The legitimacy of English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) has been the subject of considerable debate in the literature. A new study, by Christopher Jenks, which was published in Language and Intercultural Communication, adds new nuance to the debate by calling into question the relevance of ELF identity as a social category.
Jenks uses an inductive approach to identify which social categories were used by interactions between speakers whose native language was not English. Although in the literature, such interactions might be termed as ELF encounters, Jenks notes that the ELF construct is not relevant to the way these speakers construe their social identity. Rather, they tended to think in terms of ‘foreigner‘, ‘language learner‘, and ‘non-native‘ speaker. Simply put, “the interactants do not see themselves as lingua franca speakers, world English speakers, or speakers of English as an international language” (p. 105).
Jenks goes on to argue that the assignment of social categories in research must have at least some relevance to the social interactions and participants under investigation, which does not appear to be the case in much ELF research. However, the ELF designation may still have some ethical value in that it helps to portray research participants in ways that eschew perceived linguistic deficit.
Jenks, C. (2013). Are you an ELF? The relevance of ELF as an equitable social category in online intercultural communication. Language and Intercultural Communication, 13(1), 95-108. doi: 10.1080/14708477.2012.748792