The Cultural and Intercultural Dimensions of English as a Lingua Franca
Edited by Prue Holmes and Fred Dervin
Multilingual Matters 2016

This book has three parts, divided into nine chapters, with 13 contributing authors. The first two parts deal with specific aspects of the total topic, with part three providing a final commentary.

Questions raised and discussed in this volume could be of interest to anyone who teaches language, whether as a lingua franca or not, plus anyone who researches in the area. As more and more English language teaching professionals are becoming aware of the need to position their work in a broader, international context, with the real needs of their learners as global citizens shaping what they do, this work adds to the scholarship in the field of English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) in no uncertain terms.

The first chapter lays out the territory, discussing lingua francas in a world of migration. The term linguaculture is explained with reference to the idea that ‘any language carries meaning, and in this sense, any language carries culture ...’, thus it represents the individual mix of language and culture which speakers necessarily share during intercultural encounters. Those who recall the work of Sapir and Whorf, perhaps from a long-ago MA module, may find a re-awakening of interest ignited by a variety of topics throughout the book, including semantics and pragmatics as a dimension of linguaculture.

There is a useful overview of the differences between ‘first’, ‘second’, ‘foreign’ language and ‘lingua franca’ functional use, differences which are essential to the understanding of the role of a lingua franca in a given context.

We are also reminded of the movement within language teaching to have language ‘de-nationalised’, especially English, in order to broaden its base and make materials, for example, more responsive to learners and their needs. The argument goes that continuing to teach a single, native-linked form of language is becoming ever less relevant to the needs of learners who must function in a world of many Englishes.

Some readers may be surprised to note that the discussion of ELF is not as recent as many assume, with the origins of the topic traced back to the late 1950s at least. A handy summary of significant scholarship in the field is provided.

That language and culture are established as having national and local roots is not denied, but a relationship between language and culture driven by interculturality seems to result in the birth of a new variety, as something emergent and unique rather than recognisably from the original sources.

Interestingly perhaps for the language teacher, the notion of communicative competence is contrasted with intercultural communicative competence, this latter comprising several pragmatic strategies not generally dealt with in mainstream ELT. Whilst this notion is not new in itself, it is significant that the topic is discussed and extended in this book as part of what is evidently an ongoing area of research.

In later chapters, a detailed account of ELF discourse elements in disagreement and the role of directness are highlighted, along with research into misunderstandings occurring in ELF. It may not be a surprise to experienced teachers that research is showing that speakers of ELF appear to be well able to manage their interactions without fatal miscommunications; indeed, observation suggests that non-native speakers in an ELF context exert more effort into reaching consensus than might previously have been thought!

This volume of some 200 pages effectively achieves its aim of contributing to ongoing discussions in the area of ELF and lingua francas in general.

Steve Hirschhorn
Kismaros, Hungary