Talking white to talk right

Below were my thoughts;

When I got mad thereupon, after a frat-loving, greasy individual proceeded to correct my enunciation  of a, basically, inconsequential word (where he’d understood entirely what I had meant)

‘Understood’ is an distortion. He completely resonated with what I was saying; and where he could have chimed in with an ‘Amen sister’  he chose to reprimand the delivery of an unimportant word. I was flabbergasted that this greasy male would clench so tightly and violently to the phonology of his small-town Canadian upbringing and impose it on this clearly, boss-ass female.

You know I hate to delve into academia, so I won’t bore myself and you all with socio-linguistic mumbo jumbo; also because I refuse to make APA references on my blog. 🙂 But, I will share some reasons as to why this exchange troubled me as well as similar exchanges which I overhear on a daily basis on my campus:

1)They funnel and reinforce a linguistic insecurity among English-speaking immigrants and International students

Obviously. Because these condescending ‘corrections’ hold moral underpinnings of truth v. falsehood; correct v. incorrect. These corrections call into question intelligence, and suggest incoherence. They imply a lack of exposure to English, and assert a ‘Needs improvement’. They allege that a ‘foreign accent’ and a brilliant, articulate mind are mutually exclusive. They dispute that eloquence and wit can show up in a Nairobian accent. These are the interjections that probe recent immigrants to completely transform their authentic manners of speech upon arrival to North America. To suit these uppity motherfuckers who also have accents. Even to avoid participation in interactions and relationships with the wider majority population. To grow silent in classes. To become dis-empowered. To panic, to become nervous, to stutter, to flail.

2) They impose that there is a Universally correct English, which they hold access to

I won’t do this point justice, because it will involve writing a book with sequels. However, in a nutshell, these corrections rely on an uppity assumption that a ‘standard English’ exists; born of an elitist mindset which favors the dialects of the socio-economically advantaged and subordinates the Englishes of the working class, and the colored. Even where there is no universal consensus as to what constitutes standard English, given its global field of reference; a result of commerce and conquest. Greasy-guy denies, that there exist dozens of valid, mutually understood Englishes around the world, varying  regionally. That English is transformational with interface from different languages, eras, and cultures. That your Northern-Manitoba dialect could be considered ‘stupid as fuck’ if you moved just slightly Southward

3) It attempts to erase ‘affect’ from speech
Again, I will only scratch the surface. But, clearly the guy who corrected me lacks an appreciation for nuances in the conveyance of words. The inextricable cultural ties to language, which make a dozen of concepts impossible to translate into ‘Canadian English’ or even the Manitoban frame of reference. He fails to understand that, in no way, can I substitute, ‘she bad’ with ‘she’s a beautiful lady’ and still maintain an even remotely similar nuanced meaning. He doesn’t appreciate that I choose to deviate from ‘Standard Canadian English’ when I want to. And that I will not alter my register to make it relevant to his upbringing.

4)These criticisms have colonial remembrances.
To me, this is the most problematic part. Because it is very reminiscent of the colonial process. An attempt to eradicate the indigenous out of the native. A mockery to my Kenyan identity which manifests in the way I speak. And If I were to romanticize this event, I’d be tempted to say that the role of the greasy-haired fratty, was evocative of the missionaries who inflicted themselves on my grandparents.Who felt the jurisdiction to eradicate and colonize our languages. To linguistically assimilate us in the ways in which we speak so as to resemble theirs. And since I’m already doing the courtesy of speaking “your” language, allow me to experiment the shit out of it. To appropriate the shit out of it. And to my add my own cultural interface to it. English is my first language. Trust me; you WILL understand. Thanks.

And to my own: please don’t self-deprecate. Don’t internalize it, and begin to hate the way in which you speak. If you have a fluent command of English, and you know it, don’t let THEM dictate how you speak.


8 thoughts on “Talking white to talk right

  1. Opeyemi says:

    I completely agree with you. I keep on telling my friends that the only identity i have as a Nigerian is my accent. Changing my accent and talking like a Canadian is like giving up my heritage. Although, there is a saying that when in Rome behave like a roman but I have already given up a lot to assimilate to the Canadian society. Gone are the days when your skin colour, your ethnic language or the way you dress make you unique. With the age of globalization, the only way people can know that I am Nigerian and proud to be one is by my accent. So my Canadian friends will just have to pay close attention to the way I pronounce my words😊.

  2. Fiona says:

    Thank you Kari for this post!
    Being in Linguistics myself (albeit, just starting), I have come to appreciate MORE the diversity and rich heritage each language brings. In all honest truth, I can say that some of you (please, no offence) who have come to Canada speak better than the so-called “natives”.
    To understand, and be understood.

    love, Fiona

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