When George Bernard Shaw wrote ‘Pygmalion’, it was an attempt on his part to scorn class distinction and disparity prevalent in England at the time. An Irishman himself, he used the English language — and its many dialects which determine the speaker's status — as a tool to show his audience, society’s shallow standards of judging a person.
Shaw was fighting Britain’s class privileges which separated the feudal, landed gentry with the working classes and where speaking the ‘King’s English’ reflected superior lineage. Post colonial generations ended up adopting that same legacy of the British who believed that the rich notes of Urdu were heathenish compared to the simplistic sounds of English with its mere 26-letter alphabet.
And so it is that in Pakistan and India particularly, being ‘Urdu medium’ as opposed to ‘English medium’ comes with an ugly social stigma.
Fluency in English represents a higher status, a claim to good education and by default leads to the general assumption that the English spoken person would for some reason naturally possess a better intellect. Nearly all post-colonial nations still have English as the official language and the urban elite lives in a misguided sense of superiority because of their fluency in their master’s tongue.
A new Indian ‘Minglish’ movie called English Vinglish, addresses this rather thorny issue in a smart manner. It is the story of an Indian housewife, Shashi, with a successful corporate professional as a husband, who patronises her exceptional cooking and other housewifely skills. Her poor mastery of the English language turns into a critical issue with her family.
Via Charles Tiayon, Salvina Passerini