February 2, 2006

Certainties and attitudes

Americans, not saying all Americans mind you, seem to be very certain that they know and use the English language better than anybody else :p Maybe this perception comes from the fact that most of the English speakers that you meet are from the US than any other English speaking country but still, the impression remains.

For instance, I had an American teacher in the ’90s. She was here in Sri Lanka for a year on a project. The place where we were studying, was set up to teach English and other skills to Sri Lankan students. I believe I’m being objective (but are we ever when we talk about ourselves? :p) when I say that my knowledge of English was at least on par with theirs. (So what was I doing there then? That’s a different story :p) Some of the other teachers accepted the fact that I knew English as well as they did and would even acknowledge the fact. But there was this one teacher who would not even consider the fact that her knowledge might be deficient. One particular instance that springs to mind is the word "rune". During a classroom discussion about something, I used the word "rune" and she said there was no such word. I, of course, knew better :p So I brought the word up again in a different class later, she again flatly refused to believe that there was such a word and even dismissed the very thought of checking up to see if there was such a word.

Recently, I got another comment, again from an American, who thought that I was looking words up in the thesaurus and inserting them into my writing because the word usage was different from what she was used to. Of course the usage was different! My writing’s closer to the British style (though a lot of Americanisms do creep in :p) because in Sri Lanka we are still learn English "the way the British do" (that’s actually common misconception – I believe Sri Lankan English and British English diverged paths a long time ago too .. but still the spelling and certain forms of usage is closer to the Brits than to the Americans). But to get back on track, this person totally dismissed the possibility that there might be other usages for a word or phrase than she was used to.

Is this just an American trait? I don’t know. But it’s true that so far, I’ve encountered this blindness only in Americans. I just wonder how you can come to be in a position like that – one where you dismiss all other possibilities than what you know yourself. Isn’t that also going to limit your ability to learn because you’ll keep rejecting new opportunities to learn because you believe the other person is wrong? That seems a little sad … but then again, I guess that’s humanity for you :p

Posted by Fahim at 7:18 am  |  1 Comment