The extraordinary spread of the English language around the world has made it the primary means of world-wide communication. This implies that most interactions in English occur among non-native speakers in non-native speaking contexts, with English functioning as a “contact language” (Firth 1996), chosen by persons who share neither a mother tongue nor a common culture. One consequence of the global predominance of English in the last few decades is that today non-native speakers of English far outnumber its native speakers. More precisely, as pointed out by Seidlhofer (2005: 339) only one out of every four users of English in the world is a native speaker of the language: Nonetheless, native speakers are still regarded as custodians over what is acceptable usage, with non-native speakers often being regarded as ‘learners’ forever striving to reach native-speaking proficiency and not granted the status of language users in their own right. The aim of the present paper is to provide a characterization of how non-native speakers negotiate their own identity and try to establish themselves as language users rather than as language learners, on occasion of cross-cultural encounters. Taking into account a series of interviews and a panel discussion recorded from BBC World and CNN International, the study will claim that, in international encounters, when English constitutes the main or only means of communication and the primary preoccupation is mutual intelligibility, it is advisable to introduce the notion of ELF (English as a Lingua Franca), rather than refer to the yardstick of ENL (English as a Native Language). The evidence collected will show that non-native speakers can engage in conversations that are not only meaningful but also ‘normal’ and ‘ordinary’ (Firth 1996). Even though the corpus of data gathered for the purpose of this work is not very large and cannot claim to provide an exhaustive description of the uses of English as a lingua franca, it can show how non-native speakers successfully negotiate meaning, as well as their own identity, and get their interlocutors (mainly native-speakers) to accept them as ELF speakers rather than EFL learners. From a contextual point of view, the paper will first provide some background information on the world-wide spread of the English language, and then focus on some of the main issues prevalent in the ELF debate. After a description of the objectives, methods and materials, preliminary data will be provided from a small-scale case study carried out on a corpus of seven interviews and a panel discussion. Results from this study may serve as a contribution to the current debate on ELF, by offering further insight into several linguacultural backgrounds and different domains.
From Business Letters to E-mails: Balancing Tradition and Change / Poppi, Franca. - STAMPA. - 192:(2014), pp. 191-208.