Diane Larsen-Freeman delivered a plenary address remotely at the annual English as a Lingua Franca conference in Rome, Italy on September 5, 2013.
A Successful Union: Linking ELF with CAS
In the short time that it has been on the Applied Linguistics scene, ELF has made remarkable progress in establishing itself as a major field of study (Jenkins, 2012). This interest in ELF is a tribute to the energy and commitment of its founders, its growing number of adherents, and to its power as a critical enterprise. Indeed, it confers agency where heretofore it has not been afforded.
A view of language that I have been championing for some time (Larsen-Freeman, 1997), i.e., language as a complex adaptive system (CAS) (Larsen-Freeman & Cameron, 2008; Ellis & Larsen-Freeman, 2009), offers ELF a way of thinking about language use, and given the theme of this conference, intercultural communication, too (Baker, 2009). While the qualities of fluidity, variability, creativity, and local negotiability are all qualities foregrounded in ELF, they are characteristics of all language use. Further, a CAS perspective can be helpful in supporting an ELF agenda, in that it counters the tendency to portray learner language as an incomplete and deficient version of native speaker language.
Of course, some issues concerning ELF are contentious as well, which also, to my mind, is a sign of its vitality. One of them has to do with whether or not a native speaker model is needed for instruction (Sowden, 2012). Indeed, it seems to me that if ELF proponents would like to be more persuasive with language teachers, they will have to help teachers reconcile the normative conception of language that they have inherited (Dewey, 2012) with a non-telic view of language. This, too, a CAS view of language can assist with.
Finally, a successful union needs to be reciprocal. To this end, I believe ELF provides a clear test case for a CAS-inspired emergentist view of language and its development (Larsen-Freeman, 2011).