Malayalis And Their Muddled Relationship With English

Malayalis have mixed feelings towards English. We have an anti-English cult that worries about the new generation getting Westernised, and a pro-English cult who are so in love with the language that they speak an anglicised version of Malayalam.

The jealousy we have towards those who do better at handling English, even by the anti-English+culture preservation cult can’t go unseen. The powerful machoman in Renji Panicker-Shaji Kailas movies throws a few English words here, and there while delivering a powder-puff monologue in Malayalam, to affirm that he is not a “mere native” but also someone who has had an English education and hence, “intellectual” too. It’s something we all cringe at now and is memeable from the 80s and 90s Malayalam cinema memory lane. In this article, we will dive deep into the complex relationship Malayalis have with English. 

From “love for the language” to subtle racism

Malayalis never forget to identify themselves as “Malayali” wherever they go and love to use it as their first identity. Our love for and pride in our state and language is intense but at times this turns into an unaddressed form of racism.

A form of racism where you burden others with the expectation of communicating only in Malayalam and admiring elements that are only “Malayali”. While the collective emotional feeling of “Ours and Us” should be treasured for generations to come, using it as a medium to promote precarious racism is not a good idea.

Elders and Elites are disappointed

The older generation rants about how their children are detaching from their Malayali roots just because their kids enjoy “English things” – from the English language to Western pop culture and cuisines.

Socio-cultural elites of Kerala have formed numerous culture preservation committees and have invested tons of money, only to complain about “new gen” non-elite children upgrading themselves to learn a language that opens up employment opportunities. The irony is that the children of these old people are the ones who went to the top schools in the state where they sleep and live in English.

The Envious English speaking police

Deep down we look up to polyglots with much awe and appreciation. But our insecurity and ego restrict us from gracing them with our lovely words. Instead, we find many ways to put them down, which include barging into their conversation, grammar policing, and accent shaming them as if we are native English speakers.

“Oh Nee Valya Englishkari ” – the never-ending bullying

Malayalis are renowned for having the right judgement skills. The same judgement skills have been used to bully fellow Malayalis who are comfortable speaking in English over Malayalam. While I was gathering opinions on the same, a major memory people recalled from their school days was how they got shamed for speaking in English. People who got labelled as arrogant and showy for conversing in English. 

Also Read: Do We Malayalis Have A Culture Of Shaming?

English, Elitism, and Intelligence

Colonisation has its leftovers across India. One of the clear vestiges is our adoration for English. We assume that a person is elite simply because they can express themselves effectively in English. We think of people who speak “poor English”  as uncivilised and uneducated.

Certain studies have shown that English is mostly accessible to the urban, upper-class, upper caste in India, who get to study in prestigious posh schools in the city. This might be why English is still considered the language of “elites”. However, digitalisation and the pandemic have changed this scenario. Lockdown gave rise to many online English coaching classes which flagged off a revolution and send out a message that English is no longer a high society thing.

Closing Thoughts

Each of us might have a different relationship with English. Maybe you are in the anti-English cult. Or the one who spoke anglicised Malayalam and got labelled as “Englishkari”. Honest confession, I was in the bullying gang during school days *embarrassed emoji*. And the ones who have come straight out of Renji Panicker-Shaji Kailas universe where you fake your English accent to add a “punch” to everything you speak.

We have to agree that people can follow whichever cultural and linguistic paths they prefer. Be kind enough not to be a bully and decolonised enough not to place English as the SI unit for judging everyone.

Also Read: I Have A Malayali Accent. Is That A Problem?


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