May 6, 2011

Four Englishes and An Option

It’s one of those days when I feel like I really need to write. Not necessarily share but just to sort out my thoughts that are chaotically disturbing, and running wildly through my mind.

I’ve always had a love for languages, especially the English language. Somehow or rather I’ve always tolerated the many varieties of spoken English, whether it is Manglish, Chinglish, or English, as long as it is intelligible to my ear. Similarly, when I was a teenager, I’d never failed to respect people’s diverse personalities and I made friends easily and happily. I saw the best in everyone, and I tried to extract each person’s best trait to be a part of my personality. However, at one point I realized I didn’t have my own personality. I had trouble finding my true self and my true identity. Different identities were constructed when dealing with different personalities. Of course this is not a bad thing altogether if you were planning on becoming a psychologist or a counselor because you have that large amount of empathy and can put yourself in someone else’s shoes. But mirroring each person you meet is not only a bad idea, but also a barrier to finding your true self. Realizing this, I finally became ME. Over time, I decided on life rules, or pillars I wanted to lean on to, and I made my way to ME. The projection of ME no longer mirrored anyone else. I am ME. And I am unique.

Naturally, when you speak to someone, you will, in all respect, suddenly mirror that person’s speech. Mirroring is common in conversation. Observe yourself purchasing hardware at a hardware store from a Chinese lady. Most of you will suddenly sound EXACTLY like her, “Saya sudah banyak tempat cari , ini kedai saja yang ada la nya (nyonya).” The Chinese language is a tone language, and when this Chinese lady speaks Malay- a syllabic language, she will have that Chinese tone to it. And you will speak Malay with that Chinese tone as well. Have you ever asked yourself why you speak Malay with a Chinese accent when talking to a Chinese? Wouldn’t she have understood if you had spoken proper Malay? What is wrong with employing standard Malay you use to speak to your family and friends? And what benefits do you obtain when you speak exactly like her?

In finding my language identity, I encounter a lot of problems. And today I realized that I haven’t found my language identity. It is not that I am afraid to sound like ME, but I have too many repertoires of English of which I can choose from. I grew up in many English language communities. And therefore, when I speak to a British native speaker I will sound very cockney; when I speak to people with American accent, I will sound very American; when I speak to Malays, my English will sound very Malay; when I speak to expatriates or present a paper, I will use a more polished RP English. And for that reason, I have no trouble in distinguishing the marked differences in American and British accents and obtained ceiling scores for Phonetics and Phonology during my undergrad years. However, my aim today is to consider my options and choose my LANGUAGE IDENTITY.

Option 1- Yorkshine English
As a child, I was exposed to cockney English when I was growing up in Yorkshire. This varie^y of English actually omiks most‘t’ sounds, and changes some‘t’ sounds to ‘k’ sounds. (This variety of English omits most t sounds, and changes some t sounds to ‘k’ sounds). After returning to Malaysia, this was the only variety of English I knew, and my year 6 primary school mates would probably remember how I spoke with this alien accent in class. Mostly, this variety is unintelligible to my listeners. Therefore, I do not consider this an option.

Option 2- American English

Thanks to the mass media, our local television is jam-packed with American sitcoms, dramas and movies. I learnt American English mostly from watching movies and TV, and partly from my high school friends. In form 1 and form 2, I was friends with two girsl who just came back from the United States, and a girl from Sri Aman who sounds more American than an American native speaker. That’s how I picked up the American accent. I rolled all the ‘r’ sounds to make my woRds sound rodic, and changed all the ‘t’ sounds to ‘d’ sounds. (I rolled all the ‘r’ sounds to make my words sound rhotic and, and changed all the ‘t’ sounds to ‘d’ sounds). American accent is considered cool to some people. Sometimes I opt to use it.

Option 3 – Malaysian English
Currently, linguists are acknowledging the varieties of English that has emerged over the years around the world. Malaysian English is one variety of world Englishes. Linguists deemed it not fair to compare English as a second language to English as a native language. Thus, as long as our English is intelligible, we fall into a category of our own – Malaysian English. The most standard Malaysian English is the English of our radio DJs. Although most words are pronounced more British-like, the ‘r’ sounds are mostly rhotic. Malaysian English is 40% Malaysianized, 35% British and 25% American. Of course there are varieties across speakers. And we often include ‘la’ at the end of the sentence. “Come on la.” This is the most relaxed form of English, and is effortless. Good option.

Option 4 – British RP-like English

After undertaking TESL, I came to notice the distinctive features of RP English or posh English or royal English. In the UK, only 3% of the population speaks royal English. And this accent is no longer considered ‘natural’ even in the UK. The best thing about RP English is that it makes a person look more educated, if you know what I mean. Like my friend always says, “When you speak English with a British accent, you instantly add 10 points every time you open your mouth.” Even on ESPN, the natural British accents we hear are cockney accents. Prince Harry speaks with a cockney accent, and he’s royal. Should I sound more royal than him?

Since I’ve listed down all my options, tomorrow I will have one language identity. My motives are simple and good. I would like to be role-model for my students. The option I’m choosing is not with the intention to show off or to intimidate, but to be ME. And to sound like ME.

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