I have followed with keen interest the debate that was sparked by the March 28 editorial “Japan’s ambivalent English.” Let me begin by stating that there is no sole ownership of this universal language. No single ethnic or linguistic group can claim to be speaking English that is pure, unadulterated and with the proper accent.

The English that we now speak sprang forth from Old English, which was prevalent during the Anglo-Saxon period. Surprisingly, this version of the language had more things in common with the Germanic tongue than with present-day Queen’s English, the barometer of how English should be spoken. But with the repertoire of English ever increasing and making space to accommodate new words from various languages, even this barometer is coming under the scanner.

In this scenario, can a native speaker of the language claim sole ownership to it? Sadly not, for English has traversed a long way from the British Isles, and has come to take root in America and Australia with a new dialect, a new phonology, new spellings and a new vocabulary with new accents. Take for example Australian English, which has a very high cockney and Irish influence. As a result, we can safely presume that even native speakers of the language speak English with unique regional and national variations.

On the other hand, a non-native speaker of the English language also cannot lay claim to this title for he is highly influenced by his mother tongue. Hence both native and non-native speakers of the language need to take recourse to picking up the linguistic skills behind the language so as to cultivate the right accent. Once the technical skills inherent in the language are picked up, then even a non-native speaker can speak impeccable Queen’s English. When this is the case, I am surprised at the stress in Japan being given to learn English only from Caucasians.

beulah rose

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