Are you an ELF? The relevance of ELF as an equitable social category in online intercultural communication

Christopher Joseph Jenks

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


This paper examines the different social categories that are made relevant when geographically dispersed speakers of English as an additional language communicate in chat rooms. Although the literature characterizes these interactions as English as a lingua franca, this paper explores to what extent interactants see themselves as lingua franca speakers. Membership categorization analysis is used to investigate how social categories related to English are enacted in, and through, talk and interaction. This is done by investigating language proficiency compliments, talk of language proficiency, and getting acquainted sequences. While English is the medium of communication in these chat rooms, the findings reveal that English as a lingua franca is not a social category that is made relevant during talk. When constructing identities in relation to English, the social categories that are made relevant are foreigner, language learner, and non-native. These observations are then used to argue that an equitable, impartial, and context-sensitive approach to examining identities in intercultural communication requires abandoning the more traditional method of ascribing social categories a priori. The paper ends by exploring the validity of using the term English as a lingua franca when interactants possess, and make relevant, a number of different social categories when speaking in English.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)95-108
Number of pages14
JournalLanguage and Intercultural Communication
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • ELF
  • equity
  • ethics
  • identity
  • online interaction
  • social categories

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Linguistics and Language


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