chapter  20
17 Pages

Lingua franca English: the European context Barbara Seidlhofer

The sociolinguistic situation in continental Europe is very different from most other contexts discussed in this volume, and the place of English is not adequately accounted for by reference to the Kachruvian circles. It is worth remembering that when Kachru first proposed his concentric model he did so ‘tentatively’ and recognized that demarcations between the circles were not always easy to make (Kachru 1985: 12, 13-14). Developments in global English over the past 25 years have made such demarcations even more difficult and confirm how right he was to be tentative. As Modiano points out, ‘the complexities of European society, which differ radically from postcolonial speech communities, challenge established sociolinguistic precepts’ (Modiano 2006: 234). Continental Europe is usually assigned expanding circle status and one can, of course, see that there are obvious differences in the role and status of the language here as compared with the inner circle, where English is a first language, and the postcolonial settings of the outer circle. But there are considerable differences too in comparison with other expanding circle contexts such as China, Japan and Korea, which are three separate nation-states and are the subjects of chapters in this book. Although Slavic Englishes are also thought to warrant separate treatment, Europe is, for the purposes of this book, considered to be one geo-political entity, but it is obvious that linguaculturally it is an extremely diverse area, a whole continent, in which English plays a distinctive and unique role. Unlike the other continents (except Antarctica), Europe is home to a relatively small

number of languages: Ethnologue (Lewis 2009) quotes 234 for Europe as a whole. The European Union (EU), with some 450 million inhabitants in currently 27 member states, recognizes 23 official languages, and about 60 other indigenous and non-indigenous languages are spoken in its geographical area. The role of English as such is similar within the EU and outside it in countries such as Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Croatia, but for the treatment of some key issues this chapter will focus on the European Union (except the UK and Ireland) and its language policy. For all kinds of reasons, English has become the de facto ‘extraterritorial’ lingua

franca throughout Europe. This has, however, brought about resistance and controversy,

due to the continued symbolic significance of national languages that European policymakers still seem to insist on. In contrast with English as an (intra)national language like the other (national) languages of Europe (where of course regional lingua francas also exist), the role of English as a lingua franca (henceforth ELF) is not a national one; it fulfils different roles from national languages. And since ‘language is as it is because of what it has to do’ (Halliday 2003: 309), ELF is also developing its own, supranational forms. All this seems familiar enough. However, English as a lingua franca is quite literally

an emerging theme in the European context in that there is a marked discrepancy between the European Union’s discourse about language and communication on the one hand, and the reality on the ground on the other. The forceful and enforced promotion of multilingualism as an official policy is in stark contrast with the actual practice of European citizens and institutions alike increasingly converging towards one lingua franca. This discrepancy has been stubbornly ignored by both policy-makers and the academic mainstream, and only very recently have there been signs of any serious debate on this important issue.