The daily digest: Thoughts on Elitism, English, and the Welfare State.
A recent argument flared up between me and a friend of mine while we were having dinner the other day. She said that I'm too much of an elitist. This was brought up by the fact that I correct people's English. Often. Very often. Which, I must admit, is damn annoying.
But that's exactly why I don't do this with everyone, only specific people. Case in point: Three of my friends, including the one who accused me of elitism. But why them, you ask, faithful reader? Well, my aforementioned friend is an English/Italian major, so is another person who was present and frequently corrected (the latter works as a translator). I'll get to the third person in a minute.
So, these two are supposed to speak good English. In fact, one of them has a job that depends on it. And both of them often ask me to edit their writing, I'd guess on average five times a week. Why, then, is it so surprising that I should correct their English outside of a professional context? What's the difference between the English that's part of their degree/profession, and the English they speak (Slang and colloquialisms notwithstanding)? Would they be happy to go on making mistakes when they should, and can, know better?
The third individual makes some pronuciation mistakes. But he spent four years in England, studying first for a BA, then his MA. Yet he makes mistakes like pronouncing Onion On-yon (as opposed to un-yen). Ok, so in his case, perhaps I was a bit harsh to correct that...but it brings me on to my next point:
The accusation of elitism developed into an argument about whether or not speaking English with a particular accent is elitist. In essence, she was saying that speaking with an Arabic accent is a good thing, that it's a choice, and shows character. Since we're Arabs, we should we try to speak with an English (British) accent?
Well, that argument is all well and good, but it's not logical; people seldom choose to have the Arabic accent or any other when they speak, it's just how they're taught to speak English. Pronounciation errors is what they are, not some romantic, nationalistic gesture that's meant to evoke the declining Arab identity in a society seemingly overwhelmed by "western" influences.
I, personally, make it a matter of honour to speak English with an English accent. Why? Because I like to show native speakers that even though I'm speaking a second language, I can still do it as well as the best of them.
I guess it goes back to my first days in England; it was a knee-jerk reaction to the way some people I met viewed Arabs (not that the arabs there were doing much to dispel the negaitve imagery); it was disgusting how many viewed all things Arab as backward and inferior. It was from then that I decided to be the best I could be to prove a point.
But who cares what other people think? Well, considering the overall view of arabs around the world these days, a bit of aptitude isn't a bad idea. Still, I do need to chill out a bit, I guess. What does everyone out in Blogland think?