– This letter was first published in my old blog back in 2007. –
I was intrigued by your comment on my last posting about the various ‘modifications’ of English. First of all, yes, they are easily noticeable throughout the world and although it may be seen as racial, people sometimes recognize others’ ethnic group merely by the sound of their accent. It is a common linguistic phenomenon in which non-native users of any language tend to carry the intonation, phonological processes and pronunciation rules from their mother tongue into their English speech.
A major contributing factor is of course the fact that English is taught as a second language in most countries. In such cases, the teachers’ accent will affect their students’. Even in former British colonies such as India and Singapore whereas English remain a mandatory subject or medium of instruction in schools the accents are unavoidable because they learn and use English mostly in schools while the use of mother tongue is carried in everyday life. Grammar differences in many countries often lead to grammatical mistakes, and English vowels that are not available in their native languages will be replaced by similar vowels, thus will add to the “varieties” of the English language itself.
It is interesting to know that while many educated people use English for various purposes, they still retain their own original ideas and values that are uncommon in English speaking communities. For example, it is common for Hong Kongers to say “I wanna have a small business” or “big business” to euphemize their intention to go to the restroom (small business = to urinate; big business = you know lah!).
A friend of mine always protested his English teacher in Singapore for having corrected his grammar or pronunciation mistakes so many times he was afraid that he was going to flunk the subject even though he was able to read and write well. The “Bad English” labeling for his thick Singaporean English (Singlish) accent caused him to study in China instead of going to the US merely because he felt more confident in speaking Mandarin rather than using his “perverted” English. I’m sure that many non-native speakers feel inferiorated when compared to the standard English pronunciation used by their native peers, therefore a person who can imitate perfect pronunciation often will stand out in his native community as a high-class and well-educated persona.
Many experts have their own advices on this matter and I’m in no position to add to the issue, however I do realize the fact that most English speakers are non-native and many of them still carrying accents that by no means a sign of inferiority in their analytical skills. They perceive English merely as a tool to achieve other purposes, and if they can get along just fine with their accent then they have no need to change it. Infact they are proud of themselves that they are bilingual or multilingual people while most native English speakers can only speak their mother tongue.
Therefore we can happily conclude that we are the dominant communities within the lingua franca and we are free to bastardize the English language with our own influences and make it a bit more colourful. ^^