He grew up in Syria. He fled a war. He became a refugee. He fled a coup. He became a refugee. He fled discrimination. He reached freedom. His parents crossed a sea. He flew to the United States. He became a Yalie. His parents became Swedes. He became an asylee. He is a Yalie. His first language is Arabic. He studied in Arabic for eleven years. He learned French while growing up. He spoke and wrote in English for only two years before becoming a Yalie. He is proud of his English, but it’s not a Yalie’s English.
This is not an alternative world. It is a Yalie’s world. I always like to talk about my English, but I have never written about it. I like to convolute my sentences, confuse my listener, correct my own English, correct someone else’s English. I like to twist my tongue and roll the “r” when it should not be rolled. I like to Arabize English by saying, “I am being fried,” or “I am being placed in the pan” instead of “I am roasted.” I like listening to eloquent English that flows seamlessly in seminars, going back to bed at night and saying new words I learned the next day. I like that I dream in English with English speakers and in Arabic with Arabic speakers. But what I like most are the dreams in which I speak English with my mum while she replies in Arabic — my mother does not understand English. I like the feeling of saying words like “preliminary,” “contemporary” and “literature” in an American way. I like using the terms “sugarcoating,” “passive-aggressive” and “throwing shade” correctly.
That’s what I like about being trilingual. Here’s what I don’t like about it. I don’t like when Yalies get frustrated at me when I ask them to repeat a sentence or when they advise me to check my ears. I don’t like when I say something to a peer and he replies, “Change the topic. I’m confused.” I like it a lot when someone corrects my English — but not when it’s in front of a group and after laughing. I don’t like when some professors at Yale speak so quickly that even native English speakers can’t follow them. I don’t like how “doing well” in my first class at Yale was based on whether I knew what microaggression meant — this is not English; this is American and a specific version of it. Now that I know what that word means, I don’t like being linguistically microaggressed.
Yalies are not equal. We all should know that. We don’t all come from the same country. We are not of the same race. We don’t have the same sexual orientations, genders or socioeconomic backgrounds. We don’t have the same academic preparation, regardless of whether it was in English or another language. We don’t have the same reading or writing SAT scores. We have not all been taught to speak eloquent English at the dinner table, whether that was inside or outside the United States.
But we also have a lot of things in common, too. We are passionate about knowledge. We are intellectually stimulating human beings. We have an urge to self-express in various languages. We have dreams and we want to achieve them. However, what we need to have in common is respect for our peers whose linguistic expressions do not fit into the mold of a “traditional Yalie’s” English. We need to respect our peers who had their first full conversation in English at Yale. We should respect Yalies who can twist their tongue and start speaking an entirely new language when someone at Yale interrupts their call with their parents. We should respect our peers who speak English as a second language while managing to earn departmental prizes on their English essays. We should respect our peers who take thrice as much time as we do to read one page in English. By doing so, we can make all our Englishes Yale’s English.
Marwan Safar Jalani is a sophomore in Branford College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .