The power in ‘Nenglish’There are roughly 6,500 languages spoken in the world today.
There are roughly 6,500 languages spoken in the world today. While English might be thought of as the most common language, it comes second in rank, in terms of the most widely spoken languages in the world; first being Mandarin Chinese Nevertheless, the far-reaching influence of English in the global arena, a product of colonialist history, remains the same with more and more people rushing to learn English around the world.
In his book ‘English Next’, David Graddol charts the history of English, arguing that it can be classically divided into four stages: Old English, Middle English, Modern English, and Global English, the period we are currently living in.
In Graddol’s report The Future of English: A guide to forecasting the popularity of the English Language in the 21st century, he expands on this concept of ‘global English’ by highlighting its contradictory forces. On one hand, English continues to demand adoption by maintaining (and in some cases, imposing) its influence in pedagogical and socio-political arenas. While on the other, the proliferation of English as a second language, ‘where it takes on local forms’, is leading to further fragmentation, diversity and new forms of re-claiming. He writes: ‘No longer is the case, if it ever was, that English unifies all who speak it.’
The argument compelled me to revisit narratives on the ‘hegemony of English in Nepal’. As many people have rightly pointed, the ‘english speaking class’ in the country holds a certain authority and privilege. In many cases, English speakers who speak the language a ‘certain way’ are presumed to be intelligent simply because they possess a certain command. In many of these arguments, ‘Nenglish’ or Nepali English is criticised as a form of imposition on local languages.
Graddol and other authors have encouraged me to look at this narrative through a different lens: Nenglish can also be seen as a form of reconciliation or compromise. It has its own identity, a native tone and adopts new forms of meaning.
For example in Nenglish, ‘ischool’, adopts the addition of /i/ sound in the beginning of the word, because of the lack of /s+ consonant/structure of sound in Nepali. While we poke fun at the nature of these sounds, it is important to remember that they, in some ways, challenge the dominant understanding that non-native English speakers must contort their tongues to speak English with a certain accent.
In John H. Esling’s ‘Everyone Has an Accent Except Me,’ he reminds linguistic scholars that the idea that there is one dominant way of speaking English is false; he argues that everyone has an accent, and ‘those who believe absolutely that their speech is devoid of any distinguishing characteristics that set it apart are severely misguided.’
In many ways, the widespread acceptance of ‘school’ as ‘ischool’ is a reminder of that. Many native English speakers do not understand Nenglish but that’s besides the point: there is an ample number of people in Nepal who do not find the need to twist and turn their tongues to speak English a certain way. Nenglish is enough for a vast majority of people and it’s important to recognise the power in that.
The global forces that compel us to learn English are unavoidable, especially to remain relevant in this marketplace. But local communities are reclaiming the language and adapting it to suit their purposes. Through this lens, one could also argue that English is not owned by a country or institution.
Through new modes of reclaiming, local communities are making English their own. They’re scrutinising it, transforming it, and ensuring that the language adapts to them—not the other way around. There is power in this frame of thinking and it should be celebrated; Nenglish should not be cast off as ‘incorrect English’ but rather, as a form re-claiming power.
While we should continue challenging the hegemony of the English speaking class in Nepal-and question the power that this class holds, we must also recognise that ‘many englishes’ are spoken in the country. Granted, basic rules of grammar are important to uphold for comprehensive purposes, but I challenge those who view Nenglish as a subordinate or inferior form of communication.
The English language is now dependent on its many varieties and forms, even Nenglish itself. Next time you poke fun at someone for speaking English in a ‘Nepali way’, reflect on the socio-political, historical, and colonialist influences that you’re overlooking. And next time you demand your tongue to twist and turn in an effort to erase any trace of your Nepali accent, ask yourself: why?
The author is pursuing a Master’s in English at Tribhuvan University.