Jagdish Kaur, University of Malaya
Jagdish Kaur teaches at the Faculty of Languages and Linguistics, University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur. Her research interest lies mainly in the microanalysis of ELF interactions, using conversation analytic procedures, to establish how speakers of ELF communicate and to identify the kinds of competences that they rely on to achieve success in communication.
Misunderstanding in English as a Lingua Franca: Attributing Cause
The recent years have witnessed increased research interest in English as a lingua franca (henceforth ELF). While some researchers examine the use of English as a medium of communication, others document the features characteristic of the Englishes used in this context. Regardless of how ELF is used or what form(s) it takes, of utmost importance to the speaker is that mutual understanding is achieved in the medium. After all if communication is to be successful, shared understanding between the interacting parties is essential. Findings from empirical research suggest that not only do speakers of ELF achieve mutual understanding when communicating but that misunderstanding is quite uncommon. In spite of this, the issue of misunderstanding in ELF remains significant as it provides insights into the process of co-constructing understanding in a lingua franca and gives some indication of what needs to be addressed for effective communication to take place. With the latter in mind, a fine-grained analysis of 15 hours of audio-recorded naturally occurring ELF interactions was conducted to identify and explain the sources and nature of misunderstanding in ELF. By taking into account the local context and the orientations of the participants, several sources of misunderstanding were identified, namely, performance-related such as mishearing and slips of the tongue, language-related, ambiguity and gaps in world knowledge. Perhaps unsurprising were the misunderstandings that could be traced to the language competence (or the lack of it) of the participants in interaction. While the role of language in miscommunication has to a large extent been neglected in research into ELF, the findings of this study underscore the need to re-consider the matter.