I recently received in my inbox an email from my father, who likes to forward me a lot of things that he thinks will interest me. Except of course, he never really realizes just how easily antsy I can get, and how willing I am to pick apart an article. (I used to hit Reply to All whenever he'd send me an email to let all and sundry know what I thought and all the problems with whatever he sent me, so now he wisely BCCs people instead.)
This article was about Miss Singapore, and I can't find the original article, but hree's another one about the same issue. While at the Miss World pageant in South Africa, she inadvertently slipped into speaking Singlish, the Singaporean creole that mixes English, Malay, Chinese and god knows what else. And this was a huge fucking deal because apparently, all beauty queens must be able to speak perfect English, the standard of which is probably set by the English-speaking world that is the UK and North America, I guess. And because Miss Singapore slipped up and showed her real linguistic roots, she is suddenly a shame of the nation!
I've flipped out at people for making typos in advertisements before (made her cry, even, because I took the flyers too seriously), and I've purposefully avoided people whose writing consists of run-on sentences. The former was freakout and no one took me seriously (as they well should not have). The latter is simply a choice I make in order to limit interactions with strangers that might tax me.
I have also been a Writing Assistant for three years. It means I've read and reviewed, helped edit essays of students, who have all levels of language ability. It was probably where I learned to have a great deal of tolerance for international students, whose problem isn't so much linguistic as it is cultural.
As I grow older and more curmudgeonly, I find my tolerance level for a vast number of things going up. One of them - pidgin dialects.
I had a student once who was worried about not being able to speak English properly. He had a thick accent, sounded like he had razors on his tongue preventing him from enunciating certain words. I told him, it doesn't matter as long as you are understood. Part of being understood definitely depends on the speaker to ensure they have the necessary words out, but otherwise? It's also the listener's job to, well, listen. A person can use flawless English, multi-syllabic words, and still not be understood (you think anybody understands me when I speak academia?).
But with this case, though, I caught a strong whiff of classism in the air. Because as we know, it is only going to be those who are mostly English-educated, Western-educated types who are going to consistently speak flawless English, and have standard English as their mother tongue. Chances are, these people who get Western education in standard English, are the upper middle-class, rich elite. Most Singaporeans speak Singlish. Hell, they're even proud of it. It's a wonderful syncretized form of language. Just like Malaysians have their Manglish (which sounds less pretty, is subject to more variations, and is, I am told, counts as a basilect, which is kinda like creole except not stable).
Part of my changes also comes from acknowledging the hard work that beauty queens have to go through just to get to where they are, and stay there - how many people are willing to go up on stage to be judged not just on looks but also on things like how one walks and talks and what one will say?
Either way, I just think it's ridiculously mean to rag, continuously, and shame someone just for slipping up - once! There is nothing which justifies the shaming she's undergoing just because she slips into the language that she is most comfortable with.
I'm quite sure sexism factors into this somewhere, as well as some weird hero-worship of the English language as if it were the gold standard for communication, but that's another rant for another day.