This is a topic that keeps coming up in various forms in different writing sites. I have thought about blogging about it before and then decided to pass. It is an idea that irked me early on, and now it wearies me. As someone currently making a living based on my English language skills, there is no getting away from it and so I figure I will state what I feel about this issue.
Who or what is a Native English Writer? Someone born in a country where the primary language is English – this seems to be the work-a-day definition. A stroll around websites will quickly dispel the myth that all native English writers are better than those who may have grown up bilingual. While I do not deny that mother-tongue interference and idiomatic trip-ups are rampant in many non-native writers, the idea that a blanket test for writers is their place of birth strikes me as Victorian. Do we speak of native Math users? – Given that the concepts have been shared, can anyone claim “We got there first!” Are you more likely to be terrible at Math if you were not born where the Arabic numerals, Roman numerals or the zero were first used?
For me, the English language is a concept in a similar way. The reality of the “Empire where the sun never sets” is that there are English writers around the world. Some good and some not so good – but the distinction is definitely not to be based on their location alone. To continue to assume that people without Judeo-Christian names are likely to be poor English writers or speakers is a prejudice that needs to be challenged. Please read Rushdie or Seth. Although when I mention Rushdie, I remember an episode from a book club a few years ago. We were discussing Rushdie’s ‘Midnight’s Children’ and there were some opinions that the language use was different because he is a non-native user! I had to say it – “The man is playing with the language because he is a master of it!”
Limiting frameworks abound everywhere. While academia has been dealing with unwieldy concepts such as the canon and figuring out subaltern, the bursting of bloggers and social media content producers had created its own variety of categorization. For example, WordPress in all its Freshly Pressed choices tends to pick writers largely from the US or Americans recording their insights from overseas. I guess it is inevitable sampling error, but when I see statements like “best of 400981,” I do roll my eyes! I know this sounds sort of like envy – and there’s a healthy dash of that thrown in there – but I think it is something to think about, don’t you?
I hope that those who stumble across this blog start to think twice about making assumptions – because that, ladies and gentlemen, is only a hop, skip and jump away from prejudice.
P.S. I was very aware that in this post, more than anywhere else, I cannot afford to have any glaring errors – so big thanks to my in-house Editor for some critical catches!