The Elitism of the English Speaker

Most as a result of imperialism, English is today the most widely spoken language in the world, after Mandarin. Add to that list the number of people who speak English as a second or third language and it is, without a doubt, the most widely spoken language. There is one aspect of English that no other language has been able to replicate – knowledge of English enabled (enables) upward mobility. Irrespective of profession, just the knowledge of English puts the speaker at an advantage over someone who is similarly qualified but doesn’t speak the language. Of course, the reason for the popularity of English is that it is the language of the United States of America and the United Kingdom – both aspirational destinations for many.

However, this accent on the English language has brought about an unexpected elitism. People who consider themselves proper speakers of the language tend to look down on those who do not speak it as well. Strangely, knowledge of English is in many ways a measure of a person’s ability.

What we define as proper English is a result of chance. The rules of English that we follow today came mostly from a small but affluent part of England. This section of English society had the time and money to actually write books that documented the way they spoke and wrote English. These books became part of school curriculum and viola! the proper way to speak and write English was born. There were other versions of English spoken (some still are) even in the United Kingdom, but the schools moved, slowly but surely, to the style recommended in the printed books.

An off-shoot of this random event was that people who spoke the language as recommended by the books became snooty and began to look down on other ways of speaking or writing English. There was no basis for this snootiness whatsoever.

In the Internet-age, this has given rise to interesting pass-times such as pointing out wrong spellings in English on hoarding and shop-boards. However, what many people don’t seem to realize is that the shop board that spelt vegetable wrong had the spelling in the local language correctly, but then the person taking the picture most probably could not read what was written in the local language.

A lack of knowledge of English should not in any way be construed as a lack of intelligence or lack of subject-knowledge.


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