August 19, 2004 10:19 AM   Subscribe

It's our language, not yours. So, you were born in an English-speaking country founded by the English, speak English, have a degree in English, write and publish in English, have lived in England for years, and would like to become an English citizen? Sorry, you failed our English test to determine whether you have workable English, so you can't be English.
posted by rory (38 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Apologies for interchanging 'England' and 'UK' for rhetorical effect. Not surprisingly, the story has already been picked up by the Australian press.
posted by rory at 10:21 AM on August 19, 2004

That just seems silly--Have they had trouble with immigrants from english-speaking countries not knowing english? I could only see a reason for this if someone used Canada or Australia or the US as a stepping-stone country to get to the UK, and never bothered to learn english while doing that, which seems rare if not impossible.

Do they have to start adding "u" to certain words?
posted by amberglow at 10:27 AM on August 19, 2004

We are not Eskimos.
posted by DrJohnEvans at 10:27 AM on August 19, 2004

the grotty bleeding wankers.
posted by quonsar at 10:29 AM on August 19, 2004

oop--you're right--indigenous populations, and quebecois...
posted by amberglow at 10:31 AM on August 19, 2004

Many of us already do use '-our' endings, so they'll have to come up with something more specific than that.

"Quick! What do you call this soft bread roll?"

"Um... a bun?"

"No! It's a bap, you heinous foreigner! A bun is sticky!"

Also, while I'll give the Guardian points for 'unfair dinkum' as wordplay, it's actually incorrect Australian English and could well, if the Home Office were in charge of Australian naturalisation, cost them the opportunity to become Australian citizens.
posted by rory at 10:33 AM on August 19, 2004

"An public figure who has been knighted..."

Am I missing something, or is the Guardian's English proficiency suspect as well?
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 10:35 AM on August 19, 2004

Hint for overseas readers : If you read a news story containing the name David Blunkett, move swiftly along. As will he, as soon as the next 'outrage' requiring swift, decisive, pointless and ill-thought through knee-jerk reactions rolls by.
posted by punilux at 10:38 AM on August 19, 2004

Which is very reassuring for anyone affected by this. Never mind, it's just David Blunkett, and he's already forgotten all about you!
posted by rory at 10:49 AM on August 19, 2004

"Just because someone's born in an English-speaking country doesn't mean to say they're exempt from these standards of proof," the spokesman said

Didn't the spokesman mean to say "he or she is" rather than "they're"?

Or, alternatively, "some people are" instead of "someone's"?

And how does being "born" "mean to say" anything?

Nice that the English-purist spokesman can't speak in standard English.
posted by trharlan at 10:55 AM on August 19, 2004

Russell: So, How many of you would say that you speak English fairly well but with some difficulty? (long pause) A little English? Yes you speak some english?

Student: Son-of-bitch! Shit!

All Students: Son-of-bitch! Shit!

posted by Ufez Jones at 11:00 AM on August 19, 2004

Well, I'm chuffed!

Wait, is that good or bad?

Maybe I meant chapped. Yes, that's it. Chapped. And to tell you the truth, I get annoyed when my buns ar sticky.
posted by SteveInMaine at 11:24 AM on August 19, 2004

It's revenge for beating us at every sport ever invented.

Not so smug now are you, you convict bastards?

posted by squealy at 11:39 AM on August 19, 2004

When I lived in England, there were only two Americanisms in my speech that inevitably provoked gales of laughter. One was gotten -- as in, "I wish I would have gotten that sooner." "Gotten? Hahaha! Silly Yank!" (Strangely, this didn't seem to apply to forgotten -- "I used to know, but now I've forgotten." "Ah, pity.")

The other was, of course, panties rather than knickers.

Some may wonder if I learned all this by having forgotten my panties somewhere. Being a lady, I will refrain from telling. Let's just say that if I ever decide to try for UK citizenship, I am prepared on both the linguistic and the lingerie fronts.
posted by scody at 11:47 AM on August 19, 2004

EB: That's why they call it the Grauniad. No article is complete without a typo or three.
posted by languagehat at 11:54 AM on August 19, 2004

LH: Absolutely.

I love the way that pomposity so quickly gets it's comeuppance - whether the Guardian's or the Home Ofice's.

However: I can see that we may be recruiting Dr's & Nurses, roadsweepers and IT specialists from all over the Commonwealth, the EU and elsewhere. Surely if we are testing the guys & gals from Malawi, Pakistan and South Africa, we better be ensuring that we don't unconsciously give some preference to the guys from Oz, Kiwiland and the Land of the Midnight Elk.

Seems fair, just bolloxed in the pipeline. Maybe.
posted by dash_slot- at 12:31 PM on August 19, 2004

I'm surprised that they are still coming up with a test for the Americans and the Australians. It should be bloody simple - make 'em watch Trainspotting with the subtitles turned off and see if understood any of it.
posted by rks404 at 12:56 PM on August 19, 2004

Hey, wait a minute, RKS, that'd only be fair if they were applying for Scottish citizenship.
posted by adamrice at 1:37 PM on August 19, 2004

Do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?
posted by etoile at 2:07 PM on August 19, 2004

The English will soon just moan in vague vowel sounds and expect the rest of us to understand. Lazy bastards.
posted by Hildegarde at 2:53 PM on August 19, 2004

Good point Adam - perhaps they should also test the Scots for their proficiency in English since the accent can be a mite difficult to understand for the unschooled ear.

sidenote: check out The Scots Language Resource Center
posted by rks404 at 2:54 PM on August 19, 2004

Someday, all you fuckers'll be speaking Canadian!

posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:01 AM on August 20, 2004

It's revenge for beating us at every sport ever invented. Not so smug now are you, you convict bastards?

I promise that I am free of criminal convictions, was born into wedlock, and have never beaten a citizen of the UK at any sport ever invented. Should I remain in your linguistically pure realm for the requisite twenty-five percent of my adult life and seek some form of official recognition of my fond regard for this heterogeneous, heroicomical nation, and should my inferior facility with its unique linguistic heritage nevertheless be deemed acceptable by its esteemed Home Office, I promise not to display any pride in the sporting achievements of any nation with which I am affiliated, as that is something that British citizens never do except when it's the Rugby Union World Cup, but I don't give a flying fornication about rugby so that's all right, note the correct spelling as two separate words, and I also avoided a split infinitive so that surely has to count for something, although I may technically be in breach of Home Office Directive 834537A-7456 on the Fudging of Clauses for Humorous Effect, and no, there's no 'our' in humorous, not even here.
posted by rory at 2:20 AM on August 20, 2004

Put that smartarse back on the plane.
posted by biffa at 2:43 AM on August 20, 2004

Aw, c'mon, work with me here.

Just imagine what it's like having David Blunkett as your sword of Damocles.
posted by rory at 2:56 AM on August 20, 2004

ehhh, you can't do for reet doing wrong rory lad, there's nowt queerer than folk.
posted by johnnyboy at 3:37 AM on August 20, 2004

Okay, since smartarsery does undermine the point at issue (although in a state of pissedoffedness it's hard to avoid), I'll point out my basic objection to this, beyond the feeling of humiliation that anyone would feel at being suspected of incompetence in their native language by faceless bureaucrats.

Dash suggests it would be fair to treat Australians et al the same as people from any other part of the world, but the simple fact is that there's only a handful of countries of significant size outside the British Isles which are overwhelmingly English-speaking, and that this does make us significant, and a special case, within the global community of English speakers. Language is at the heart of anyone's personal and cultural identity, and state attitudes towards language play a powerful role in shaping political identity; look at the Basques in Spain, or the Flemish in Belgium. For the UK to announce to the world, through measures such as these, 'We are not just the home of the English language, we are its arbiters,' is a staggering political statement. There are three hundred million North Americans and twenty-five million Australasians with a personal stake in this language, and Blunkett's Home Office has just said to all of us that the opinion of its staff outweighs that.

So we have to ask, why do something so offensive to some of one's closest cultural and political allies? Why, when anyone considering becoming a British citizen has to have lived here continuously for five years, and when it's scarcely conceivable that an Australian, American, Canadian or Kiwi would spend (or survive) five years in Britain without having workable English, are they doing this?

I can only think that it's part of the whole atmosphere of 'getting tough' on asylum seekers, illegal aliens, and aspiring migrants of all kinds. Never mind that this lumps together people from all sorts of different circumstances: all must be forced to comply, to waste their own and our civil servants' time, so that Britons are reassured that no terrorists are about to leave their terrorist bases in Terrorstan, spend years going through the hoops of the Australian, US or Canadian immigration services, relocate to Britain and do the same here, stay for another five years and become citizens, and then launch an evil terrorist attack on Blighty without even being able to speak English!

Okay, reductio ad absurdum, smartarsery, whatever, but does anyone have a better explanation for this pointlessness—given, as I said, that aspiring citizens must live and support themselves in Britain for five years before they qualify for citizenship?

Why do you think we come here, if not because it's the home of our language and all the cultural heritage associated with it? It sure ain't for the weather.
posted by rory at 4:09 AM on August 20, 2004

So what. They're Australian. Who cares?
posted by i_cola at 6:23 AM on August 20, 2004

Why do you think we come here?

Not enough bar jobs back home?

And of course, the policy is absolutely ludicrous. I do wonder whether there's any effort to piss of the Americans though, as some sort of revenge for their intransigence over new passports.
posted by biffa at 7:11 AM on August 20, 2004

The English will soon just moan in vague vowel sounds and expect the rest of us to understand. Lazy bastards.

That's already your basic south eastern accent.
posted by Summer at 7:25 AM on August 20, 2004

The English will soon just moan in vague vowel sounds and expect the rest of us to understand. Lazy bastards.

That's already your basic south eastern accent

- Come now summer, your are being very generous.
posted by johnnyboy at 7:32 AM on August 20, 2004

I do wonder whether there's any effort to piss of the Americans though, as some sort of revenge for their intransigence over new passports.

Seems a convoluted way to go about it, attacking the people who left America five years ago and actually like you.
posted by rory at 7:56 AM on August 20, 2004

Well its not so easy for Brits to move over there either, whether they like the US or not.
posted by biffa at 8:18 AM on August 20, 2004

I know, but what I mean is the new passport thing is totally unrelated to the process of acquiring citizenship, except in the vaguest sense that they both involve people travelling from one country to the other. If the UK government thinks that the US are big ol' meanies for imposing new passport requirements, it makes no sense to attack those who (a) probably have nothing to do with the US government, (b) may very well agree with you, (c) have been away so long they couldn't have had anything to do with it in any case, and (d) see their interests as being so closely aligned with Britain that they're actually trying to become citizens.

There's got to be more to it.
posted by rory at 8:51 AM on August 20, 2004

You can make the argument about citizens not being linked to the government of their country of origin for anyone, but that's not necessarily how another government sees it, especially if their own citizens can't get parity for moving the other way.

Then again it could just be "bureaucratic nonsense" as the nice Liberal Democrat says in the article.
posted by biffa at 9:21 AM on August 20, 2004

From the Home Office guidelines released today (in response to all the fuss, no doubt):

If you have an educational qualification which could only have been obtained by someone who speaks good English, we will accept this as proving that you meet the standard for naturalisation.

So how on earth was that Australian writer with two degrees rejected? It just doesn't make sense.

Oh well. Time to console myself with some fine Home Office literature.
posted by rory at 10:04 AM on August 20, 2004

I think that I wouldn't object if I were allowed to do the same test as a non-Anglophone. It's the fact that they won't let Anglophones do the test, but haven't come up with anything else that is annoying.

But this sort of thing is by no means confined to the UK - a friend of mine from the UK was accepted to MIT, but was told he would have take an English test before beginning. Granted, he is Welsh, but he isn't actually fluent in Welsh, and he did his undergraduate degree in England. As an anglophone Canadian, I was sent ESL information from another American university, because we's in Toronto don't speak the English very well. (I'm sure it was just that all international students are on the same list, but it was very amusing. Fortunately that university (the one my friend and I both attend) waves the English tests for anyone who has completed a degree at an English language university).

Personally, I'm more annoyed by the fact that, though I am marrying a British citizen, I wouldn't be allowed to become a citizen as well without living here for a full five years. Dammit, I dated someone for 6 years, and I don't get a fun Euro passport! I feel gipped. And I wanted to go through the fast line at Heathrow.
posted by jb at 10:14 AM on August 20, 2004

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