On LFC acceptability and the future of the English language


Sylwia Scheuer (Poznań)



The paper aims to challenge certain assumptions underlying Jennifer Jenkins’s Lingua Franca Core, particularly with regard to the complex notion of the model’s acceptability within the global community of its potential speakers.


To begin with, the author intends to cast some doubt on the viability of the hypothesised relationship between speaker intelligibility, listener irritability, and the degree of foreign accent, all of which are invoked in the process of specifying the phonological features of the LFC. Contrary to what is implied in PEIL, the degree of interlanguage intelligibility is not a reliable predictor of the strength of perceived foreign accent, which is corroborated by various empirical studies reported in SLA literature. Irritability – in addition to being highly subjective – is bound to vary enormously with the linguistic background of the listener, which makes the establishment of a common core of acceptable IL substitutions an extremely controversial task. While the listener’s irritation is not necessarily a function of the speaker’s intelligibility, it is – in the author’s opinion - largely dependent on the degree of foreign accent, which Jenkins’s own empirical data seems to indicate.


Consequent upon the above statement is the next issue that the paper intends to discuss, namely the (potential) role of L1 speakers in determining the fate of ‘international Englishes’. Since the strength of foreign accent is, by definition, proportional to the degree of deviation from the target form, one cannot but conclude that LFC acceptability – a prerequisite to the model’s currency - is impossible to determine without recourse to ‘the native speaker norm’, however fuzzy this concept might be. In view of the above - combined with the heavy bias towards the phonetic preferences of English L1 speakers, evident in PEIL despite strong claims to the contrary - one may infer that the natives have much more say in the matter of global English than is explicitly accorded to them by the advocates of LFC approaches. It is then in the native speaker norm that the key to safeguarding international intelligibility lies, unless of course this norm itself shifts and dilutes under the weight of democratized L2 ‘standards’ – a process which seems to be in progress, and which is tackled in the final part of the paper.


Finally, then, the author intends to report on the results of her two empirical studies investigating the assessment of English L2 speech by various types of both native and non-native listeners. This is aimed at providing some further (i.e., in addition to previous studies conducted by other researchers) counter-evidence to the speculation, expressed in PEIL, that L2 speakers of English tend to be more lenient in their reactions to IL pronunciation than are L1 speakers. Bearing in mind the large number of L2 learners, the enormous variation in their IL phonic behaviour, and the repeated appeals to native speakers to make receptive and productive changes, one may expect a constant rise in the level of tolerance towards ‘foreign accent’ on the part of L1 listeners. Being too judgmental in this respect may simply be a luxury native speakers can no longer afford, and this fact may have far-reaching implications for the future of the entity for the time being still called ‘English’.