Native speaker standard English versus English as a lingua franca. Where would Shakespeare stand?


Abstract – Sceptics of the utility of studies into ELF (English as Lingua Franca) typically dismiss it as a kind of “Broken English”: a “degrammaticalised” code akin to a so-called pidgin. The implication is that ELF variations are only explicable in terms of interlanguages (Selinker 1972) and ELF users are merely L2 learners who fail to achieve full competence and who involuntarily mix elements from their L1 with the target language. In essence, according to this view, ELF users’ major failing is their inability to replicate Native Speaker Standard English sufficiently well. By contrast, scholars specialising in ELF emphasise, among other things (such as the rights of ELF users to negotiate their own norms), how the notion of the existence of a single, immutable standard is highly questionable (Seidlhofer 2011). As many descriptive, as opposed to prescriptive, linguists of all persuasions have pointed out, a key feature of any linguistic system is its power to generate new structures and forms and generally to be creative, which if course is a central factor in linguistic change and the evolution of languages in general (Seidlhofer, Widdowson 2009). Indeed, according to Widdowson (2015), the emphasis of ELF is not the variety of a homogenous speech community but of the variations that spontaneously emerge when speakers of different L1s communicate with each other. In this chapter, we will examine the English of William Shakespeare, the “nation’s bard” (Hudson 2008) and a figure often appropriated by prescriptionists as an exemplar of the beauty and power of the English language (rigorously in the singular). We analyse Shakespeare’s English as an example of a variation of English in order to illustrate how processes such as adaptation and accommodation together with strategies such as translanguaging (García and Li 2014), inherent in ELF, are neither new nor foreign and can be found in native speaker variations of English, even those which enjoy the highest artistic prestige.

DOI Code: 10.1285/i22390359v27p97

Keywords: ELF; linguistic creativity; linguistic variation; Standard English; translanguaging.


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