According to Kachru’s Concentric Circle model (1992), English speakers from all over the world can be categorised into three circles, that is, inner circle, outer circle and expanding circle. Speakers in the inner circle are those who speak English as their first language, such as UK, USA, Canada and Australia. Countries such as Singapore, Malaysia and India that used to be colonies of an English-speaking country and now have developed English as an official language are classified in the outer circle. Expanding circle refers to countries which have no historical background of English, but just acknowledge that English is an international language and use it widely to communicate with people from different countries.
Native English speakers, which are often the speakers in the inner circle (sometimes in the outer circles), are always regarded as the ‘model’ and ‘standard’ of English. However, with English globalisation, the expanding circle keeps expanding and non-native speakers are already outnumbered people who speak English as their first language. According to Crystal (2003), only one out of four English speakers is a native speaker. That is to say, English no longer just belongs to the so-called ‘native speaker’, rather, it is a language tool to all the users in the world. Just as Widdowson (1994) said, ‘It is not a possession which they (native speakers) lease out to others, while still retaining the freehold’.
English as a lingua franca
According to history, no other language had been so widely popular as English. English nowadays is widely used all over the world, it appears from the fields of economy, politics, military to science, technology and education. As long as two or more countries are involved, people always use English to eliminate language boundaries. English has become the most widely used, popularly used and frequently used communicative tool in the world. The technical term for this phenomenon is called English as a lingua franca (ELF). English has become the most powerful language among more than 200 countries, 2500 ethnic groups and 6000 languages in the world and the number of non-native English speakers has far exceeded that of native English speakers, which indicates that the communication of ELF is mostly between second language users without involving native English speakers.
Some people argue that this is the implication of the unequal power between native English speaking countries and non-native English speaking countries. It suggests the superiority of the former and is likely to lead to a negative influence on language and culture of the latter. For example, Gramsci (1985, p.183) called the extensive spread of English as ‘the cultural hegemony’ and Preisler (1999, p. 244) suggested that this is an ‘English from above’ (‘the promotion of English by the hegemonic culture for purposes of international communication’) situation. However, the advantages of English globalisation cannot be ignored. In a larger sense, English functions as a communicating tool and provides the opportunities of mutual development between different countries. It also contributes the day-to-day communication of people from different language backgrounds on a smaller scale. Moreover, the frequent and extensive use of English in international communication have also promoted change and development of English as a language itself. As suggested by Jenkins, Cogo and Dewey (2011, p308), ‘the processes of globalization and internationalization of recent decades inevitably have impacted on language use in unprecedented way’.
Nowadays, English is during the process of changing from English from above’ to ‘English from below’ (the use of English as an expression of subcultural identity and style’) (Pennycook, 2006). Some expressions that are not considered as native English are now becoming acceptable to native English speaking countries. The publication of the latest version of Oxford Dictionary of English (Dictionary, O. E. 2018) could be a proof. Take Chinglish as an example, some phrases that are considered as typical Chinglish, such as ‘long time no see’ ‘lose face (be ashamed of oneself)’ and ‘add oil (a phrase used to cheer someone up)’ are included in this world-renowned English dictionary. It can also be seen in other famous English publications. For instance, the word ‘tuhao’, which shares the similar meaning with ‘nouveau riche’, appeared in BBC news several years ago (BBC News, 2013). Another example was shown in The Wall Street Journal. In the newspaper, the word ‘dama’ refers to a group of middle-aged Chinese female who purchase gold as an investment (Yap, 2013) and now it evolves into the use of describing Chinese elderly women who are enthusiastic but impulsive, energetic but often blindly following when buying things. Some people might argue that these are the laughingstocks of the inadequate English among Chinese.
However, on the other hand, it also suggests that some forms of Chinglish are now acknowledged around the world if we look at it from a positive perspective. ELF criticises the authority of standard English on the ground of the practical use of English among non-native speakers and advocates that English should not only be owned by native speakers but also should take non-native speakers into consideration. It attaches importance to linguistic diversity and effectiveness of communication rather than the imitation of the native norms.
Wide attention on ELF
Over the past few decades, the number of English speakers has been increasing at an incredible rate and English with other features that are not considered as standard English continues to emerge. This phenomenon has already gained extensive attention from both educators and linguistics. A large amount of research has been focused on this topic and provid new interpretations to English teaching and learning have been provided (Jenkins, 2000, 2007; Deterding, 2010; Björkman, 2014). Moreover, a computer-readable corpus called Vienna-Oxford International Corpus of English (VOICE) has already been generated on the basis of extensive research.
ELF research has been conducted in different linguistic fields by researcher around the world. Jenkins (2000), who is the prime advocator of ELF phonology, conducted a research on what pronunciation features are essential if the learner’s goal is to improve the intelligibility in English communication rather than sound like a native speaker. She then proposes Lingua Franca Core (LFC), which is a list of pronunciation features that need to be pronounced correctly in order to achieve intelligibility, by examining the vowels and consonants in great detail. For instance, she suggests that the /t/ consonant should be pronounced clearly between vowels (e.g. matter) and in cluster in the middle of word (e.g. sister) and the vowel /ɜː/ needs to be pronounced correctly in all cases, such as in the word ‘girl’ and ‘bird’. On the other hand, other features outside the LFC are not necessarily need to be produced correctly (e.g. consonants /θ/ and /ð/ can be replaced by /f/ and /v/ if the users have difficulty in producing them). Jenkins’ proposal provokes other scholars to pay attention to ELF phonology and a large amount of research has been focused on ELF phonology (Deterding & Kirkpatrick, 2006; Osimk, 2009).
Walker (2010) even presents a whole book talking about the teaching the pronunciation of English as a lingua franca. He recommends teachers to use audio which showcases the global varieties of English in class in order to raise learners’ awareness and familiarise them with ELF varieties. Furthermore, Walker proposes that teachers should not view L1 as an interference nor as a problem, rather, it is ‘a resource that learners and teachers can take advantage of’.
Research on ELF lexicogrammar features was also conducted. Breiteneder (2005) takes a close look on the third person verb form – s and proposed that although it is always omitted in ELF conversation, it does not affect the intelligibility of ELF language exchanges. Cogo & Dewey’s (2006) further investigation on this topic shows that speakers tend to be more productive when using zero forms. Hülmbauer (2007) focuses on whether accuracy of lexicogrammar would influence the effectiveness of communication. She concludes that some features that are considered as incorrect according to the native norms cause no problem in ELF interactions. Björkman’s (2009) research of ELF conversations in a Swedish university also reveals that speakers are likely to appropriate English morphosyntax flexibly in order to communicate more effectively. Some interesting findings have also appeared in EFL pragmatics. Böhringer (2007) suggests that prolonged silence and filled pauses in ELF can be helpful in speech coding thus contribute to mutual understanding. Other research also find that ELF speakers tend to use techniques such as repetition and paraphrasing in order to resolve misunderstanding (Cogo & Dewey, 2006; Lichtkoppler, 2007; Cogo, 2009; Kaur, 2009).