The field of English as a Lingua Franca (ELF), which studies communication among speakers of different language backgrounds using English as a common language, has focused primarily on spoken language, but as yet not so much on how ELF speakers use English to communicate in written situations. Franca Poppi’s monograph aims to address this gap, particularly in the area of business communication and Business English as a Lingua Franca (BELF). The book has two goals. The first is to “investigate the changes undergone by written communication under the influence of electronic media and new contexts of use” (p. 215). In addition, it explores how the use of English as a Lingua Franca adds to the changes brought about by this new media and these new contexts of use, through which also to assert ELF use as legitimate, and not in need of native-speaker gatekeeping norms.
The book is divided into two main parts plus introductory and concluding chapters. The introductory chapter (Chapter 1) briefly outlines trends such as the World Wide Web which have led to increased globalization, and reviews theories on why English has increasingly become the lingua franca in this more globalized world.
The first part (Chapters 2-5) focuses on ELF communication in the electronic mass media. Chapter 2 makes and argues the claim that speakers of English in lingua franca settings are ELF users rather than ELF learners. A selection of interviews and a panel discussion from BBC World and CNN International are analyzed in order to discern features that distinguish ELF communication. It concludes that ELF communication is generally effective, and that “non-native speakers of English should therefore be recognized as users, in their own right, of a (...) lingua franca.” (p. 62).
Chapters 3-5 are each based on a different small-scale corpus study, each of which looks at the on-line edition of an English language newspaper published in a non-English language native environment: The Hindustan Times (Chapter 3), The Baltic Times (Chapter 4), and The China Daily (Chapter 5). In each of these, corpora of articles from the newspapers in question are analyzed, and instances of non-native forms as well as localized forms are categorized. The cases chosen exemplify and serve to compare data from outer circle (India) and expanding circle (the Baltics, China) countries in terms of how much localized vocabulary is used, how much code-switching and code-mixing occurs and so on. In each case, it is claimed that non-native forms and localized expressions show the creation of on-line communities of practice joining together readers who are geographically dispersed.
The second part (Chapters 6-10) turns the focus to BELF, in the form of corporate on-line communication. Chapter 6 introduces some basic theories of corporate communication and corporate identity. It is shown how these might be manifested on corporate websites and in computer-mediated conversations such as e-mail correspondence. As in Chapters 3-5, each of Chapters 7-10 concern a different small-scale corpus-based case study, where specific instances of language use are categorized. The categories are not equal to but are adapted from the categories used in Part 1; for example, both Part 1 and Part 2 have the category ‘code-switching’, but the category ‘local expressions’ in Part 1 is replaced by ‘technical words’ in Part 2. The cases chosen give data from a corpus of news articles from the archives of the large multinational corporation Tetra Pak (founded and based in Sweden) (Chapter 7), and of the ‘about us’ sections of websites from seven European companies based in different parts of the continent (Chapter 8). Two chapters focus on business e-mail correspondence in order to explore how the cultural and linguistic background of both writers and recipients of e-mails affects written communication. They use corpora of intra-company e-mail correspondence between Japanese and Chinese employees of an Italian company and company employees based in Italy (Chapter 9), and of Italian employees of an Italian company writing business e-mails in different genres (Chapter 10).
The concluding chapter (Chapter 11) revisits the main aims of the book, summarizing its results. In particular, it further places the book’s case studies into a framework of cybergenres, and relates them to communities of practice.
This book opens up new inroads into an analysis of ELF and BELF written communication in on-line settings. The structure is complex, integrating two main aims with write-ups of multiple case studies. In each of these areas, a reader will find much to think about; however the broad scope of the book leads to several areas where more depth could have been given.
As indicated above, this book has two goals. For the first and main one, to trace the emergence of new cybergenres, and to explore how these new genres have changed written communication in a globalized age, the book paints an interesting picture of how the internet has emerged out of but also developed from more traditional genres; for example, publishing news articles in a company intra-net rather than on paper, or sending correspondence electronically rather than delivering letters by post. Interestingly, with the exception of the two chapters looking at e-mail correspondence, the cases looked at do not ideally fit Shepherd and Watters (1999) definition of a cybergenre, which is characterized by and differentiated from more traditional genres by added functionality or interactivity. Rather they are on-line replications of more traditional genres: the on-line version of a print newspaper, content from a relatively static company homepage.
What does set the cases apart from their more traditional counterparts in fact is not the genre but the audience: when information is on-line, the potential audience is much bigger. The audience can also be expected to be more multicultural and multilingual, meaning that information on-line in English is increasingly ELF in nature. How this increase in situations of ELF usage has affected written communication seems to be the bigger concern of the book, and the explication of this goal is successful, though with some concerns.
To give one example which is representative of the studies as a whole, the study described in Chapter 2 of the book “relies on the assumption that most ELF conversations are robust and cooperative” (p. 42). The study conclusions are then that “Notwithstanding [non-native language features, ELF users] are able to actually promote successful communication and to negotiate meaning” (p. 62). The examples given in the chapter do in fact support the conclusion; however, the conclusion was there at the start. As a result of this, for a reader who believes the opening assumption, the conclusion is unnecessary - perhaps the greatest change brought about by the field of ELF is that it is no longer a radical thing to claim that a non-native user of English has the capability to negotiate meaning in ways that are both effective and creative. On the other hand, to a reader who is skeptical of ELF research, such a set-up would be less than convincing.
Additionally, the role of the English native speaker editor or trainer needs also to be considered. In the conclusion to the book as a whole, referring to the chapters in part 1, Poppi refers to the fact that “all the articles undergo editing prior to publication” (p. 219). Yet the influence of this on the eventual product seems to be underestimated. To give another example relevant in particular for the chapters looking at corporate communication, the role of English language training is ignored. In the conclusion to Chapter 8 (p. 177), it is claimed that “the companies analyzed feel free to adapt BELF” (p. 177); yet at least some of these same companies work with language firms which only hire inner circle English native speakers (such as the reviewer of this book, who has worked in this area and with some of the companies mentioned), which would belie the claim. This is not to say that companies should not feel free to adapt BELF (they should certainly feel free), but only that the situation is perhaps more complicated than is presented in the book.
A final comment concerns the case study format of the book. The number of case studies is impressive and interesting; however, because of the chapter format, none of the case studies is given space enough to be described in sufficient detail. As a result, the data presented seems somehow incomplete. It is as much praise as criticism to say that each chapter seems to have the potential to be a much longer and more detailed article (or even book) of its own.
Shepherd, M. and Watters, C. (1999), “The functionality attribute of cybergenres”, Proceedings of the 32th Hawai’i International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS-32), IEEE Computer Society Press, Los Alamitos, available at: http://web.cs.dal.ca/~shepherd/pubs/functionality_attribute.pdf (accessed 1 October 2013).