Why you should never attempt a keminggris jaya* British accent

*Keminggris jaya [kəmiŋriz dʒæə] = Inggris means England in Indonesian; the Javanese prefix ke- indicates an attempt, often carrying a negative connotation; jaya is an exclamation. Together it means a super pretentious English accent [all definitions by me so honestly this is not very trustworthy lol]

Imagine if you’re listening to a foreign speaker of Bahasa Indonesia attempting a medhok Javanese accent, a Madurese accent, a Batak accent, a millennial Jakartan accent. For a comic effect, yes that sounds funny, but when it doesn’t stop after an utterance or two and the person is actually attempting to sound Javanese for real, the you might be wondering what’s going on in their mind. The same is true when you’re attempting to sound like Victoria Beckham, right here in the middle the day when the temperature is reaching 35 degrees and streets are buzzing with gorengan sellers. I mean we’re thousands of miles away from London, not even part of commonwealth, no historical or cultural ties no nothing, so what’s actually the point? I find it saddening how some people endorse, glorify, and romanticize posh accent or any accents deemed desirable. And here are some reasons why you might need to reconsider your attempted accents and oh boy brace yourself I’m about to get explicitly political:

Reason #1: You don’t actually sound as natural as you might think

Unless you grow up in the actual place and reach the highest level of language acquisition so-called ultimate attainment, you’ll still have a foreign accent, no matter how faint. You might think that your friend who attempts to sound like a Brit is cool but you might want to imagine how the Brits actually perceive such an attempted accent. You might not be able to hear the subtle difference but they do. And there is a wholesome body of literature in sociolinguistics that discusses this matter – the non-native speakers’ perceptions of native speakers’ accents and vice versa. There is also a whole lot of discussion on the political and cultural dimensions of the accents– the native speakers’ own perception of the accents. The RP, the Mancunian accent, the Glaswegian, Cockney, Scouse, Irish. If it’s hard to imagine then imagine this. Surabaya people speak in raised intonation and curse cak cuk in every way possible. If say, you’re not Jakartan and we’re here in Pasar Atom and you use lo gue instead of the common you and I, with a very thick metropolitan accent, you will sound quite snobbish and might incinerate a fight with the inner hooligan in me. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the same is true with other languages – their accents have associations. Besides, phonetically speaking, if you’re a second language learner, the chance for you to be able to produce sounds akin to a person with a natural accent is quite low. If your only repertoire is replacing a rolling [r] with a silent [r], guys please chill! Indo-English accent is also a good accent.

Reason #2: You might raise unnecessary questions

When I just came back from my study ages ago, I picked up a weird mix of Scottish and something else accent. It might not even have been an accent. It’s just a weird way of flicking an utterance ending. So I went for holiday to recover from the academic trauma and stayed in a youth hostel in Jogja. I had a chitchat with an American girl and she said that I had quite an interesting accent. A little cultural note, interesting is not equal to excellent. I therefore felt obliged to explain my situation and that I could afford my study only with scholarship and things – because obviously if you could afford expensive education why would you be sleeping in a bunk bed instead of a nice hotel room. That sort of things. My point is, it’s a bit unnecessary, shifting the focus to the way someone says things instead of what he/she actually says. It’s a conversation killer. Because the addressee might suddenly become self-aware of their conducts. In the case of American girl, she just politely implicitly asked for an explanation. But some other might just silently judge you. Like this Sidoarjo lady I once shared a table with. She’s married to a British and when she was introduced to the people she went a full-on Queen of England like it was a high tea in the Kensington palace. When nobody was looking some of us shared glances that verbally translate into what’s with the keminggris accent? Sis calm down we are in Wonokromo.

Reason #3: It’s more political than you could ever imagine

There is this concept that goes around on the Internet quite a lot recently: the cultural appropriation. It’s quite a complex notion. The ‘reversed’ cultural appropriation is even a more nuanced than that. One might say, stop speaking English altogether then! It’s not your culture! Excuse my audacity, your royal highness, but let’s take a look at the history. Much part of the world was colonized by the British and the Europeans. Western cultures and languages were imposed on the people. Countries were forced to adopt new languages and cultures, which pretty much means the subversion of the indigenous languages and cultures. The adoption of a foreign language is not an equal act of cultural appropriation, but a product of colonization. So no we cannot really stop speaking English. It’s a very established system already, dated back to the colonial era, reinforced day by day to date – including by me by the way. The system is so established that to succeed in the modern world you must be able to speak English. Fluently. There. Let that sink. Then imagine the impact on the education curriculum, the language policy, the commodification, the privilege of English teachers from the inner-circle countries, the death of the Indonesian language identity. The rise of a higher language only means the subversion of the other, something scholars refer to as linguistic imperialism. We all in it. Choosing to speak in English is a political act. Now imagine choosing to speak English in a supposedly posh accent because you want to sound as fancy as the Queen of England. Excuse me. Hold my gorengan sis! I’m about to destroy a high tea party.

Reason #4: It’s not part of your identity

Malala Yousafzai still has that Pakistani accent just like she still wears that tunic and loose head scarf, although she’s been residing in the UK for years. I’m not saying she must be aware of the language-and-politics nexus. I’m saying that it’s part of her identity and it must be a conscious decision to keep it that way. It would be hard to imagine Malala without her scarf or losing her Pakistani accent. The way she dresses and the way she speaks, among many others, make up who she is. Jokowi with his Javanese English. He received backlash from his rival’s sympathizers. Little did they know that that’s exactly he built camaraderie with the grassroot people. He actually benefitted from the seemingly undesirable accent. The medhok accent shows that he’s from the countryside non-privilege class just like the rest of us. His language is part of who he is. Because language shows your background, your values, your political stance, your views of the world, your education, your socio-economic status. So, with that silent [r] and long [ɑ] and carefully chosen keminggris vocabulary, who are you trying to be, a member of Spice Girls or the Duchess of Cambridge?

My attitude on pretentious accent has thus far been so negative. What’s the motivation of writing this dissing post? I found myself in a very weird situation. A question about my accent was brought to the table. As in, if I couldn’t mimic accents then I might not be a credible teacher. Because that would mean I don’t have that association with the Queen of England, with good higher education, with privilege class, with the colonizers. Yeah, I don’t actually, because I refuse to suffer from an inferior complex and post-colonial mentality. I’m okay with my accentless English, with a bit of Indolish, with all this attitude and identity. And I think that every second language learner should be okay with who they are too. English in the modern economy is inevitable, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we undermine our own values by worshiping the country of origin. Besides, scholars in universities in England themselves are currently questioning the status of native speakers to celebrate the emergence of global Englishes. In a seminar on language and politics, a prominent applied linguist started his session by launching a question, “Who is a native speaker of a particular language here and also a speaker of English?” We all raised our hands. He congratulated us for the second language mastery that a monolingual speaker of English might not ever accomplish. No it’s not that being a bilingual or a second language speaker is better. All I’m trying to say is that we need to give a little respect to ourselves because, for all intends and purposes, you’re not a lesser intellectual if your English is not perfect. Now excuse me, I’m just gonna get some more gorengan for my high tea.