Nearly three years ago, someone wondered aloud: “Is ELU becoming ESL?” (Actually, this bit of soul-searching reaches back to one of this site's first meta questions.)
When people who are struggling to learn English find a site about English, they see it as a lifeline of sorts. However, depending on who you ask, many resulting questions do not necessarily fall under ELU's intended umbrella. To address this problem, an English Language Learners was proposed in Area 51. About a year ago, that site went live on beta, where I think it's serving a useful function, getting over 4,000 visits a day.
All along, some cautioned that having two language sites would be too confusing, that newcomers would have a hard time figuring out where to ask their question, and that it would be very hard to definitively define when a question should go on one site vs. the other. Those reservations have proven to be well-founded – although I still believe that, more than anything else, most “asking on the wrong site” problems stem from newcomers not being aware of both sites.
A concept may be hard to define, but that doesn't mean it's hard to understand; sometimes, you simply “know it when you see it.” And that's how I feel about some of the more novice questions still popping up on ELU with regularity.
Is that a problem? Personally, I enjoy helping non-natives understand tricky nuances of our complex language – but very beginner questions such as these aren't what I hope or expect to see when I log onto ELU:
Which one is correct?
• An apple is green.
• Apple is green.
• The apple is green.
Please describe for me.
Which one is correct?
I'm a beginner to English, today I saw my friend in restaurant, we have spoken bit, then I have said let's we will meet the same place on next to next Monday Or let's we will meet the same place on next on next Monday
Is there a difference between 'unknowingly' and 'unintentionally'?
• Sorry, it was unknowingly.
• Sorry, it was unintentionally.
These are not “bad” questions; they are interesting to think about, and it can be rather satisfying to formulate a suitable explanation, such as:
unintentionally means “I didn't mean to,” while unknowingly means “I didn't know any better.”
However, while I expect to see such questions when I log onto ELL, they don't necessarily strike me as the sort of thing that would appeal to “linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts.”
As an analogy of sorts: I enjoy watching our local high school's drama club, and I enjoy going to professional productions. But when I go to a Broadway theater to watch a professional production, I don't really want to watch a high school drama club perform there. Some of these more elementary questions strike me as being the wrong production troop on the wrong stage.
At any rate, the creation of ELL hasn't seemed to stem the tide of novice questions pouring onto ELU. Some have recently pointed out that, as things are going now, there doesn't seem to be much difference between the two sites. Maybe not, but does that mean we should merge them? I guess that depends on what the community wants to be. If the community really wants ELU to be peppered by such questions, then I suppose ELL should not have been created in the first place.
As for borders and dividing lines, after giving this a bit of thought, I've come to agree with StoneyB that the difference isn't always so much about the question itself – or even whether or not the O.P. is a native speaker – as it is about what the O.P. is looking for in an answer. One good example is a question recently asked by ESL:
Is there a rule or something, that explain where to put “even”?
• You don't even have a chance.
• You even don't have a chance.
If the O.P. is actually only interested is knowing which of those seems more grammatical or sounds more natural, then it was probably an ELL question. However, if the O.P. is indeed interested in learning more about limiting modifiers and the proper placement of elements with focus, then ELU was the right place to ask.
Lastly, it matters not to me how this conundrum ultimately resolves itself – we can keep the two sites, or abandon one and keep the other. If we keep them both, though, I would hope there would eventually be considerably fewer ELL questions – and ELL answers – on ELU.