
years into Task Based Language Teaching (TBLT) and Language and Content Integrated
It is important to note that Basic was conceived not only as a means of communication but also
basis for further learning. Basic was thought of not only as an exercise in corpus planning but in
acquisition planning as well. The idea was that once you got your meaning across you could
use it as an ‘exploratory instrument’ for extending your communication. Unfortunately getting
meaning across in Basic resulted in an abnormal English that had no naturalness (like Quirk’s
In opposition to Ogden, we find Harold Palmer and Michael West, committed to pedagogic
prescriptions based on frequent words in ‘natural’ English.
West and Swenson criticize Basic too (Chapter 7). They say that instead of odd periphrastic
combinations that can be confusing it is better to use simple words frequently used.
West: The priest thanked the ladies for their help in making the party so successful.
Ogden: The servant of the church said it was very kind of the women of good birth to help him
in making the meeting of friends come off so well.
The question arises as to whether the language for learning should be ‘natural’ .
+1 anno fa
I contenuti di questa pagina costituiscono rielaborazioni personali del Publisher Sundar_vale di informazioni apprese con la frequenza delle lezioni di Lingua inglese I e studio autonomo di eventuali libri di riferimento in preparazione dell'esame finale o della tesi. Non devono intendersi come materiale ufficiale dell'università La Sapienza - Uniroma1 o del prof Seidlhofer Barbara.
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