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Reimagining stereotypes: from the lens of Mallett

To the girl in English class by Hafsat Abdullahi

To the girl in English class what is

funny what is hilarious about my painful

attempt to communicate in a language

that is not even my own so this accent

tells The Story of Survival tells how my

mother Tongue endured to this day so I

expect you treat my tongue with some

respect every word every syllable I

utter comes from a riot within my mouth

is a babble between subconscious tongue

Teeth and vocal cord so excuse you if my

speech does not soothe you so this speech

comes from this slaughterhouse I call a

mouth see my mouth is a battlefield a

clash of uneven cultures warring for

dominance in my tongue is a traumatized

Survivor lost in this alien fluency see

this accent is how I find my way home

how I say “inikipi” without biting my

tongue and my tongue is Forever at war

with itself forever fighting to

decolonize itself fighting to lose and

regain itself all at the same time

(Agbiti megi neke logi ogi shin)

“two elephants cannot pass the same feeble bridge”

So cut me some slack

I will not be ashamed not refrain from

saying my name and no I will not

apologize for my mother’s Legacy for

there is no dignity in denying my

identity so to the girl in English class

“Ewu Shoduwe”? How are you?

it's about time you learn my own

language too

Abdullahi, in her piece, brilliantly demonstrates why it is important to reclaim our indigenous tongues and reject these unrealistic expectations placed on us as non-native speakers of any language.

Mallett gives us the theoretical framework to examine how the dominant culture often shames people that do not fit the "normate gaze" (4). Her analysis is able to help us repackage slurs like "paindu" or "lunday kah angraiz" in the Pakistani context because it presents an imagining of these classical stereotypes as "subverting the normate gaze" (Mallett 4). This idea becomes more evident when we consider Abdullahi's poetic piece, where she uses an African proverb:

"(Agbiti megi neke logi ogi shin)"

“two elephants cannot pass the same feeble bridge.”

We are complete and complex humans that grow up speaking another language; to expect us to have command over a language that historically has been of the violent and oppressive colonizer is not only unrealistic but keeps us detached from the most vulnerable among us.

Hence, Abdullahi's ultimatum, "it's about time, you learn my language too," is a confrontation with the established power nexus of the language of the colonizer. Here she sets a precedent for all of us to reclaim our language and humanise it in front of the colonizer by setting the same expectation they have set for us.

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Iman Ahmad
Iman Ahmad
Dec 09, 2022

Similar to the beautiful piece you shared, I think it's wonderful how certain media pieces can resist dominant ideas, whether it be related heteronormativity, gender roles or even language. I actually want to move beyond language and focus on specific accents of English that are mocked and stereotyped not only in media but in real life. For instance, why are French accents considered romantic/seductive but Indian accents are paindu/uneducated? An example of a similar piece is the writing, "Mother Tongue" written by Amy Tan. Even though this piece is not specifically about reclaiming one's own language, she does try to subvert stereotypes about the way people try to police her mother's English -- viewing it as "incomplete" and "hard to…

Replying to

I think you've pointed out some excellent facets through accented use of language with examples in the media and literature but I find the political praxis behind language and gatekeeping certain communities based on that another pivotal aspect which often is overlooked. Historically, Yasmin Saikia's account of Bengali histories are able to narrate excellent ideas about this surveillance through language and how hegemony of a certain group is able to remain central in society. For an illustration, many Bengali immigrants in Karachi are racially profiled by how they pronounce the number 10 in Urdu which is able to divulge whether they are native speakers of Urdu or not and this violence ensued through accented politization of language is another dichotomy…


Dec 05, 2022

I liked the theme and also how you expressed her lines. I completely agree with your stance that we should promote our language, but unfortunately, the language of colonisers has poisoned our own. We are heavily impacted by colonial practices, and as time passes, we adapt their language and culture. Surprisingly, many these days feel ashamed of their own language; this is especially common in the Punjab region, where punjabi is labeled the language of 'paindus,' while English is considered the language of elites. I don't blame the people; there is a flaw in our system. Every sector of our country has been segregated based on classEnglish Medium schools are regarded as superior in comparison to others since they promote…

Replying to

Absolutely, I think this idea of accumalating cultural and social capital that you hint is developed by how Bourdieu distinguishes between class and status. For many of us having money or being rich in monetary terms is simply not enough to be part of the elite. Consequently, to become part of the elite you need to use, as Hall highlights, codes that reflect of the elite and this then means that you must also speak English, send your kids to the same elitist institutions and be friends with only a certain type of people because that is how you accumulate social capital to become part of the elite, money alone in this globalized space is not enough to make you…

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