Saturday, 20 October 2018

Let's 'chew the fat' in ELF!

English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) is the English used by people who have different native languages and use English as a language of communication.  It provides rich ground for research as its users are multilingual and are able to call on many different languages as they converse. 

Marie-LuisePitzl decided to focus on the use of idioms in ELF.  These are metaphorical phrases (such as too many cooks spoil the broth) which can’t be directly translated into other languages and keep the same meaning.  She found that there are two main ways that idioms manifest themselves.  Sometimes they seeped into conversation, without speakers or listeners being aware of them.  At other times, however, they were explicitly mentioned by speakers; for example, at times a foreign idiom was directly translated into English and at others, the speaker used the language of the idiom to say it.

An example of the first type is don’t praise the day yet, said by a Polish speaker when in conversation with German speakers. It probably draws on the Polish expression Nie chwal dnia przed zachodem słońcaDon’t praise the day before the sunset’. As this saying is virtually identical in meaning to the German phrase Du sollst den Tag nicht vor dem Abend loben ‘you should not praise the day before the evening’, it becomes part of a multilingual idiom ‘pool’ shared by German and Polish speakers via ELF.  The participants in the conversation understand these ‘translated’ idioms even if they don’t have equivalents in English.

An example of when the idiom is explicitly discussed is in the following conversation involving Maltese, Serbian and Norwegian speakers:

 Speaker (Serbian): the point of the whole things about quotas it’s a very good idea but in the same time it’s … how to say it in English like knife with double blade?

The speaker draws attention to the idiom immediately by introducing it with how to say it in English…, the pronoun it suggesting that she’s thinking of an idiom in her own language.  Indeed, both German, Serbian and English have similar idioms (in English a double-edged sword) to express something that has both advantages and disadvantages.  The speakers don’t worry about the accuracy in English and show no insecurity about using this un-English version in their multilingual context.

Sometimes Pitzl found idioms being used in their original language within ELF conversations.  In the following example, Maltese and Serbian speakers discuss their different cultures, specifically smoking habits.  The Serbian speaker says that Serbians smoke a lot and comments, ...we have a proverb like italians...fuma come un turco (= smoke like a Turk).  It is interesting that the language the speaker chooses for the idiom is not her own or her Maltese listeners’, but Italian.  Through this choice, she communicates not only that she is multilingual but also that she’s aware that her listeners know Italian (Maltese contains about 50% vocabulary of Italian origin), signaling her closeness to her listeners and drawing on their multilingualism.

So, ELF is incredibly creative and tolerant; there’s no need to mind one’s, how do you say it, “Qs and Ps”?


Pitzl, Marie-Louise (2016). World Englishes and creative idioms in English as a lingua franca. World Englishes 35(2):293-309.

This summary was written by Gemma Stoyle

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

What do hashtags mean?

Anyone who uses social media is probably aware of the ubiquitous hashtag. What started as a simple way to tag topics on internet chat rooms was then adopted by Twitter, and then spread to many other platforms, including Facebook, Tumblr, and Instagram. The way that the hashtag is used has changed a lot in that time, evolving from a tag into a way of deliberately communicating stances and ideas.

Barbara De Cock and Andrea Pizarro Pedraza found this to be the case when investigating the use of the #jesuis hashtag (‘I am’). You may recall that this hashtag came out of the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical magazine. People on Twitter used the hashtag #jesuischarlie to express their support and solidarity with the victims after the incident. De Cock and Pizarro Pedraza wanted to investigate the phenomenon further, to see how the #jesuis hashtag construction changed its meaning in different contexts. To do this, they manually observed and monitored the #jesuis hashtag over the course of a year, to better understand how it was being employed. They then developed a script which gathered a sample of tweets using the #jesuis construction between March and April 2016.

They found 407 different constructions, with four broad different uses: one set referring specifically to terrorist attacks; one set to other disasters involving loss of life; one set to other sad news stories; and one set which did not express solidarity in the face of tragedy, but instead were critical or mocking of the whole concept. These were most often used in conjunction with proper nouns, such as Charlie, Belge, ‘Belgium’, or Panama, but occasionally with other kinds of nouns, such as in #jesuischien, ‘I am dog’ , after the death of a police dog during a raid on a flat occupied in Belgium that was occupied by terrorists.

While the original hashtag expressed solidarity with the loss of human life, De Kock and Pizarro Pedraza noticed a broadening of its use through the four categories. For example, the #jesuisEcuador hashtag was for a natural disaster, as opposed to a terrorist attack, but was still employed to express solidarity with a loss of life. The use of the hashtag changed further still regarding other causes; a French spelling reform inspired a hashtag #jesuiscirconflexe, or ‘I am circumflex’, the diacritic used above certain French letters such as ê. While there is nothing tragic about a change of spelling, the hashtag was still being employed as a way of expressing solidarity with those who were unhappy about the proposed change. This also occurred with events which concerned free speech, something that Charlie Hebdo was seen to represent for a lot of sympathisers; the hashtag #jesuisBoehmermann was not used to express solidarity with someone that had died, but rather with a comedian who was being charged by the Turkish president for criticising him in a stand-up routine.

As with many things that are shown to align with a stance, the hashtag has been used to criticise or show disalignment as well, often by using it ironically. For example, Charlie Hebdo themselves employed the hashtag when the Panama papers news broke: when multiple politicians were found to be hiding money to avoid tax. The #jesuisPanama tag was ironic, feigning solidarity with a class of privileged people to highlight their unethical behaviour. The research showed, then, that the hashtag was being used in a variety of ways.

The authors briefly mention the English #I am tag too, pointing to the use of #I am Leicester to express proud support after the unexpected win by the Leicester football team in the 216 Premier League competition So next time you are on any social media platform, and you see the #jesuis tag or the #I am tag, you could have a think about what kind of solidarity the author is trying to show, if any.

De Cock, B., & Pizarro Pedraza, A. (2018). From expressing solidarity to mocking on Twitter: Pragmatic functions of hashtags starting with #jesuis across languages. Language in Society 47(2):1-21.

This summary was written by Marina Merryweather