Good English, Bad English

I don’t know how many times I have confessed: I am highly opinionated. Like many people, I have an opinion of my own. Every time, I read a newspaper, I end up forming an opinion about a story. As I keep reading the stories, I mumble while reading the last line of each news item. Of course, most comments, just like the stories themselves, are negative, upsetting and often abusive.  Thus, in most cases, I end a story with remarks like “Oh my God!”, “shit”, “f…”, “what the hell” etc.

After a long time, today I came across this article in Express Tribune. For the time being, I was speechless and had no instant comment to make.

The management of the newspaper had published a “correction” in response to an earlier article written by the paper’s publisher. In the article, the writer had used “neck and neck” rather than the correct expression “neck in neck”.
The correction was made because a reader had raised an objection.

Presumably, a correction was made because the newspaper guys wanted to reassure,” hey c’mon! We know our shit. It was a mere typo. Do you think we don’t know this simple English expression? Of course, our English isn’t so poor.”
I don’t want to further annoy my copy editor friends. I recently became a member of the American Society for Copy Editors (ACES). Therefore, I am fully committed to the discipline of copy editing. I also passionately believe in the right use of the language, correct grammar and perfect punctuation. I admire the idea of newspapers having Ombudsmen. The first time I became acquainted with the idea of a newspaper Ombudsman when I was a post-graduate student at the Asian College of Journalism (ACJ), India, when The Hindu, the most respected newspaper in the city of Chennai, decided to have its Ombudsman who the paper’s Editor N.Ram called a Readers’ Editor.
Express Tribune is the first newspaper in Pakistan to have an Ombudsman.

The issue that I am talking about in this post is not of the ombudsmen, mistakes and corrections in a newspaper.

For me, this is simply the reminder of an annoying but rampant phenomenon that I observed both in Pakistan and India: Unnecessary show off over one’s English language skills.

Both in Pakistan and India, people often judge the level of someone’s competency on the basis of their English. If you speak a good, fluent English, you are likely to land in any job with an attractive package. If your English is weak even in your maths or physics class, the possibility of being ridiculed are still high. Though most of us do not speak English as our native language, I had seen my class fellows, peers and coworkers in Pakistan and India several times raising their eyebrows over someone’s wrong English pronunciation, poor accent, bad grammar and weak vocabulary. Sometimes, the smarter people even bust into laughter.

My impressions drastically changed when I came to the United States where nobody laughs at someone because of their weak English. No one flaunts  about their fluency. Classrooms and campuses are very multicultural. Students from all over the world come to the US. They speak with different accents and sometimes faulty grammar. Yet, professors, students and the people in the street try to make sense of the actual message rather than endeavoring to fix the grammar.

I am surprised over our people’s obsession with English language. I  wish we changed our attitudes.

Our attitude over speaking a better Urdu than someone else is another topic that I will focus on in one of the upcoming posts. That is another fascinating topic.  If you are in Karachi and say in your “Balochi-PashtoUrdu” Gari jatha hey“, then, my friend, you are dumped into the ocean of mockery.

Layari, a town in Karachi, is definitely an exception to the rule.

3 Responses to “Good English, Bad English”
  1. Qaisar Roonjha says:

    Dear Siraj,

    Awesome work,


  2. Huma Sattar says:

    I stumbled upon this article by chance and I’m actually very surprised at what you say. Yes, it is indeed thought provoking how obsessed we are with the english language but the connection you make is ridiculous. Express Tribune is an english paper- if they made a language mistake and later on, figured it out, it is commendable that they acknowledged it and corrected it. I don’t think it has anything to do with an ‘obsession’ with the language because by default they are supposed to be correct in the language they are publishing in!

  3. anon says:

    You write, “In the article, the writer had used ‘neck and neck’ rather than the correct expression ‘neck in neck'”. The correct expression is actually “neck and neck”.

    Regardless, most countries with an extended history of colonization have a language hierarchy, with emphasis placed on mastery of the non-native language. The language of the colonizers tends to be the language of government and other infrastructure, such as education. These are highly correlated with class and social milieu.

    Plus, in Germany, with no history of colonization since the Romans might I add, speaking with a dialect accent is a huge social error. The Saxon accent is mocked mercilessly, for example. And people in the US are obsessed with grammar. See all the internet forum comments and the Facebook groups dedicated to hating on people who can’t distinguish “they’re” from “their” from “there” or “you’re” from “your”. There’s even an English grammar test (for fun of course) on the dating website okCupid.

    In short, people all over the world look for ways to distinguish themselves in a higher position, albeit superficially, than other people. It’s not particularly new…

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