Panel 9: Interpreting and ELF (English as a Lingua Franca) ( Michaela Albl-Mikasa, Karin Reithofer)

The global spread of English as a Lingua Franca (ELF), like no other development after the introduction of the technology for simultaneous interpretation after World War II, is changing the working conditions and professional self-image of conference interpreters. What is happening before their eyes is, in fact, a reversal of the “path from bilingualism to multilingualism” (Feldweg 1996:89), that is the path from bilingual consecutive meetings to multilingual simultaneous international conferences, which characterised the 20th Century and shaped the interpreters’ profession as we know it (cf. Feldweg 1996:60, 89). Interpreters now witness the evolution from multilingual conferences back to bilingual “ELF conferences”, where communication takes place in non-native English and a maximum of one local language (if not in “English” only).

The implications of this major development for interpreters have hardly been taken into consideration in the newly established discipline of ELF research, which has made headway since the 1990s (cf., Intriguingly, recent descriptions of ELF, which stress the efficiency of ELF communication on the basis of non-native speakers’ creative appropriation of the linguistic means of expression for their communicative purposes (cf. papers in Mauranen and Ranta 2009, Seidlhofer 2009, House 2012), are almost contradictory to the interpreters’ experience of the non-native speakers’ use of English seriously affecting communication in mediated (conference) settings. In a questionnaire study, conference interpreters agreed that ELF adversely affected their work on the macro-level (e.g., professional standing, job satisfaction) as well as on the micro-level (regarding comprehension and production processes and capacity! management) (cf. Albl-Mikasa 2010). On the basis of a larger-scale study, Reithofer (2010) concludes in her PhD thesis that understanding of source speeches in conference settings is significantly higher among conference participants listening to the interpretation into their mother tongue than those listening to the non-native English original, even when they share the same technical background as the non-native speaker.

Investigation of the implications of ELF for interpreting has only just started to take off (cf. Basel 2002; Kurz and Basel 2009; Albl-Mikasa 2010, 2012a, 2012b; Reithofer (2010, 2011a, 2011b). The spread of ELF has repercussions on the demand for interpreting, the interpreters’ general working conditions, the actual processes involved as well as quality-related aspects. Panel participants are invited to give presentations on topics such as:

  • The effects of non-native conference participants on comprehension and production processes and interpreting quality
  • English as a pivot language and consequences for relay interpreting
  • Changing skills and subcompetences
  • Pedagogic implications for interpreter training
  • Cultural aspects of the growing number of non-native English speaking conference participants
  • Changing perceptions and attitudes regarding the interpreter’s status and self-concept
  • Socio-economic repercussions of the rise of ELF for interpreters


Albl-Mikasa, Michaela (2010) ‘Global English and English as a Lingua Franca (ELF): Implications for the Interpreting Profession’, trans-kom 3(2): 126-148.
Albl-Mikasa, Michaela (2012a) ‘Interpreting Quality in Times of English as a Lingua Franca (ELF): New Variables and Requirements’ in Lew N. Zybatow, Alena Petrova and Michael Ustaszewski (eds), Translation Studies: Old and New Types of Translation in Theory and Practice. Proceedings of the 1st International Conference TRANSLATA. Translation & Interpreting Research: Yesterday? Today? Tomorrow?, May 12-14, 2011, Innsbruck, Frankfurt/M.: Lang, 267-273.
Albl-Mikasa, Michaela (2012b) ‘Raus aus dem Elfenbeinturm, rein in die globalisierte Welt - Dolmetschqualität unter veränderten Vorzeichen’, DÜV-Bulletin 1/2012: 4-9 und MDÜ 2/2012: 24-27.
Basel, Elvira (2002) English as Lingua Franca. Non-Native Elocution in International Communication. A Case Study of Information Transfer in Simultaneous Interpretation, doctoral thesis, University of Vienna. Feldweg, Erich (1996) Der Konferenzdolmetscher im internationalen Kommunikationsprozeß, Heidelberg: Julius Groos.
House, Juliane (2012) ‘English as a lingua franca and linguistic diversity’, Journal of English as a Lingua Franca 1(1): 173-175 (accessed 27 March 2012).
Kurz, Ingrid und Elvira Basel (2009) ‘The impact of non-native English on Information transfer in SI.’ Forum 7 [2]: 187-212.
Mauranen, Anna and Elina Ranta (eds) (2009) English as a Lingua Franca: Studies and Findings, Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
Reithofer, Karin (2010) ‘English as a lingua franca vs. interpreting - Battleground or peaceful co-existence’. The Interpreters\' Newsletter 15, 143-157.
Reithofer, Karin (2011a) ‘English as a lingua franca and interpreting’. Studia Universitatis Babes-Bolyai. Philologia 1, 121-131.
Reithofer, Karin (2011b) English als Lingua Franca und Dolmetschen. Ein Verleich zweier Kommunikationsmodi unter dem Aspekt der Wirkungsäquivalenz. PhD thesis, University of Vienna.
Seidlhofer, Barbara (2009) ‘Accommodation and the idiom principle in English as a Lingua Franca’, Intercultural Pragmatics 6(2): 195-215.