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Thursday, November 24, 2005

Wong II: The mutilation continues

News of Pansy Wong being mimiced in parliament yesterday caused a stir. Tau Henare gave a good defence ("the most absolutely shocking display of what somebody could call racist behaviour, mocking behaviour.") of the Chinglish-speaking Wong. But I heard the whole thing and was relieved when Wong had finished speaking because it's so painful to listen. The simple fact is she speaks shocking English and ridicule might be the last remaining tool to get her to lift her game. If you want to know what the English language sounds like when it's being murdered it's not Murray Mexted - it's Pansy Wong.

She was no worse than usual. "Foreign Affairs" was rendered "Foreign Affair" etc. and all in her sing-song Cantonese style. I would say anyone with a thick accent (especially after being here since 1974!) would get a hard time in the debating chamber. Could you imagine the Pythonesque moments with Cullen if there was a Tory in there who had a German accent!?

But she is much worse than the Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres makes her appear: "I think it's inappropriate to mock someone's accent in the context of a parliamentary debate. "The fact of the matter is a lot of New Zealanders speak perfect English with different accents." NO, NO, NO, you stooge, she dosen't speak "perfect" English at all. It's not just her accent - it is that she doesn't indicate plurals, she can't pronounce common English language sounds, she leaves words out etc. That goes way beyond accent. She has not MASTERED the language - and yet there she is in parliament, where the primary method of communication is speech, hurting people's ears.

The worst part was when, after Henare defended her, she got up and continued in that nails across the blackboard mutilation - it was very sonically distressing - she acted as though she had no idea what people were talking about and was just prolonging her speaking to irritate people. She succeeded. She is the worst role model one could think of for Asians speaking English, or translated to WongChinglish® v1.0: "She da worse role model one could think for Asian speaking English". I'm not even sure about whether ing would be there.

Wong's point was that people can understand her. My point is that it's all under great sufferance on the part of everyone else. We have to devote extra attention when she speaks so she doesn't have to devote extra attention to learning the English language. I've heard her in person and she comes across slightly better when you can physically see her - rather than on the radio. For someone five years out of deepest, darkest Hubei then fair enough, but a Hong Konger here as long as I've been alive!. C'mon! Make a fucking effort.

The problem is that in person you can't just say "Hey, you lazy, dumb bitch, learn to speak properly" because that would be rude. She meets people, they strain to understand, and she goes on without realising how awful it is. She's never been pulled up about it to her face I suspect. Like the person with bad BO people will be highly reluctant to say anything out of a British sort of politeness - it makes it worse when they hang out with others who have BO too. I think the analogy is valid.

UPDATE: Her press release says: “If anything, the media reports about the incident should be applauded only if they draw attention to an issue that many Asian Kiwis face every day – where their accent is used as an excuse to deny employment or promotion. “I am very proud of my tri-lingual ability – I speak Mandarin with a Cantonese accent, and Cantonese with a Shanghai-ese accent, and I make no apologies about my unique ‘Pansy-speak’,” says Mrs Wong" - No apologies eh. She is asking everyone else to accept a shocking level of English and then insinuates that it is racist people who use a person's accent as a reason not to hire or promote?! Yes, of course, the fact they have sub-standard spoken English has nothing to do with them not getting a job at a call centre. Please.


At 25/11/05 2:24 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the same way bro-speakers likely have trouble getting jobs in call centres. It's not racism in question, it's verbal skill.

At 8/12/05 11:40 pm, Blogger Kellie said...

Ok ok - I'm a bit past the due date for this post - but BRA-BLOODY-VA! In a similar vein to the rule that someone who is unable to drive correctly for NZ roads and rules would not be allowed to get a job as a chauffer, why should someone who cannot communicate in an appropriate way way NZ people and linguistics be in a job where speech is vital? It's not a racial thing, either: I'm sure there are many pakeha who don't get speaking jobs for just the same reason.


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