“The idea that intelligence is linked to English pronunciation is a legacy from colonial thinking.” – Delalorm Semabia
Last July, a Filipina celebrity was slut-shamed on social media. Naturally months later (bored and immature) people are still finding reasons to hate this stranger so it comes as no surprise that people are chastising the celebrity for her “wrong English.” Heck an actual tabloid article ran the headline “Jessy Mendiola’s wrong grammar is the most WTF moment in Star Magic Ball.”
As frustrating the misogynistic hate surrounding her is, this post isn’t about her. It’s about the fact I’ve been silently seething over how non-native English speakers seem to get a kick out of shaming other non-native English speakers if the latter so much as misses a punctuation mark. Somehow, mocking others’ language skills on social media became acceptable behavior with the wave of being a “cool grammar nazi.” The sad part is this happens too often, even in professional settings, and not just to celebrities but also to a lot of normal people.
“When we position the English that white people are more likely to speak as THE English, then we’re creating a hierarchy where white people are on top… Think about it: We actually refer to some forms of English as broken – as an English that is inherently in need of fixing… And who are the people who are accused of speaking a version of English that isn’t whole, that is cracked and torn apart and broken? Immigrants and other non-native English speakers – which is incredibly xenophobic.” – Melissa A. Fabello, Why Grammar Snobbery Has No Place in the Movement
People should be able to do whatever they want so as long as they are not hurting you, right? Wrong grammar or correct grammar be damned. Yet there’s still an unhealthy amount of social media posts laughing at those who have been given talents outside of linguistics, as if doing so somehow improves their own social standing with cool points. I’ve seen passive-aggressive, and sometimes down-right spiteful, posts such as:
- “LOL wrong grammar, you’re embarrassing yourself! stfu bitch!”
- “Such bad English! WTF is wrong with you oh my god hahaha”
- “Wrong grammar is such a turn off”
- “haha stop trying to talk in English if you don’t know how to. It only exposes you’re a social climber”
- and the infamous “it’s YOU’RE not YOUR. Omg learn your english!”
These are legit posts on my Facebook feed the past 6 months that I copy-pasted. They’re usually accompanied by a quote of the offender’s incorrect grammar followed by a rudely worded assessment on how the faults can be fixed. And these are not towards the celebrity I mentioned. These were written by everyday people towards other everyday people – whether be it a person they dislike, a person they have a crush on, a teacher, a colleague, a classmate, a friend on their Facebook.
I swear to god my newest pet peeve is grammar nazis or people who laugh at other people’s English grammar as an insult or form of humiliation. Like, dude, that is some classist bullshit. It doesn’t make you look cool, it doesn’t elevate your opinion or devalue the other person’s opinion just because they accidentally misused a pronoun or spelled ‘your’ as ‘you’re’ and ’they’re’ as ’their.’ Literally no one cares if you text ’stuff’ or ’stuffs’ under your selfie caption.
Since when did being a prick become cool? Language rules aren’t even real, your beliefs on sentence structure aren’t even real, none of this is real. Everything is made up by man. But you know what’s real? You being a rude-ass jerk.
On a less tempered note, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being a grammar nazi. It’s okay to judge someone as being a poor speaker, or a poor dancer, or a poor writer. Judging per se is okay. What’s wrong is judging someone needlessly, harshly, and unprovoked. You’re crossing a thin line between “playful grammar nazi” and actual asshole if you make a post on Facebook laughing at someone for their grammar, regardless if you hate the person.
Besides, if your point is to “help out” other people with their English, maybe you can do so in private? And if you choose to comment publicly, maybe you can word your advice in a polite manner?
“There’s a difference between understanding standard grammar and demanding it, between believing there’s a time and a place for so-called “proper” English and ridiculing anyone who steps outside of what you deem “acceptable.” There’s a difference between appreciating language and being a snob.” – Melissa A. Fabello
Also, the fact it’s mostly non-native speakers who practice this sort of behavior speaks levels about the ingrained “self-hate” our colonizers have taught us. We were subconsciously taught to hate our own skin, culture, language, accent; to ostracize those who, for lack of natural talent or formal education, are not able to adapt to Western style; and to believe anything less than perfection diction and impeccable grammar is “low class.”
Remember the English language is not a status symbol, it is a reminder that our ancestors were slaughtered, our identity nearly totally annihilated, our women raped, our resources taken advantage of, our country invaded, our land taken from us by those stronger, more powerful, with bigger weapons. The English language is not a measure of intelligence. It is but a form of communication, one of thousands.
“A close reading of (Noah Webster’s) work reveals that he believed only White male property owners with little interaction with foreigners had the capacity to express this democratic spirit. Any person who was truly educated was expected to speak this pure American language and anybody who did not was deemed as less American.” – Nelson Flores, The Classist and Racist Origins of Standardized American English
Language is always evolving and changing. The apostrophe was not discovered by Isaac Newton during an experiment. Science did not invent the comma. There were no clinical experiments made that led to the fruition of past, present, and future articles in sentence structures.
Man made the rules (and continues to do so) and passed these on via formal education. If you live in a third-world country and your English is faultless, chances are you were privileged enough to go to a better school or you grew up surrounded by people with Californian-like speech patterns. So should we really giggle at those who make grammar, spelling, or pronunciation mistakes because they were not born into the same circumstances as you?
There may also be a possibility that a person has language learning disabilities such as dyslexia. Even if someone went to the same school as you and is in the same social circle as you yet their English is not up to par with your expectations, there’s still no reason for you to publicly embarrass someone for it. If the setting does not call for formal English, then what’s the point of getting snarky about it when other people don’t/can’t deliver? As I once read, “[sic] Treat others with respect. Anyone can understand the language of a righteous man.”
Whether someone has dyslexia, or didn’t go to a good school, or didn’t have English native friends, it should be easy enough to understand that it is simply cruel to make fun of someone for mispronouncing / misspelling / misplacing a word. Doing so does not showcase how you are “better” than them. Looking down on other people does not, and will never, elevate your person in the eyes of society.
“[Foreigners] may find it hard to speak English but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t intelligent. For instance, most Japanese or Taiwanese cannot speak English fluently. That doesn’t mean that they are less educated than [others who] can speak English easily. Not all men who can speak English are brilliant.” – xelaiehm
As non-native English speakers, how fluent someone is in the English language does not and should not lower or raise his/her social or intellectual status. Allow Filipinos, Latinos, other South-East Asians, etc. to speak or text in incorrect grammar, imperfect diction, or heavy accents without mocking them. If you mock people based on their grammar skills… well then that says more about your shitty personality than it does about the other person. Plus, if you don’t want me to mince words, then I think most of non-natives I’ve seen who are quick to jump on someone for their bad English are not so fluent in the language themselves. Irony!
The next time you decide to poke holes at someone’s English grammar, take a moment to reflect on WHY you’re doing it and HOW you’re going to do it. It’s difficult and may take a long time to fully adjust to, but let’s try to unlearn the toxic behaviors of online shaming, identity hating, and classism. Instead, practice some compassion, grace, and kindness. Peace out.