There are various ways in which Asian-Americans fight the stereotype that people of Asian descent cannot speak English well. One way in which this stereotype is invalidated is through the use of literature to exemplify the linguistic abilities of many Asian-American writers.
In Jhumpa Lahiri’s Third and Final Continent, the protagonist is originally a Benghali citizen who moves from Calcutta to London to Massachusetts. The nameless narrator writes in perfect English, presumably because of his time spent in England; however, no information is disclosed pertaining to his education. Throughout the entirety of the novel, the idea that the narrator speaks Bengali is only mentioned once at the very end to describe the desire to carry on the language to his son. Regardless of how he learned English, the narrator defies the idea that Asian-Americans speak broken English.
The narrator is a soft-spoken gentleman who uses simple yet eloquent diction to describe his adjustment to American living. He describes the chaos of the city as “car horns, shrill and prolonged, blar[ing] one after another.” Yet when he is taken off-guard, he politely asks, “I beg your pardon?” He is quiet and demure by nature, so when his temporary landlord, Mrs. Croft “commanded, ‘say splendid,’” he did not want to raise his voice. This negates the stereotype that Asian-Americans are loud and obnoxious. But the most important part of the phrase “splendid” is its effect on Mrs. Croft’s and the narrator’s relationship. Mrs. Croft acts as the first person to welcome the narrator to America, and the narrator is one of the first to show Mrs. Croft a certain amount of respect (based on the very little evidence provided in the book). This demonstrates a positive intermingling of cultures as well as a lack of initial physical judgment. Mrs. Croft comes to appreciate the narrator and vice versa, but their thoughts on each other’s racial or ethnic background is ever mentioned. If anything, Mrs. Croft seems very accepting of other cultures, for when she first meets the narrator’s wife, she declares, “She is a perfect lady!” even though she is wearing the traditional Indian a sari, bracelets on her wrist, and red dye on her feet that is not very commonplace in Massachusetts. She never seems surprised that the narrator speaks English, and never mocks him based on his nationality. Perhaps Mrs. Croft represents Americans as a whole that do not stereotype Asian-Americans based on their physical attributes. In addition, the nameless narrator represents any Asian American immigrant.
The narrator contradicts the stereotype that Asian-Americans cannot speak grammatically proper English. Although he is originally from Calcutta, his mastery of the English language allows him to comfortably adjust to a new life in America. Although he’s an Asian-American that could have been ostracized and alienated, the narrator successfully eliminates the idea that Asian-Americans are rude immigrants that cannot speak grammatically proper English. And that is definitely splendid.