Taking a stand

Emmanouela Tisizi

This post is inspired by the Telegraph’s article[1] which, based on linguists’ predictions, prepares the readers for the extinction of the ‘th’ sound from English by 2066. Such predictions very often attract people’s attention irrespective of their interest in or familiarity with the field of linguistics. And while reading about something that may or may not happen in the future is intriguing, it is at the same time a safe topic exactly because it refers to the future, and people, especially linguists and educators, are not confronted with the need to decipher what it may mean for their current decision-making in terms of using, teaching and researching language.

Language change, however, happens every day, especially nowadays when English is mostly used by and among people for whom it is not the first language. English is thus used as an international language, or a Lingua Franca. In short, English is now used as a means to communicate effectively and not as a means to demonstrate knowledge of and adherence to the norms of Standard English. In Seidlhofer’s words, English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) refers to ‘‘any use of English among speakers of different first languages for whom English is the communicative medium of choice, and often the only option’’ (Seidlhofer, 2011, p.7)[2].

Since English is now used for different reasons, by different people, of different backgrounds it only makes sense that the teaching practice of English teachers and the design of teaching materials around the world have to be reconsidered. Not only that, attention also needs to be drawn to what should and should not be considered as a mistake when assessing students’ English. To this end, ELF researchers propose certain changes which unlike the article’s prediction are very relevant to current teaching practices and require educators and linguists to promptly take a stand.

ELF researchers suggest that educators should focus on enhancing the students’ communication and should therefore use activities and materials which focus on promoting the learners’ intelligibility. Teachers are thus encouraged not to correct English learners when they drop the third person (-s) in the present tense, when they struggle between who and which, he and she, or when they agonize over definite and indefinite articles, to name a few (Seidlholfer, 2004)[3]. ELF is still emerging but it has already ignited a heated debate around teaching and research practices. In lieu of codifying ELF, researchers have created the corpus VOICE (Vienna-Oxford International Corpus of English)[4] which accrues examples of spoken English used by learners in various sites with the sole aim to communicate with one another. Educators and linguists are thus left to decide whether or not to follow these proposed changes. Is this the direction towards which English learning is headed, or is ELF just another trend?

 

[1] Knapton, S. (29 September 2016). ‘Th’ sound to vanish from English language by 2066 because of multiculturalism, say linguists. The Telegraph. Retrieved from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2016/09/28/th-sound-to-vanish-from-english-language-by-2066-because-of-mult/

[2] Seidlhofer, B. (2011). Understanding English as a lingua franca. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[3] Seidlhofer, B. (2004). Research perspectives on teaching English as a lingua franca. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 24, 209-239.

[4] Retrieved: http://www.univie.ac.at/voice/page/index.php

 

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3 thoughts on “Taking a stand”

  1. Hi Emmanouela,
    There has been a lot of discussion recently on the blog about native speakers and non-native speakers and what that means and who is/ can claim legitimacy as a language teacher. Thank you for bringing in the ELF perspective, which de-centers the whole NS-NNS binary and instead places speakers and communication/ intelligibility at the core. I am not sure there will ever be an complete consensus on a model of English (e.g., ESL or ELF), but I am encouraged by the increasing number of educators and language scholars who are questioning outdated norms and ideologies. The more we write, talk, teach, and present about ELF and other NS fallacy-resistant models of language education, the more these ideas will have a chance to take hold and teachers will increasingly take a stand.
    Thanks for your inspiring post!

    Like

  2. Hi Emmanouela,
    Your post made me think of the direction of mainstream SLA research thus far. Traditional SLA research has heavily relied on the assumption that learners are on the way to achieve the target-like grammar. So the role of SLA researchers has been to shed light on the inner workings of the target-like language development. But if we abandon the assumption, and accept the reality that you’ve just described above. The research focusing on reaching to the target-like grammar makes little sense. Similarly, we can look at fossilization of interlanguage differently. Thus far, fossilization is, at best, characterized as the stagnation of interlanguage development. But if we avoid the notion of developing target like grammar, I think, fossilization can be understood under the different light. Thanks for your thought provoking post!
    -Babble^2

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  3. Hi Emma,
    Due to your post, I could find and read the article that our course instructor recommended to have a look at. I personally enjoyed reading all the information that was provided in it, and I even started thinking about all of the consequences that can or will occur to the English “th” sound in the near future.

    But do you believe that what was mentioned in the article is absolutely true?

    Hmm, I can’t completely agree with the following:”But within the next few decades immigration will have fundamentally altered the language, according to experts at the University of York.We can expect to see significant changes between now and the middle of the century.The “th” sound – also called the voiced dental nonsibliant fricative – is likely to change to be to be replaced an “f”, “d”, or “v” meaning “mother” will be pronounced “muvver” and “thick” will be voiced as “fick”.”

    What? I’m not certain that in 50 years a ” th” sound will face with all those earlier illustrated drastic changes, owing to the immigration and lack of English instruction; however, if we take into consideration linguistic and phonetic changes that happened to the European French, just a few centuries ago – I mean when French settlers came to live on the territory of Quebec, we might notice that French spoken in Europe and Quebec are almost two different languages based on the same standard French grammar but using different vocabulary words, expressions, and phonetic sounds, that makes them both unique and distinguishable. Finally, everything is possible.

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