Okay, so another blog titled “Stuff White People Do” had a post titled “Laugh at Asian English.” This was then changed to “Laugh at ‘Engrish.'”


Here’s my suggestion for the title: “Laugh at non-native speakers of English even though they themselves are monolingual” or maybe “Laugh and feel superior towards people who are learning another language.”

My problem with the original title is that there is no such thing as “Asian English.”  The inherent suggestion here is that English spoken by Asian people is non-standard and therefore inferior.  I don’t believe that non-standard English is inferior.  And  “Asian English” is definitely derogatory. It’s the flip of being told that I speak like a white person.

The second title, however, employs a commonly used racist way for white people to mock the way they think Asian people speak. Yeah, I know “Engrish” was in scare quotes. But I still think it’s racist. Poke around the net for any boards talking about Asian issues, and you’ll find some asshole writing a comment in which he/she switches her L’s and R’s. Because it’s so fucking funny, you know? And so original. So that leads me to another thing White People Do: Say Racist Things Because They’re ‘Anti-Racist’!

The reason I feel my suggestions are innately superior (other than my own obvious well-deserved sense of superiority) is because it puts all the shit back on the white people.  Where it belongs.

20 thoughts on “Huh.

  1. My initial reaction to “Engrish” is not that it’s Asians speaking in an accent other than perfect American/British/Australian etc. English, but that it’s more aimed at lazy or bad translation work and usually exists only in written form (such as the site, which focuses on billboards, ads and printed commercial goods–not the way people speak). This happens in every country that thinks that advertising in English rather than in your own native language is somehow cool, and they think that someone in-house already knows enough English to do their translation work (but usually they don’t) and to save some money, they don’t hire a professional translator. Still, as you pointed out, the site owner thinks that Engrish is essentially the same as “Asian English” (whatever that is…), so I definitely am not defending his actions here. I might laugh at as a professional translator, but why would I laugh at Asian, non-native English speakers trying to communicate with me? Your suggestion for the change into “Laugh and feel superior towards people who are learning another language” is a more apt description than what the original author provided.

  2. I’m half Korean, half black and I speak Japanese and English with a bit of Korean I’ve just recently learned. I just got back to the States from trips to Hong Kong, the Philippines, a year and a half in Korea and I lived in Japan for about 3 years total. Anyway, how is the world Engrish racist in any way? Neither Korean or Japanese differentiate between an L and R sound in their native language, and it tends to come out as an ‘r’ sound most of the time. I’m failing to see how that’s racist. Not only is it demonstratively true that Chinese and Japanese (which is what most Americans think of when they say ‘Asian’) say R instead of L unless they’ve done considerable language training, languages aren’t races.

  3. The switch of L’s and R’s is a common racist method employed to mock the speech of people of Asian descent. The word “Engrish” incorporates this. This is used indiscriminately to make fun of people of Asian descent; whether they are Japanese or Chinese from Japan or China or fourth-generation. It is also tied to the idea of the Asian as the “forever foreigner.”

    In any event, as you can see from WHIB, visiting Hong Kong, the Philippines, Korea, and Japan is really not a guaranteed marker of any kind of education about race or racism.

  4. “Here’s my suggestion for the title: “Laugh at non-native speakers of English even though they themselves are monolingual” or maybe “Laugh and feel superior towards people who are learning another language.”

    Thank you, Resistance.

    When Chinese becomes the international language, it will be MY turn to pick on English speakers :-)

    In the mean time, I can take a joke from some of you.

  5. I didn’t think the “Engrish” version was unproblematic, but I thought it was vastly superior to the “Asian English” version. I feel sad when people ask what a “Chinese Canadian accent” sounds like, after all.

    I concede that “Laugh and feel superior towards people who are learning another language” is innately superior. I shall offer your suggestion on that post.

  6. I apologize. I accepted the word and concept of “Engrish” before I became an adult, and I haven’t re-examined the origins of the word since then, sadly. It was introduced to me by fellow CBCs, and the word was useful to make fun of “FOB” clothing and accessories. The whole idea that “FOBs” are inferior itself derives from internalized racism.

  7. While I was teaching in a middle school last ear, I observed a student wearing a t-shirt that said “I speak Engrish” in a font that i believe is actually called “Rickshaw” (I know whole other post there) I pointed it out to the guidance counselor who stared at me blankly-I explained slowly -and in words of less than 3 syllables-why this was not okay. She wrinkled her nose and said,” hmm. I just thought he was trying to be funny.” I saw this student in the afternoon, which means he had gone through a whole day…in a school that has MANY Asian students and many ELL students. This was the guidance counselor! We have a looooong way to go.

  8. Not to pull white people out from under the bus, but doesn’t this seem a common non-Asian native English-speaking American tendency, ie African and Latino Americans are frequently guilty as well. On a blog about “What white people do” it’s probably ok to put all the shit on the white people.

    The f-ed up part is that, as the commenter James exemplified, people who use this derogatory language act as though it’s solely about language, as if it has no context.

  9. Jeanthebeen, was the student requested not to wear the shirt again?

    Hey TM, I think that prejudice from people of color towards other people of color has to be examined through the lens of white superiority.

    Your point about context is a good one.

    I wanted to additionally note that I don’t think a made-up term that is inherently racist should be used as if it’s a valid way to express a concept. E.g., you wouldn’t discuss bargaining by using the term “jew them down.” Scare quotes or no scare quotes.

  10. Yes, he was requested not to wear the shirt again. I also spoke to him privately (teachable moment) to explain why it hurt me personally. I told him that my daughter was addopted from China and that it hurt me to think of someone making fun of the way her birth parents might speak if learning English. I also told him that regardless, I would also object if someone were to wear a shirt that I thought was offensive to African Americans (his race) The funny (or not so funny, but poignant) thing was that he got it. He got it better than the adults. Having taught kids for 21 years, I believe that they really do want to be good people. They grumble and pose, but when pushed, will more often do the right thing than not. Sometimes they just need to undestand the WHY of it.

  11. resistance,

    If the term in quotes is the thing under critique, then isn’t using “Engrish” in scare quotes basically the same as when you used “jew them down” to make your point? You also repeated a racist phrase, but the context is a critique of the very term, as is the post on “Engrish” now that it has replaced the very bad “Asian English” in the original title.

    Maybe I’m just missing your meaning?

    Thanks for an important intervention, btw.

  12. Jeanthebeen: Thanks for the further info. Blog post to come.

    TM: The term “Engrish” was itself not being critiqued. It was being used as a description for a bunch of things, but mostly for how native English-speakers make up a bunch of shit that they think sounds funny and then attribute it to Asians.

  13. Resistance: ah, sorry for misinterpreting the text and hanging onto the idea of “Engrish” more than what the author of that blog meant by it (being interchangeable with “haw haw, they speak funny!”). My bad.

  14. Thanks again, resistance. I get it now. Even though the concept it represented was being critiqued, the use of the term to represent the concept was still racist.

  15. I don’t know how specifically that’s directed at me, resistance, but since I’m white, it is directed at me in general terms, so yes, thanks for the reminder. I agree. Here’s a hearty “thank you” to you and Restructure for your attention here and elsewhere to the matter of that post’s title; I’ve also added a note to that effect to the post itself.

    (By the way, resistance, do you ever comment on other blogs?)

  16. I’m a black woman, and I never really understood why this kind of crap is funny. There’s just no way I can make this right in my mind, and when I see/hear anyone laughing about how a non-native speaker sounds my estimation of them goes down significantly. It’s stopped me from pursuing friendships with seemingly “well-rounded” people.
    It seems to irritate me more when I see members of my own race participating in this type of behavior-I know I’m once again giving white people a break, but I just can’t help thinking we as brown people should know better.

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