Carabao English

Philippine flag (AP photo)To think that this all started because of a rather insensitive article suggesting that the national tongue ---- Filipino (not Pilipino) --- is not the language of the intelligent discourse.

Of course such blatant elitism will not go unnoticed.  There may be great dismay about the declining quality of English speakers among Filipinos but to make such a hasty and sweeping pronouncement is like walking around with a time bomb hanging from your neck and waiting for someone to detonate the explosives.  Perhaps if we were in the early part of the 1960s when elementary schools had little announcements strategically placed on hallways and corridors demanding "SPEAK ENGLISH", then many will not be surprised.  But this is the 21st century.

You have nationalist party lists recognized by Congress. Filipino is still the predominant language in the most powerful media in the country: television. (Remember that even our Korean and Taiwanese telenovela idols sputter impressively synched and perfect Tagalog in each of their performances.) Moreover, Philippine literature has always been rich with materials written in the vernacular … more so the paperbacks sold at about P30 each and swapped, rented and bartered along the sidewalks of Recto.

Filipino, Pilipino or Tagalog is endlessly evolving and changing like all living languages. It borrows from words and phrases from English in the same manner that it also adopted words from Spanish at the time when this was the medium of instruction and the language of governance.  Thus, we have Taglish because we mix English with the vernacular as part of our spontaneous and natural mode of expression.  And there is nothing wrong with that because it is part of a developmental process.

Have we indeed sacrificed our proficiency in English despite the fact that once upon a time we took pride in being the second largest English-speaking nation in the world?

Well, yes.  That is why we have all these jokes about the Q and As of local beauty pageants, right?  That is the ultimate test when the most-admired female of the local species fall flat on their perfectly made-up faces the moment they open their pouty lip-glossed mouths to attempt a credible answer in English.  Haven't we also had our share of jokes about celebrities who have become notorious with their verbal blunders while attempting to be witty in English? ("Oh, you are so good. You will be selling hotcakes!")

Yes, English is supposedly the language of the educated --- and therefore the intelligent but more so, the privileged.  It is the language used in business and science and recognized all over the world.  English is part of the ticket to career success. But never in the package did it ever say that one's inability to speak English suggests stupidity, inferiority and social unworthiness.

Worse, never should it be put to mind that just because someone is only good in a local language --- not necessarily Filipino but say Cebuano or Ilonggo --- he is less of a person than the Pinoy who can flip his tongue and impersonate the accent of an American, Brit or whatever other nationality there may be that has left its trademark diction to the Queen's language.  Try telling that to the French --- and you will experience what European nationalism is all about.

Ask any language scientist.  Our native language is defines our world view.  That is why there is no direct English translation to utang na loob or pakiramdaman. That is why we cannot find a direct English equivalent to Ate or Kuya but can find their counterparts in Chinese languages.  In the same manner, that is why we do not have a local term for hamburger or cake because these are terms that identify concepts not inherent to us.

So to look down on one's native language is to deny one's sense of self.  To say that Filipino, Pilipino or Tagalog is only the language of domestic helpers and subordinates does not warrant anger but pity.  After all, in this age of globalization, we respect and love our uniqueness inasmuch as we embrace our universality.  Filipinos are lucky. We are bilinguals --- and we should celebrate that not at the expense of belittling what is inherently ours.

Totoo ka: ang hindi marunong magpahalaga sa sariling wika ay mas mabaho pa sa bilasang isda.


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