When will Pakistan stop mocking people for speaking imperfect English?

Published: January 14, 2017

Many of us have mocked someone who spoke in incorrect English, or in a different accent. PHOTO: SCREENSHOT.

Recently, a video went viral on social media of a group of girls in which one of them spoke a misplaced English phrase. The results of this innocent error by that girl were catastrophic. It soon became a phenomenon on the internet with the girl being subject to several jokes and derogatory comments. Following this, news came that the girl has not been attending college due to this incident.

This represents two chronic problems in our society; first, the issue of cyber-bullying, and second, our obsession with the colonised tongue. Cyber-bullying is reprehensible, but the underlying issue is that we give English so much precedence that we shun and mock anyone who fails to employ it correctly.

It has been several years since the subcontinent achieved independence, yet we see the impact of the colonised period prevalent in our day to day affairs. The influence of colonisation on a society’s culture, norms, laws, and institutions is inevitable, yet it tends to decrease with time.

One of the major effects of colonialism is on a psychological level, and that is manifested in our various preferences and habits, one of them being our language of preference. It is a common occurrence that post-colonial societies continue to be influenced by colonial traditions, one of them being the colonised tongue.

In Pakistan, English continues to be the lingua franca of the elite, similar to the status of French in several African nations. Those who are not articulate in English are often the target of derogatory words, bullying and are looked down upon in society. Whereas, speaking in English is considered to be a symbol of power, affluence, and in certain cases, intelligence. This behaviour is a reflection of our colonised mind-sets that places English on a higher pedestal than any other language. It is the same mentality which results in preferring to speak in an American or British accent rather than one’s own.

Colonialism shaped and influenced several values and ideas, which sadly continue to exist till this date. A historical analysis of this period will uncover the politics of identity, difference, and discrimination that were the core of colonialism. Our society continues to reinforce these especially in the case of the colonised tongue. This occurs at our very own educational institutes where instead of instilling a sense of pride for our native languages, they discourage students from communicating in languages other than English. Most schools that even operate today cater to the globally recognised language and choose English as the primary mode of instruction.

One would say educational institutes are simply responding to market needs, which in this case are parents who want their children to be well-versed in English. Therefore, I am not placing the onus on any particular party, rather trying to highlight the problem that runs deep in our society.

Moreover, we as a society have failed to deconstruct and reconstruct such misplaced values that contain acute prejudices towards the native tongue. It is fair to state that Pakistan has not been successful in its decolonisation project. The decolonisation project goes beyond the amendment of laws, the renaming of streets and buildings, and the restructuring of institutions – it has a social and psychological element to it. The state has failed to devise and adopt policies that would address these concerns, hence the current state of affairs where the reinforcement of the colonised tongue prevails.

In the interests of academic honesty, it is fair to say there has been considerable emphasis placed on the Urdu language. One of the initial points of contention with former East Pakistan (present day Bangladesh) was on language. The prioritisation of the Urdu language has often been at the detriment of several regional languages to which a majority of Pakistanis can relate. However, despite several efforts we see the dominance enjoyed by English in urban elite circles, one not possessed by Urdu.

The purpose of writing this article is to elicit reflection on an individual and societal level – to understand the reason behind why we do not take pride in our native languages (national and regional), whereas English is given a special status. Moreover, introspect into our own individual roles and actions. How many of us have mocked someone who spoke in incorrect English, or in a different accent? Even our heads of state and diplomats prefer to speak in English rather than Urdu.

There are endless examples of the influence of the colonised tongue in Pakistan. I urge you to reduce the level of scrutiny that is applied to people who cannot speak in English, or speak it incorrectly. In no way does that reflect upon anyone’s intelligence, or question the level of respect they deserve. All it does is prick our own ego’s and self-made notions of what is acceptable.

Fakhruddin Valika

Fakhruddin Valika

The author is a final year student of law and politics at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS). He tewets @FValika.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Keyboard Soldier

    Eh? Looks more like a slip of tongue, nothing else.

    Why is their so much fuss about it? Here, I’ll say it:

    WE ARE PRAWD OF YOU
    WE ARE PRAWD OF THEY
    WE ARE PRAWD OF ME
    I AM PRAWD OF ME THEY YOU

    Pakis, and their inferiority complexes, Jesus!
    Recommend

  • Taha Mohyuddin

    Its a well written article to address the typical thought processes and mindsets of majority of people here in Pakistan. Most of the Pakistanis, belonging from prestigious backgrounds, forget that earning a high quality education from respectable English medium schools certainly do not give them the right to mock the less fortunate ones. I wish this article to be circulated on a wider scale so that it can open the eyes of millions of English speaking quacks living among us and teach them to respect othersRecommend

  • Parveen pasha

    Pakistanis will stop mocking ppl for speaking imperfect English only if they live in USA or Europe and find out how imperfect English they speak and no one making fun of their strong Pakistani accent English
    Recommend

  • ayesha

    very beautifully highlighted and expressed the cause..Recommend

  • Azam Gill

    After decades of teaching English in higher education, I can’t see why the video clip caused such a fuss! It’s as though people are lying in an ambush to stomp on other people’s language quirks and accents, making poor old Georgie Shaw turn in ‘is grive – watch this, mites https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jhninL_G3FgRecommend

  • Sarah

    Excellent article!
    Recommend

  • Alia

    Well written! Hope the girl comes across this and feels better. Recommend

  • Mahnoor Shah

    finally making a differenceRecommend

  • Taha Mohyuddin

    I’m glad someone brought this issue up which needs to be addressed.Recommend

  • Taha Mohyuddin

    It’s a well written article which addresses the typical mindsets and thought processes of majority of Pakistanis belonging from lavish backgrounds. These people tend to forget that acquiring quality education from prestigious English medium schools doesn’t give them the right to mock the less fortunate ones who attempt to speak English. One must not forget that English isn’t our first language and, therefore, one who is not familiar with this language tends to make mistakes either in pronunciation or in sentence construction. I hope that this article is circulated on a wider scale so it can open the eyes of millions of English speaking quacks who live among us.Recommend

  • Muhammad Javed

    Zabardast.Recommend

  • farhan

    Finally tribune posts a great blog rather than man-hate or promoting liberal agenda, Thanks man. The term is “Angraiz to chalay gai par apnay ghulam chor gai”Recommend

  • Muhammad

    Good article. The breed we are producing at private schools will always think like slaves. I am also no exception. Have gauged others and always been overly concerned about mine as well.Recommend

  • Ali

    Brilliant article, very well written.Recommend

  • Time Traveller

    The irony that the author is studying the old colonial law and using the same colonial language to express his views.Recommend

  • Raza

    Please remove the pictures of the people who were mocked, you are contributing to the damage already caused.Recommend

  • Ahson

    I have noticed that many Pakistani’s are under such an intense grip of an Urdu inferiority complex that they actually make a substantial effort to speak in English, even though their command of the language is pathetic and way worse than this poor girl’s. Sometimes you have to remind them that it is perfectly ok to speak in Urdu and that no one is judging them…..lol…….Recommend

  • liberal-lubna-fromLahore

    another fake liberal attempt to tarnish image of my beautiful country.

    First of all, only people making this video viral are fake liberals..
    Secondly, if people are making fun of her, then I have not seen it. But I sure as hell have come across 1000 tweets and Facebook posts from people who are sending positive messages to the girl in the video.

    So Im not sure why Pakistani fake liberals like to make sue hue cry hoopla over absolutely nothing and go to extreme lengths to misrepresent pakistan as a barbaric country.

    Shame on Pakistani liberals. If something should be banned in this country, it should be pakistani FAKE liberals, not actual liberals, just the fake ones.Recommend

  • Saira

    Why would you use the image and the video clip of the very girl that you are standing up for, to clickbait your article?
    I understand your points and do agree with them too.. But I do think that the clips and stills should not be featured in the article directly. They kind of defeated the purpose here.
    Also, and more importantly, I wish you had taken to task the particular anchorperson and the production team of ARY News, who added the repetition effect to that particular line which got it highlighted to no end and made it go viral! Recommend

  • Parvez

    The 6 minute clip said it all……its still one of my favorite movies.Recommend

  • Parvez

    The bigger problem seems to be not how its said….but what is being said and here I’m afraid our youth’s ability to think, question and intelligently discuss, just about anything, is rather poor.Recommend

  • Farah Kamal

    I totally agree with you, that kid was excited and such slips do happen, English is not her first language it is perfectly OK to make such slips. Its the horrid TV channel that repeated it and did not edit that out.Recommend

  • FarahKamal

    Interestingly I got to know of this issue through this post,Recommend

  • Almas Tirmizi

    Unfortunately we are ashamed of our national and ethnic languages, to the point that literally the young generation of our elite and upper middle class feel proud of not knowing Urdu and their regional languages. Majority of them do not know how to read and write Urdu. Though Sindhis and Pushtoons have preserved their respective languages by speaking in them amongst themselves, but unfortunately Punjabi is considered to be the language of paindus in Punjab itself!Recommend

  • rumi52

    English is an international language and many science books are written in English so without loosing our own native languages such as Urdu, Sindhi, Pashto and Punjabi (& many more) we should learn English to help in Pakistan’s advancement. This is a fact and we should not get sentimental or nationalistic over this. In relation to this there was an article in this newspaper a few weeks ago about the standard of teaching in Pakistan and the standard of teaching English. That is where the real problem is.Recommend

  • Samir

    That is actually a valid point, playing the victim after you were doing the exact same thing to others. All the paksitanis were quiet then. No Pakistani speaks about this.Recommend

  • Hamza

    Very good, your Urdu inferiority complex is out of choice not out of force as you did to the innocent Bengalis.The bengali language you try make inferior which is more spoken in the world making it actaully superior.Recommend