Uncoupling variation and community: Multilingual individuals and Transient International Groups
2022-04-14, 15:00–15:30 (Europe/Vienna), Room 5


Much of present-day sociolinguistics and corpus linguistics focuses on the description of particular linguistic features in standard (or non-standard) varieties of a particular language. Such varieties and their features are usually linked to the existence of a corresponding community of language users. The fact that language users tend to be studied most often with reference to their membership of particular (speech) communities has shaped (socio)linguistics for decades. The community of practice (CoP) approach (e.g. Wenger 1998, Eckert 2000) has provided a viable alternative to predominantly L1-focused notions of dialect or speech community. This alternative of studying CoPs has proven especially useful in multilingual contexts, such as situations in which English as used as a lingua franca (ELF, see e.g. Seidlhofer 2007, Smit 2010, Kalocsai 2014). Nonetheless CoPs still tend to be framed, as the name would suggest, as communities – which implies a certain amount of stability. While some multilingual – including ELF – contexts may yield themselves quite well to being studied with a CoP-framework, many contexts of 21st-century communication are too fluid or unstable to be considered communities of any sort. Furthermore, individual speakers in a CoP approach tend to be viewed as central or peripheral members or participants of such local communities (cf. Wenger 1998). In the context of linguistic enquiry, this tends to result in such participants (namely language users) as being implicitly or explicitly cast as representatives of or informants about a particular CoP that they are seen to belong to.
This presentation examines the link between community, variation and the implications of speakers being cast as ‘linguistic representatives’ of such communities. Drawing on the outcomes of an ongoing three-year project, the talk introduces and expands the notion of Transient International Groups (TIGs) (Pitzl 2018) and suggests that a focus on groups, rather than communities, might open up new avenues for sociolinguistic description. It is argued that this is especially (but not exclusively) true for intercultural and/or multilingual situations, where speakers’ individual multilingual repertoires tend to comprise a situational multilingual resource pool (Pitzl 2016). Such multilingual repertoires (cf. Busch 2017) and situational resource pools tend to be different for each speaker and hence each intercultural encounter. Any claim of representativeness would thus be somewhat misguided and not particularly helpful.
To illustrate the difference between a community/CoP-focused and a group-focused TIGs approach, the talk examines a set of twelve meetings video-recorded in a fluctuating multilingual team of young professionals over the course of three months. The presentation uses meeting transcripts and post-hoc interviews to illustrate potential benefits of adopting a TIGs/group rather than a CoP/community perspective on these data. Although the observed team may fulfill some criteria of being an ELF-CoP, the talk shows how adopting of TIGs perspective to metadata and data analysis allows us to embrace and make visible ongoing processes of linguistic variation as they take place in group interaction among multilingual speakers micro-diachronically in real time.


Busch, Brigitta. 2017. Expanding the notion of the linguistic repertoire: On the concept of Spracherleben – The lived experience of language. Applied Linguistics 38(3). 340–358.
Eckert, Penelope. 2000. Linguistic variation as social practice. The linguistic construction of identity in Belten High. Malden: Blackwell.
Kalocsai, Karolina. 2014. Communities of practice and English as a lingua franca: A study of erasmus students in a Central European context. Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter Mouton.
Pitzl, Marie-Luise. 2016. World Englishes and creative idioms in English as a lingua franca. World Englishes 35(2). 293–309.
Pitzl, Marie-Luise. 2018. Transient International Groups (TIGs): Exploring the group and development dimension of ELF. Journal of English as a Lingua Franca 7(1). 25–58.
Seidlhofer, Barbara. 2007. English as a lingua franca and communities of practice. In Sabine Volk-Birke & Julia Lippert (eds.), Anglistentag 2006 Halle Proceedings, 307–318. Trier: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier.
Smit, Ute. 2010. English as a lingua franca in higher education: A longitudinal study of classroom discourse. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.
Wenger, Etienne. 1998. Communities of practice. Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.