We have all heard of people fawning over the endlessly adorable British accent or the ridiculously attractive Australian twang, claiming that these accents can make a person significantly more attractive or seemingly knowledgeable. However, accents that are not eurocentric in nature, such as African and South Asian accents, are not given the same admiration and are instead mistakenly equated to a lack of intelligence and education.
In Western culture, there is an underlying assumption that people of color who speak accented or “broken” English are simply less educated than a person who speaks in accented English from a European country. For example, President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, primarily speaks in Russian when addressing the nation, requiring an interpreter to relay messages when interacting with foreign leaders. However, the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, makes an effort to speak in English constantly, despite the fact that English is not the national language of India (Hindi is). However, these leaders are not seen as having different levels of intelligence and political prowess due to this distinction because of the varying Western cultural biases associated with people of color.
Photo: Hannah Wright on Unsplash
Although English is the most commonly studied foreign language in the world, it is not the most popular natively spoken language in the world -- Mandarin Chinese is. Regardless, due to the imperialistic history of England, many countries had to adopt English as their official language, with many also having it as a secondary language. Since the British rule in these regions was categorized by classism, the upper class were typically the ones who had the privilege of learning the English language, which is reflective in the populations of these countries today despite their freedom from British rule. Therefore, the problem of overly glorifying English is not only on the part of the West, but instead embedded in the nations that receive the backlash of this mindset.
A prime example of this is the country of India, which was ruled by the British for about 200 years. In India, English is not seen as a language as much as a class. In order to be taken seriously in school or work, an individual has to be proficient in English and speak to a degree of propriety that even native English speakers do not employ in their daily speech. This contributes to the backward mentality of non-native speakers being poorly educated, as those who learn English in foreign countries often speak in a more sophisticated tongue than native speakers but are not regarded as such due to their non-eurocentric accent.
Photo: The Hill
For instance, when Pakistan recently defeated India in the international cricket finals, Pakistani team captain Sarfaraz Ahmed had to deliver a speech in English, struggling to do so because of his familiarity to Urdu, the Pakistani national language. Due to this, he was mocked worldwide through social media, both by his own people and Westerns abroad. Despite English not being relevant to his profession and victory, it became the focus of his speech due to our internalized mindset that English is the definition of intelligence.
This mentality unnecessarily glorifies the Western world and further puts people of color struggling to assimilate to the Western world at a disadvantage. English-glorification is merely the result of imperialism, not a prerequisite for success. It is time to stop treating it as such.
Zoya Wazir is a seventeen-year-old Muslim-American with a deep rooted passion for social activism and writing. She plans to double major in Journalism and Political Science in order to work toward achieving the change she wishes to see in the American media. In her fleeting free time, she also likes to create art, read celebrity autobiographies, and binge-watch Bollywood movies.