Amid rising number of intercultural marriages, more and more couples use English as the lingua franca but speaking in common native language helped many marriages to last longer, said a new study.
Kaisa Pietikainen from the University of Helsinki, who has studied the interactions of these so-called ELF couples in her doctoral dissertation, says:”It’s often thought that when the partners learn to speak each other’s native languages, they will pick either language as their shared language. But when one is used to speaking a certain language to one another, it becomes difficult to change.”
Usually couples have an open attitude toward language-mixing. Features from other languages become such an integrated part of their ‘couple tongue’ that after a while, they may not even notice when they switch languages, she says.
ELF couples identify mainly as English-speaking couples, but they are also aware of the presence of other languages in their interactions.
“The previously held idea that a lingua franca can’t become a language of identification or that one can’t use it to express feelings doesn’t hold true when it comes to ELF couples.”
Ensuring understanding with creative means Pietikaiinen says that misunderstandings are not very common in ELF couples’ conversation. The couples invest in practices that support understanding, for example, they paraphrase difficult words and check whether the partner has understood them. ELF couples even utilise onomatopoetic expressions and drawing as an aid for achieving mutual understanding.
Silence matters in conflicts
Silence in ELF couples’ conflict interactions does not only mean that the partners disagree or that one is offended by what the other one has said or done. It can also be used to avoid giving self-incriminating answers, or in resisting the partner’s attempt to defuse the conflict with the use of humour.
“These observations have, however, nothing to do with the fact that the partners use non-native English between them. I’m sure these kinds of silences are very familiar for every long-term relationship,” Pietikaiinen adds.