On English Speakers and a False Sense of Superiority

A while ago, one of my professors wrote an article on the urgency of an uprising to end capitalism. He started off with references to contemporary issues and environmental setbacks. But as I read further, it became harder and harder to comprehend. My professor had written the article in a language I have known and used for years, but words and sentences I had never read before.

I desperately wanted to read the piece and understand his perspective, but I was entirely and utterly lost.

Even though he was my professor, I couldn’t muster up the courage to ask him to break down the phrases or the words. I knew he would mock my knowledge and probably shoo me away with a sarcastic comment. Even though he preaches for equal opportunity in education and free access to resources during his lectures, he refuses to acknowledge the inherent aristocracy that he has developed for himself with his deft use of the English language.

In colleges and schools, a lot of students are bullied and belittled for their inability to speak and write well in English. This is not okay. They are alienated from the public spectrum and often neglected, leaving them with no choice but to try and go hammer and tongs at the problem or ‘lose in life’.

I’m guilty of it too. On many occasions, I’ve also corrected my friends when they’ve pronounced some words wrong.

Even though the English language is spoken across the world and has evolved differently with the respect to various regions, in India, we still look up to British English and try to mimic their pronunciation – thereby taking forward the legacy of colonial oppression.

This is not okay.

Not everyone has grown up in an English-speaking household, nor can everyone afford to study in an expensive private school, where speaking English is mandatory – some can only afford internet accessibility when they enter college. Hence, the race is already unfair.

Also read: ‘Switch off Video’: On Caste, Cameras and an Unexpected Perk of Online Education

However, even when some manage to make their way up the social ladder, they are ridiculed for their accents and choice of words, which eventually make them resent the language, and at times reject it altogether.

Speaking and writing well in English is definitely an upper class privilege and those who lie outside the bubble are expected to write and speak in the most communicable manner possible. The reason why you are able to read this article is an outcome of that very privilege. It is only you who can understand the difference between not knowing some words and not being able to speak at all in English.

Even though the language carries a legacy of oppression, it really can’t be done away with. However, we can definitely make the language our own by not sidelining those who aren’t entirely familiar with it.

In my opinion, as a woman of privilege, I have to be held accountable if I fail to pass on what I have learned and seen thus far, in words that are easily understandable and accessible to all – so that the chain of dialogue is never broken or stalled. So that everyone gets to participate in everyday discussions on various platforms.

People like me, who have the privilege to be able to understand the language, need to realise that a language’s sole purpose is to communicate our thoughts and not stifle them.

Featured image credit: Waldemar Brandt/Unsplash