SELF project

The project "Studying in English as a Lingua Franca" (SELF) seeks to relate the linguistic perspective to a more qualitative and ethnographic one, in search of interactive and adaptive processes in action from the point of view of ELF users themselves. It thus complements the ELFA corpus approach by taking a more close-up view of ELF as it is used in university contexts.

English has become the global lingua franca of the academic world. English is the principal language of research publication, and the number of English-medium degree programmes has risen steeply. In these contexts, English is overwhelmingly used among non-native speakers. Its main role is a lingua franca, a contact language among speakers who do not share a mother tongue.

The accelerated mobility and global use of English expose the language to an unprecedented wealth of contacts with other languages and thereby potentially rapid change. To capture the changes in English as they are taking place and to understand the processes involved, we need to document uses of English as it undergoes these transformations.

Project SELF sets out to provide research-based evidence on present-day English as a lingua franca (ELF), with a focus on academic discourses in university settings. Academia has been one of the prime domains to adopt English as its lingua franca, and provides a fruitful context for exploring new developments in English: it is a demanding, verbally oriented and influential domain of language use.

SELF focuses on English-medium university studies, adopting a microanalytic, ethnographically influenced perspective on the social contexts of ELF, tapping the speakers' experience along with their language. As a large-scale sounding board for its linguistic analysis, the research utilises the one-million-word ELFA corpus. A combination of the corpus-based and the discourse analytic approaches seeks to achieve a well-rounded understanding of current ELF usage.

Findings from the SELF project serve theoretical and descriptive interests on issues of language change and new developments in English. In addition, they serve important applications, primarily in university contexts for the benefit of students and teachers in English-medium programmes. To this end, we co-operate with the Helsinki University Language Centre. We also expect to contribute to wider applications to teaching, translation and interpretation.

The project was funded by the University of Helsinki Funds for three years (2008–2010).