This article discusses how English used as a lingua franca (ELF) can be defined as an object of study. It offers a critical appraisal of a high-profile definition of ELF (the VOICE/Seidlhofer definition), and argues that definitions of this kind, whether purposely or not, in effect invite conceptualizations of ELF as a reified entity. This kind of reification is shown to entail a number of problems, the main one being that reified conceptualizations of ELF as an object of study are at odds with the available empirical evidence. On the basis of this critique, the article suggests an alternative approach to the conceptualization of ELF where ELF is defined in straightforward functional terms as the use of English in a lingua franca language scenario. This definition underscores the complexity and breadth of ELF as an object of study, and highlights that researchers in the field of ELF studies need to acknowledge this complexity and adopt structured methods in dealing with it. Using well-known examples from the literature, the article shows that Dell Hymes's SPEAKING heuristic may be employed as one such tool.
- English used as lingua franca (ELF)
- definition of ELF
- language scenario
- SPEAKING heuristic