English as the Global Lingua Franca

At the beginning of the 21st century, English language is seen as a lingua franca because of its proliferation and global usage. English ceases to be the predominant form of language understandable by millions of people and expresses his concern about the spread of unidiomatic ‘Foreigners’ English’ (Dewey, 2007). It is possibly that the vast numbers of non-native speakers of English who now use English as a language of interaction will have some effect upon the evolution of the language. However, there are ways of countering this spread of unidiomatic English, not least of which is finding out what it is that makes English language so unidiomatic.

English can be seen as the Global Lingua Franca because it is one of the most popular and widespread languages of the world. Even this Lingua Franca type is not homogeneous, however: whereas Tanzania as an English speaking country leans towards Lingua Franca, South Africa combines English and Spanish characteristics. On the one hand it has a sizeable number of population who use English as their first language, on the other it is mostly used as a second language. Interestingly, some of the special multilingual features of the different situations are shared by some English nations, e.g. in the Caribbean, where English is used in a bi-dialectal setting, Standard English as the official language and a related to Creole form as a home language. Even if not all prototypical factors of second-language occur in all countries, the common problems and challenges justify their description as a special linguistic type (Curry, 2004).

English language varieties are used in a specific multilingual context and are influenced by the other dialects spoken by the speakers in the society. In these English speaking countries English is the high variety in a diglossic structure, For instance, in some African countries Tumbuka might be used as the home language, Chewa as the national language, and English as the educated and international language. In Madras most oral commerce would be conducted in Tamil, most written communication in English. The usual contexts in which English is used is therefore biased towards the written mode and restricted to certain domains and topics, such as education, trade, modernization, and development work. The educational importance of English can be seen in Asian and African newspapers, which compared to other countries serve educational purposes more than other media do. English speaking varieties derive from the superimposition of English on African or Asian languages during the colonial era. English was taught and learnt under the guidance and to the advantage of the colonial é1ite. This has had and still has important consequences for attitudes to English and to the indigenous languages as well as to specific forms of English (Dewey, 2007).

The tendency to look towards the UK model persists in all matters of ‘standard’, in language as in others. Thus the English Academy of South Africa has recently proposed that British Standard English should be the official language for the New South Africa. The balance between national or regional authenticity (African-ness or Indianness, for instance) and international conformity (Standard English) is often tipped surprisingly towards the latter. Although the fear of losing international intelligibility is real, subjective impressionistic views often seem oversensitive towards ‘deviations’, underestimating the common core of English. The impression of falling standards is usually not backed by evidence, because no really comparative language data have been available (Dewey, 2007).

Good English is still seen as equivalent to good education so that using English implies all positive educational, technological, and modernistic values. Most colonized nations have become the developing countries of the developing and poor countries d and this has technological and political consequences (Hutchison, 2005). The corpus boom is (partly) due to technical innovations of the developed (mainly computer storage and retrieval), which affect all stages of corpus-linguistic work, compilation, analysis, and interpretation and application. The compilation of newspaper texts, for instance, is easy in technologically advanced communities, where modern text-processing and desk-top publishing are used; in the developing countries these technologies are just becoming available so the compiler tends to skew his sample towards the easily accessible, or to postpone this category until the necessary software is more widespread. In Tanzania, for example, the old and influential Daily News may be neglected in favor of the more modern Business Times (Foulger and Jimenez-Silva 2007). For South Africa it is even possible to find examples from the Weekly Mail and Guardian on the internet or via gopher; this is not possible for the small new black papers, but too much from white organization English language would skew the sample importantly and significantly (Dovring, 1997).

Popularity and a special position of the English language as the Global Lingua Franca is caused by political and social changes in the world. Politically, the Westminster model of democracy was soon given up in many African and Asian countries and new forms of government developed. Although “multi-party democracy is currently being introduced in many parts of the continent, old habits often prevail. The general political sensitivity in Africa and Asia is not favorable to empirical research in general and corpus compilation in particular” (Jenkins 2007, p. 15). The ‘harmless drudge’ image (propagated by Dr Johnson’s dictionary) may be associated with the ‘fruitless exercise’–resulting in insufficient support from official quarters. Potentially more dangerous is the justifiable attempt by developing countries to channel research towards more urgent needs, which can lead to the restriction of research to politically opportune and/or economically advantageous areas, so that more basic and not directly profitable work is neglected (Jenkins, 2007; Foulger and Jimenez-Silva) 2007).

Likewise, private letters are not written in English very often and certainly not as much as in Europe. Although English in Africa and Asia tends to be a public and written language, even texts with these features may be difficult to find. English may be used together with other languages in the same utterance. Much faithfully recorded language data in English speaking nations includes instances of code-mixing and code-switching, because they stem from a multilingual repertoire and context. Researchers cannot include utterances that have more than a few expressions and phrases, which can be interpreted as loans. Where there are English-related pidgins and creoles, as in West Africa and the Caribbean, the task of distinguishing English from creole words can be much harder (Foulger and Jimenez-Silva 2007).

Even in the limited spectrum where English is habitually used, recording natural speech is not easy. The positive attitudes associated with English cause the famous sociolinguistic paradox: corpus linguists need to record natural speech in context, but as soon as they come as foreigners to compile data within a language community, the conversation tends to become less accepted and ‘distorted’ towards more formal and prestigious forms. Thus all recordings of natural speech have to be made by in-group members. Although this problem occurs equally in English speaking varieties in a bi-dialectal setting or with strong style variation, it is aggravated in foreign environments. Language is a much more important group marker in many English speaking countries, because not only the use of a language as such but also the quality of the language can be interpreted as “a socio-educational quality label much more clearly, as a second language is transmitted mainly through the formal education sector” (Foulger and Jimenez-Silva 2007, p. 103).

What is unique to lingua franca communities is the problem of learner languages, which affects the basic parameters age and education, because in a sociolinguistic context where English is learnt only as a second (or third, etc.) language it is difficult to determine where an interlingua ends and educated English starts. The English researchers only collects texts from adults over 18 years of age, but the structure must be sure to include (if at all possible) only speakers who have received their formal education through the medium of English. In Asia secondary education is usually available in Asian languages as well as in English, in ‘anglophone’ Africa it is available in English only Foulger and Jimenez-Silva) 2007). The minimum length of English-medium education depends on the educational system in the respective country. In Africa, Tanzania has the shortest length, as it uses Swahili as a medium throughout primary education. That is why at least six years of English-medium secondary school count as the minimum requirement for ‘educated English’ in the foreign frame. Since the official medium of instruction cannot always be used in the first years of secondary (sometimes even of tertiary) education, learner language can even be recorded from university students. “In India even universities teach in the national languages such as Tamil, Telugu, or Hindi” (Jenkins 2007, p. 43).

Apart from interference from other languages there is also interference from native-speaker English. Since as yet there is no lingua franca norm, English language norms are adhered to and this seems best ensured by filtering natural second-language English through an English intuition. The borderline between intravariety and intervariety stylistic changes is very difficult to assess, particularly when ENL influence is constant and pervasive in certain contexts. These issues were not only concerned with ‘grammar problems’ but also with reader-friendly style. The fact however that he was an Irishman raises of course questions about African English in newspapers, where the reporters give their names to their articles but the form is greatly influenced by English native speakers Foulger and Jimenez-Silva) 2007). The financial constraints and availability of qualified experts nowadays make such cases extremely rare in Africa and India (except in South Africa). The reaction of African colleagues is revealing, since they were always most grateful for the improvements added to their work (though this may also be culture-specific politeness to foreigners). As it is impossible to look behind every text’s production history, one has to accept texts as African or Asian if they are connected to African or Asian names (Curry, 2004).

Economic and political factors may affect the practical availability of certain text types in the Third World. Thus it is not easy to compile sufficient samples for the published book categories. Even in a huge country like India there is only a ‘limited number of publications in the second language situation as compared to that in a native language situation such as the American and British’. In a small country like Malawi book production is so limited that it is difficult to collect enough samples when strict criteria are applied and all international editions or reprints are excluded. Under these circumstances excerpts from theses have to be included in the ‘Printed: informational: learned’ category (Dewey, 2007). The discrepancy between the writing and the publishing dates is often great, affecting the corpus-linguistic ideal of collecting spoken and written data from the same time-period.

‘Opposition books’ that were published outside of the foreign speaking, usually in English speaking, countries were not included because of English editing. Political considerations in a very sensitive climate not only made publications difficult until very recently, but may still affect the willingness to provide texts (Curry, 2004). Even if they wanted to, parliaments might (think that they) have to wait for official approval or legislation before making tape recordings of parliamentary sessions available or possible (even though official versions are published in Hansard later). Economic constraints may cause culture-specific traditions. Thus printed learned texts do not see the light of day, since academic traditions in Africa and Asia do not demand that research is printed, as access to international journals is limited and national journals are often only reproduced in mimeographed form. These publications do not have the same form as in the UK, but they fulfill basically the same functions and are thus suitable equivalents. Such issues also affect the systematicity of data collection that can be achieved (Jenkins, 2007).

Often practical and fundamental theoretical questions of corpus composition go hand in hand. The lower frequency of usage corresponds with the lower communicative and intercultural value of such text types including modern technologies. It means that researchers and educators should recompose “the English language frame corpora on the basis of the assessed relative importance of the genre or text-type” (Foulger and Jimenez-Silva) 2007, p. 54). As this approach appears too radical and puts at risk the central goal of keeping all the components compatible, the compilers decided to accept changes wherever sensible necessities suggested it and refrained from hypothetically based changes (Curry, 2004). It is important o note that whereas most other changes in English language compared to lingua franca this structure resulted in an under-differentiation of groups (i.e. in countries regional press are much less important than in the UK), in some cases a closer look at the problem seems to excuse a finer subdivision. Critics admit that whereas the persuasive mass media category in foreign countries only collects language means, the tradition of personal columns in many English speaking countries makes a difference between personal and institutional press appear useful. The real issue is under-differentiation. Many differentiations should be left open, so that subcategories can be adapted to more community-specific texts, thus gaining, not losing in text information value (Jenkins, 2007).

Denial of English compilation in developing countries is based on the fear that their understaffed and impoverished university departments may not be able to use the corpora adequately, even where national institutions have already provided a home for the data during the first stages of corpus work (Foulger and Jimenez-Silva 2007). The experience of previous research co-operation may contribute to this denial; sometimes data on certain local problems can only be found in international research centers and the local impact is almost non-existent. In addition, modern research methodologies, especially those tied to expensive equipment, may only become available at a later stage to developing departments in Africa (and sometimes in Asia). As long as potential researchers are not convinced that the necessary tools will be easily available to them and inexpensive, they rightly do not feel drawn towards new possibilities, however useful they may appear theoretically. In addition to all the general problems associated with sociolinguistic research collaboration in the developing countries, the technological lag plays a important role in education and knowledge acquisition (Jenkins, 2007).

Though, the principles and variations of English pan gauge linguistic analysis are usually well-known for English speaking societies and social groups but quite unknown for foreign communities. Of course, linguistic variables can be tried out, taking present-day changes in English speaking varieties or developmental breaking points of native-speaker English as a starting-point. Thus the particularly unstable English vowel system, the fuzzy border between count and non-count nouns, or the expanding progressive form can be analyzed in language varieties, hypothesizing either that the lack of feeling for clear boundaries might lead to progressive expansion further than in English speaking varieties or that the lack of native-speaker confidence might not allow any experiments and might rather support conservative usage. Similarly, sociolinguistic parameters responsible for style variation have been investigated in English speaking corpora in great detail, but for foreign langauge the relative importance of speaker relationship versus topic and of ethnic versus socioeconomic or socio-educational group is not yet fully established (Foulger and Jimenez-Silva 2007).

Researchers admit that there is at present no solution to all these problems, except that solutions should not be barred because possibly influential variables are left unspecified. Thus compilers have to be particularly careful with the definition of socio-educational and situational parameters, as it is impossible to say how important certain variables will turn out to be, and they must pay special attention to the central corpus-linguistic notions of consistency and context. Thus whatever the compromise between local and global criteria, a first corpus must fall short of the ideal–but it is a starting-point (Foulger and Jimenez-Silva) 2007). All the other doubtful, i.e. more or less culture-specific, texts can be included in a larger monitor corpus and at a later stage different compositions of a corpus for different purposes can be devised. Culture-specific adaptations in multilingual situations are possible when all parameters are recorded faithfully and any interpretation is left for later (Jenkins, 2007).

In sum, English language can be considered as lingual franca because of its global popularity and usage. The possible way is to rely on the intuitive knowledge of members of the speech community. Only researchers and educators can assess internal variation and its socio-situational principles. As far as external variation in the sense of difference from Standard English is concerned, though, native-speaker intuition is also required, in particular when it comes to distinguishing the good qualitative differences in idiomaticity and grammatical structures and the consequent interpretation of qualitative and quantitative data. As with the stricture-theoretical problem of the English language, the issues of analysis is that researchers and educators need a framework for the determination of variables on a purely descriptive stage at the same time as speakers need a corpus as a reference variety. In very practical terms this means that if researchers include African academic writing in research they include language structures that are not accepted by most English speakers. So, the issue of English popularity is researched by different authors but it requires further considerations and careful analysis.


Curry, M. J. (2004). UCLA Community College Review: Academic Literacy for English Language Learners. Community College Review 32 (1), 43.

Dewey, M ( 2007). English as a lingua franca and globalization: an interconnected perspective. International Journal of Applied Linguistics, 17, 332-354

Dovring, K. (1997). English as Lingua Franca: Double Talk in Global Persuasion. Praeger Publishers,

Hutchison, HC. E., (2005). The Interface of Global Migrations, Local English Language Learning and Identity Transmutations of the Immigrant Academician. A Journal of the Oxford Round Table 1 (1), p. 43.

Jenkins, J (2007). English as a lingua franca: attitude and identity. Oxford University Press.

Foulger, T. S., Jimenez-Silva, M. (2007). Enhancing the Writing Development of English Language Learners: Teacher Perceptions of Common Technology in Project-Based Learning. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 22 (2), p. 103.