English as A Lingua Franca
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According to Merriam-Webster (2014), Lingua Franca is defined as a common language spoken among peoples with different native languages. Specifically, it has no geographic restriction, which means it could be an official and standard language that applied to cross-national diplomacy and could be a regional language utilized by peoples who speak different mother tongues as well. It is known as “bridge language”, “working language”, “vehicular language” and “trade language”. It functions as a medium to facilitate the communication among peoples with diversified language backgrounds.
English as a Lingua Franca (ELF)
The term ELF is defined as “communication in English between speakers with different first languages” (Seidlhofer 2005, cited in Gu, Patkin and Kirkpatrick 2014). A more detailed definition from Firth (1996), cited in Seidlhofer (2004), is that “it is a contact language between persons who share neither a common native tongue nor a (common) national culture, and for whom English is chosen as foreign language of communication.” It is used by individuals from “linguacultural background” and speakers and locations of ELF are changeable. ELF can occur among employees within an international corporate headquartered in Shanghai, over the internet and social media or just between two backpackers in a hostel in Italy (Cogo 2012).
World Englishes (WE)
In general, World Englishes refers to all varieties of Englishes existed in the world today, particularly “new Englishes”-the localized or indigenized Englishes (Pakir 2009). It is a sign of adaptation of English in certain geographic areas.
Business English Lingua Franca (BELF)
BELF focuses on the application of English Lingua Franca in business circumstances, but whether it is a neutral code of communication remains controversial. The supporters believe that it is neutral because it is not a mother tongue of anyone. Besides, it is widely-used in global business where “BELF users and communicators” are participants and have the right to use it (Louhiala Salminen et al. 2005). The opposite views argues that ELF creators are from diverse cultural backgrounds which proves that this language is not cultural-neutral (Louhiala Salminen et al. 2005, in Meierkord 2012).
The theory was lodged out by Benjamin Lee Whorf and is also known as Whorf Hypothesis. Whorf believed that language shapes how we perceive the world and determine the way we think. He asserted that “every speech community fits the need of its culture”. A famous example would be Eskimos’ various words in describing snow. Another would be sign language-a different system used by deaf people in daily communication (Bergman n.d.).
Reasons for ELF
Wide Geographical Distribution
The historical reasons play an indispensable role in shaping English into lingua franca. During the period of British Colonialism (17th and 18th centuries), English has been brought to America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Carrabin, South Africa and South Asia and English are well-established after years of development. Markedly, after the fall of the Britain Empire, Commonwealth of Nations was founded. Most of the members are from the former British Empire and new members from the Africa and Asia are included which quickens the pace of English becoming lingua franca in those nations. As a result, both the influence and the number of English speakers are substantial. In other words, English has been a worldwide phenomenon.
Spread of Political and Economic Power
The spread of English is bound up with culture value transmission including political and economic element (Pennycook 1994). “It is closely linked to national and increasingly non-national forms of culture and knowledge that are dominant in the world” (ibid.).
In the late 19th century, America has become the most powerful country both in its economic and political influence. During the British colonialism times, the most effective way to expand the political and economic power is to force the people from colonies to learn English, which seems to be an unfeasible approach in the contemporary world. Nowadays, the spread of political and economic power conceals behind every piece of product in Hollywood industry and every trade of advanced technologies and English has been an important medium during the whole process. In the current times, America is in the dominant position of the world, along with the promotion of the frequent use of English.
Globalization, driven by technological upgrades in media and communication tools, is a flow of capital, goods, personnel and other resources around the world, generating new modes of global activity (Castells 1996, cited in Blommaert, p. 13).
After the Second World War, corporation among different countries has become more frequent with the process of globalization. In the political field, the growing number of the foundation of global organizations, including WHO and NATO requires for a shared language in order to improve the work efficiency. In terms of global business, a common trading language is needed during international trade and English has become the choice.
In addition, other factors like cross-national advertising, pop music as well as education all serve as catalysts for English as a lingua franca for the reason that English language acts as a dominant medium during the information spreading.
Implications for Management
The increasing awareness of language choice has taken place in global companies and during the “cross-national merger”. However, the language selection could be an intractable strategic decision and the challenge is considerable (Maclean 2006; Louhiala Salminen et al. 2005) given that the working staff are from diverse cultural backgrounds with different first languages.
English as A Single Corporate Language
The adoption of English as the standardized language is a prevalent phenomenon in international companies. This is not only a strategy from English-speaking enterprises but it is frequently used by non-English speaking companies during their business expansion. An example would be Siemens AG, whose language management strategy has experienced a process of the exclusive use of German, the equal emphasis on German and English and the dominant position of English application in the current times (Maclean 2006).
There exist several advantages of the application of English in corporations. Firstly, the single corporate language policy is instrumental in improving the operation efficiency. Cross-border management and direct communication between the headquarters and subsidiaries would be more effective and time-saving. Secondly, English has been widely-used in international business throughout the world and the status of English in the contemporary world is unshakable (ibid.).
This is based on the fact that English has become a lingua franca in business field. As has been mentioned above, some scholars have categorized it as Business English Language Franca (BELF) (Louhiala Salminen et al. 2005). Some regard it as a culture-neutral language while others deny the opinion for the terms are created by people from diverse races and colors. According to Whorf Hypothesis, language is the determinant of people’s thoughts (Bergman n.d.). Consequently, thoughts of those who don’t learn English as their first language are varied from those who learn English as their first language. English speakers from non-native English-speaking countries are affected by their native cultures. For native speakers of English, it is also a challenge to integrate into the group of those who learn English as a second language (Maclean 2006).
As a result, the potential threat of the implementation of the single corporate language is that it could result in poor internal communication and misunderstandings among the employees from different cultural backgrounds, which, in return, will jeopardize the working efficiency over the long haul. Furthermore, the flexibility of monolingual policy is doubted. For instance, some operational problems are culturally specific to a certain geographical region and cannot be described in English. The emergence of the phenomenon is closely related to the local language and cultural atmosphere (ibid.).
Multilingual Policy Adoption
Nordea has been a cross-national corporate resulted from two merging companies from Finland and Sweden. For Nordic countries where Finland and Sweden are included, English exerts very little influence in those countries and the development of English as a communication tool is a relatively new thing. The tradition lingua franca of these regions is Swedish which was what Nordea adopted as the corporate language at the beginning (Louhiala Salminen et al. 2005). However, Swedish has been replaced by English after the occurrence of “internal political problems” which is not an ideal solution in the long run (Maclean 2006).
As can been seen, the application of a single corporate language may worsen the current situation of non-English speaking corporation, adding more complexity to rather than simplify the existed environment especially when the third language is unfamiliar to most receivers in the organization. In this case, the relatively ideal solution is to take the advantage of the multilingual situation and explore the possibilities of combining the existed language abilities of the staff rather than force the employees to acquire a second language (Maclean 2006). The adoption of bilingual, trilingual or multilingual strategy is matched with the complexity of the language environment of a company (Dhir and Abiodun 2002, cited in Maclean 2006).
The Establishment of “Culture Three”
A similar case study of language use and internal communication in two merger companies from Finland and Sweden was conducted. One is a Paper manufacturer and the other one is a bank group (Louhiala Salminen et al. 2005). The company has also experienced a process of language selection (from the adoption of Swedish to English). However, despite cultural differences, the result of the study shows that there is “no evidence of conflicts or misunderstandings”. Besides, the study suggests that the shared value has formed within the company philosophy no matter whether it is because of the closeness of geography between Finland and Sweden or the working experience (ibid.).
When referring to the culture disparity in business, a “culture three” which is out of the cultural differences should be established (Holden 2002, cited in Louhiala Salminen et al. 2005). In the case companies, the culture is neither Swedish nor Finnish. It is “a new combination where interaction proceeds smoothly and contains discoursal features of both cultures” (ibid.). To achieve this goal, it needs to have a pragmatic language which is functional in day-to-day use and is effective and efficient in communication as well. Linguistic correctness is not the focus (ibid.). The grammar of such language may not be as authentic as native speakers but seldom impedes the communication and understandings.
Implications for Non-native Speakers of English
English is no longer the language of native speakers and more business activities have taken place among non-native English speakers. As a result, English during business trade is more functional. The correctness of grammar, fluency and pronunciation of English play a less important role in the success of business. Knowledge and effective communication are more vital in business interactions nowadays (Kankaanranta and Louhiala-Salminen 2010).
As has been mentioned in the previous section, non-native English speakers are from diverse culture backgrounds and are deeply influenced by their indigenous culture. Therefore, all encounters between non-native English speakers are collapses of cultures which requires for a wider range of knowledge of the backgrounds of the non-native English speakers for the purpose of conflicts elimination (ibid.).
Playfulness and Creative Use of Language
Here is an example of a conversation among non-native speakers of English.
“Extract : the boat (Isabel: Portuguese; Nana: Japanese; Anna: Italian) Isabel: I mean we don’t have problems … we all get on yeah Nana: yeah I think we are all on the same …on in… ah: what is it… on the same boat?
Nana: yeah? … how do you say? On the same boat?
Isabel: I don’t know yeah…on the same boat I think…on the bus on the train
Anna: anyway we understand you
Isabel: yeah … we are all foreigners
Nana: all foreigners (laughing)”
The context based on the discussion of the correctness of a preposition of an English slang. Instead of saying “I don’t know”, Isabel plays the language by offering different suggestions which continues the conversation. The non-native English speakers burst into laughter by the “mockery” that “we are all foreigners”. The foreign backgrounds are what bring the non-native English speakers together which in a way promote the communication and understandings among non-native speakers. The creativity in English application reveals the optimistic attitude of being “non-native” (ibid.).
Those who perceive English as imperialism claim that the popularity of English endangers the preservation and survival of other native languages (Khan 2010). Take Arabic language as an example. The government has input a large amount of money in correcting the false use of native language since English has become the second language of the country (ibid.).
The opposing view has pointed out that the frequency of the second language application will not surpass that of the mother tongue consider that mother tongue is the most familiar and comfortable language for an individual, which, as a result, will not pose a threat to the survival of native languages (ibid.).
Objectively speaking, the reason that some languages are on the brink of extinction is not only derived from the worldwide use of English, but because of the false language strategy implemented by the government. Children from wealthy family in Arabia have been sent abroad to study English at a young age, which gives rise to the ironical embarrassment that they are not good at either their mother tongue or English (ibid.). Similar situation happens in China. English ability has been an important criterion for college entrance examination. Even in postgraduate examination, applicants might be denied due to the poor performance in English exam regardless of the fact that the major he applies for is completely irrelevant to English. In recent years, the ministry of education has realized the severity of the case and start to consider increase the percentage of Chinese subject in the college entrance examination while the total mark of English will be reduced from 150 points to 100 points. Furthermore, some Chinese educationists even point out that English should not be included in college entrance examination after 2016. Instead, it could be an elective course in high school.
Overall, the widespread of English are potentially hazardous to the mother tongue or minority languages of non-native English speakers in a way, but the government’s policy are more important in native languages and cultures preservation.
Implications for Native Speakers of English
With the emergence of World Englishes and the trend of English as a Lingua Franca, English is no longer the exclusive language of native speakers. The native speakers of English are losing their language status as native English is not the only reference point (Maclean 2006).
Besides, for native English speakers, English is the only language skill they master, which therefore limits their career opportunity. Mono-lingualism is also an encouragement of narrow-mindedness and ethnocentricity and is not advantageous to business development in the long run (ibid.). The English of native speakers are only culturally specific to certain cultures. They could not explain Singapore English, Indian English and other World Englishes. “They are no longer effective communicators” (ibid.).
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Khan, R. (2010). Linguistic Imperialism? [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c3TJe4jnqFo#t=22 [Accessed07December2014]
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