LINGUIST List 28.4585

Thu Nov 02 2017

Review: English; Applied Linguistics; Sociolinguistics: Dervin, Holmes (2016)

Editor for this issue: Clare Harshey <>

Date: 27-Jul-2016
From: Robert Higgins <>
Subject: The Cultural and Intercultural Dimensions of English as a Lingua Franca
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Book announced at

EDITOR: Prue Holmes
EDITOR: Fred Dervin
TITLE: The Cultural and Intercultural Dimensions of English as a Lingua Franca
SERIES TITLE: Languages for Intercultural Communication and Education
PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters
YEAR: 2016

REVIEWER: Robert M Higgins,

REVIEWS EDITOR: Helen Aristar-Dry


The Cultural and Intercultural Dimensions of English as a Lingua Franca,
edited by Prue Holmes and Fred Dervin, is comprised of an introduction by the editors and 9 chapters, which offer some different perspectives on the symbiosis between interculturality and English as a Lingua Franca (ELF). The chapters are divided into Part 1: The Interconnections and Inter-Relationships Between Interculturality in ELF Communication and Part 2: Grounding Conceptual Understandings of Interculturality in ELF Communication. Part 1 offers a more macro conceptual discussion, whilst Part 2 is primarily focused on investigating localised analysis of lingua franca interactions. Part 2 also exemplifies a range of research methods to gain insights into how to approach interculturality in ELF communication research. The final commentary section of the book
offers some interesting perspectives on the implications of both Part 1 and
Part 2 approaches for future research on interculturality and English as a Lingua Franca (ELF).

The Introductory Chapter by the editors, Prue Holmes and Fred Dervin, is a key chapter in terms of understanding the overall rationale of the publication. They establish the importance of investigating lingua franca research from more holistic perspectives. The ways in which the authors do this is by problematising some understandings of culture and by asking questions of how we can rupture the ‘cultural cul-de-sac’ that informs some of our attitudes to what is or is not informing lingua franca interactions. They provide some answers to these issues by exploring the concepts of interculturality and identity, and suggest that political dimensions such as power relations must also be considered in this kind of analysis.

Part 1: The Interconnections and Inter-Relationships Between Interculturality in ELF Communication.

Karen Risager, in Chapter 2, introduces two interesting concepts related to the meaning and culturality of language: linguaculture, which is bound to specific languages; and discourse, which is not necessarily bound to specific languages. Linguaculture is composed of three dimensions: semantic-pragmatic; poetic; and identity. Discourse, Risager argues, whilst mainly linguistic in form, is a carrier of content to transnational contexts through translation and other forms of transportation. Thus, intercultural concepts such as identity, for example, communicated through cosmopolitan discourses, can contribute to greater inter-relationships between peoples and countries (Holliday, 2010). These perspectives relate to and with Holmes and Dervin’s analysis of the political dimensions and power dimensions that are often communicated through essentialising discourses on issues such as identity.

Richard Fay, Nicos Sifakis and Vally Lytra note in Chapter 3 the historical origins of lingua franca research has focused on narrow linguistic aspects. They provide a more holistic discussion of the educational and (inter) cultural developments of using English internationally. Situating the discussion in the Greek context, familiar to these researchers, they suggest that the pedagogical responses to using English in diverse contexts require a development of multicultural awareness through English (MATE), rather than the more traditional inter or intra cultural approaches. This MATE approach would consist of some the conceptualisations of linguaculture and discursive identity construction introduced in the chapter by Risager.

In Chapter 4, Will Baker, completes this particular section of the book. English Language Teaching (ELT) has, in Baker’s opinion, been focused on the competency of communication but has often taken a quite essentialist position on the intercultural dimensions of language. This kind of essentialisation is reflected in dichotomies such as the native and non-native speaker of English paradigm, where critical cultural awareness is often lacking in ELT approaches. Baker also importantly notes that ELF has, at times, attempted to conceive of communication as culturally neutral. Language form and function, Bakers suggests, need to be managed alongside the multitude of contexts and speakers that diverse English users will encounter. These ideas integrate well with Fay, Sifakis and Lytra’s concept of MATE, as language is not culturally neutral, and requires an understanding of the multicultural dimensions of English, to challenge essentialist and relativist assumptions about issues such as linguistic and cultural identity.

Part 2: Grounding Conceptual Understandings of Interculturality in ELF Communication.

Chris Jenks, in Chapter 4, provides an investigation of ELF interaction amongst postgraduate students studying in the United Kingdom. There is a continuation of the theme of identity construction and how it is shaped and formed in diverse intercultural contexts. Using conversation analysis (CA) and membership categorisation analysis (MCA), Jenks demonstrates how mundane, everyday interactions are of the utmost importance when we try to understand ELF interaction. Rather than researching ELF with a broad-brush approach, Jenks’ analysis reveals that national identities are less likely to be made relevant when all of the participant-interactants are international students. This, in Jenks’ opinion, provides a space for the co-construction of identity through exchanges of intercultural dialogue using ELF.

Chapter 5, written by Anne Kari Bjørge, offers another examination of ELF interaction from a localised perspective. Bjørge’s analysis is concerned with conflict through expressions of disagreement. Specifically, mitigated and unmitigated disagreements are evaluated. Highlighting how corpus and published materials have focused on the importance of mitigated forms, Bjørge suggests that, whilst for the sake of politeness mitigated forms are preferred, in reality, particularly for reasons of clarity, unmitigated forms like “no” are often necessary. Focusing on mitigated forms has, to some degree, promoted forms of idealised language usage around interactions of disagreement. From this research, Bjørge argues that both mitigated and unmitigated forms of disagreement do not, in and of themselves, lead to intercultural conflicts.

Jagdish Kaur continues the theme of intercultural misunderstanding in Chapter 6. Kaur outlines how historically intercultural communication has been based on the ‘principle of difference’. Echoing Bjørge in the previous chapter, Kaur argues that this approach contributes to essentialisation and presupposes some forms of miscommunication and misunderstanding. Therefore, Kaur takes a different approach that analyses misunderstandings in ELF from a more micro perspective. Four main areas are highlighted: ambiguity; performance-related misunderstandings; language-related misunderstandings and gaps in world knowledge. Kaur, builds on the concept of ‘third culture’ research to attempt to navigate around the ‘cultural cul-de-sac’, to support Holmes and Dervin’s perspectives in the introductory chapter. The findings of this particular study, Kaur believes, point towards forms of intercultural communication interaction that are cooperative and consensus-building rather than essentialised and difference-based. This study underlines how ELF interactions are complex in terms of the four areas highlighted above but this study also importantly demonstrates that a fluid conception of language usage can challenges idealised models.

Tiina Räisänen, in Chapter 7, by tracking the professional trajectories of a group of Finish engineers, builds upon Risager’s discussion of linguaculture from Chapter 2, by outlining how linguaculture and communicative repertoires form the basis for the identification of the self and are therefore important for understanding discursive identity construction. Räisänen suggests there is a gap in research in relationship to intercultural dimensions in ELF users’ identity construction. ELF interactions and ELF users’ identities, Räisänen believes, are not static and are particularly fluid (and hybrid) when investigating users’ trajectories across contexts and time. The research of the participants revealed that, for example, in some ways, the participants had a reinforced attachment to Finnish identity and did not necessarily co-construct new ways of speaking and being. These kinds of findings are of the utmost importance when trying to balance new approaches to ELF and intercultural research, as it is important to recognise that ‘messy’ research does not always offer the findings we had hoped for.

Eric S. Henry, in Chapter 8, offers an ethnographic perspective from China. In contrast to most ELF interactional analysis, Henry is concerned with the intracultural communication medium. Henry highlights the importance of immediate and localised concerns of English in Chinese contexts. This study recognises the importance of how cultural capital is played out in the negotiation of identity constructions formed through interactions with other native speakers of Chinese. Henry positions the research in the contrast to two common approaches of interculturality and intelligibility, in order to broaden the scope of this kind of research. He does so by arguing for the replacing of intercultural with intracultural, and replacing intelligibility with indexicality. This approach, Henry suggests, provides salient perspectives on usage in intracultural interactions, and on users in the form of identity construction.

In Chapter 9, John O’Regan, returns to Holmes and Dervin’s discussion of political dimensions, when researching ELF in a global context. O’Regan provides a compelling critique of attempts to describe ELF in ideologically neutral language. Throughout the discussion, O’Regan problematises the ELF ‘hypostatisation’, in order to highlight that this conceptualisation of ELF is inadequate to the sociolinguistic complexity of global and local uses of English in the world. O’Regan suggests lingua franca Englishes (LFEs) better reflect the ways in which LFEs are created anew from one context to another. This study discusses how global and local interactions mediated through LFEs can in some ways reduce or remove the necessity to essentialise the interactions of English in diverse and evolving contexts. ELF research to date, O’Regan argues, is constrained by a theoretical cul-de-sac conceptualisation of lingua franca uses and users (2014).


Holmes and Dervin in the introductory chapter discuss whether furthering our understanding of identity and interculturality and the interplay between them is a way out of essentialised conceptions of culture. They also suggest that more research on the muddy terrain of politics can contribute to a better appreciation of the power dynamics at play in constructions of culture and hierarchies. This edited volume does, to some extent, enter into this world of politics. O’Regan’s commentary reminds us all of the dangers of over simplifying or under theorising how English is used, and by whom, in glocal interactions. Other contributions by Henry and Baker remind us of the necessity to question how well the current ‘accepted’ conceptualisations of ELF help us to theorise better and generalise less.

The contributions of Risager and Fay, Sifakis and Lytra’s attempt to bridge the undertheorised relationships between interculturality and ELF. They provide through linguacultural perspectives and MATE perspectives ways in which identity can be understood as fluid (and hybrid), and the use of English, as contextual. Further, in the other chapters in this publication, a variety of frameworks and research approaches give increased impetus to glocal ELF research in intracultural and intercultural contexts.

This book will be of value to a range of diverse researchers, in a range of diverse contexts. More research is necessary to understand how ideological sociopolitical and sociocultural discourses contribute to static and essentialised concepts of culture. These discourses also play into static concepts of ELT and ELF. The theoretical cul-de-sac discussed by Homes and Dervin, and also by O’Regan, are challenged and navigated by the kinds of research approaches exemplified by this book. More research, however, needs to be done.


Holliday, A. (2010). Intercultural Communication and Ideology. London: Sage.

O’Regan, J.P. (2014). English as a lingua franca: an immanent critique. Applied Linguistics 35(5), 533‐552.


Robert M. Higgins has been teaching in Japanese higher education for the past 12 years. Currently, he is a Ph.D. candidate with the University of Nottingham in the UK, where he is researching how the creation of national language policy and planning are shaped by sociopolitical and sociocultural discourses, and how these polices are interpreted and enacted at the institutional and local level of English language education.

Page Updated: 02-Nov-2017