Language discrimination is a widespread phenomenon in a multicultural society. When people cannot speak standard English and use its variations, native speakers treat them with a certain degree of contempt. Even though English is an international language, some cultures adapt it to themselves, forming non-standard English (Lippi-Green, 1994). The non-standard form also includes one’s accent, elements of their native language, and other cultural peculiarities. Those who are discriminated against for performing “broken” English tend to experience anger and frustration, and in some cases, leads to violent and dangerous situations (Lippi-Green, 1994). Therefore, it is vital to investigate the circumstances of Kina and Li to identify why their language skills resulted in unpleasant consequences.
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Robyn Kina was an Aboriginal woman who spoke Aboriginal English and was hardly educated. In the case of Kina, her inability to express what happened at the crime scene presumed refutation of justice. According to Eades (1996), “she did not give evidence, and no witnesses were called to give evidence to support her case” (p. 216). Her poor language skills led her to incarceration because she could not simply defend herself. During the interview with the law enforcement representatives, Kina’s behavior failed because she could not explain herself and kept silent (Thomas, 2006). These actions made the police officers misrepresent her evidence against the person who subjected Kina to physical and sexual abuse (Eades, 1996). At the more profound level, such discrimination derives from the cultural context where the whites were dominant over the blacks. Hence, racial prejudice became a basis for language derogation among the Aborigines.
Like Robin Kina, Daisy Li steered clear of society because she also spoke a non-standard English complemented by her specific accent. Yet, Li did not face imprisonment or physical violence; she encountered daily exclusion from society (Tan, 1990). Although he could read Forbes, talk to her stockbroker, and listen to Wall Street Week, she was never active in daily communication due to her Chinese accent. In addition, she had troubles related to the language barrier during her conversation about a tumor with the doctor. Not knowing perfect English prevented her from accessing any services or receiving a typical attitude. As a result, unlike Kina who suffered violence, abuse, and incarceration, Li experienced emotional and social isolation.
Moreover, while Kina preferred to be silent in front of lawyers and solicitors, Daisy Li could speak up on the matter even with her “broken” English. Despite her speech imperfections, she could shout at her stockbroker: “What he wants, I come to New York tell him front of his boss, you cheating me?” (Tan, 1990, p. 318). Even though there is no racial discrimination in Li’s case, there are still cultural implications that did not allow other people to perceive what Li was saying. This was the main reason Li avoided talking to anyone, especially face to face.
In conclusion, it seems reasonable to state that language discrimination is a severe threat to those speaking non-standard English because, in some instances, it leads to unpleasant ramification, including social isolation or even violence. Both Robyn Kina and daisy Li prove that this lack of knowing proper English roots is deeply rooted in cultural or racial prejudices. The differences between cultures pose a barrier and cause misunderstandings; yet, native speakers should be less judgmental of those who speak non-perfect English.
Eades, D. (1996). Legal recognition of cultural differences in communication: The case of Robyn Kina. Language & Communication, 16(3) 215-227.
Lippi-Green, R. (1994). Accent, standard language ideology, and discriminatory pretext in the courts. Language in Society, 23(2).
Tan, A. (1990). Mother tongue. Threepenny Review, 315-320.
Thomas, H. (2006). Failure of justice system that feels all too familiar. The Australian. Web.