ADDENDUM: The original Manila Bulletin article has been taken down but a copy of the article exists here and here. This is also Google’s cache of the piece. Further, I have decided to also repost the article at the end of this post.
James Soriano is being criticized in the social media for his article in Manila Bulletin about his perception regarding the national language. James wrote about how the English language is his primary language, about how it is the language of the learned, the language of the classroom and laboratories, the language of the courtroom, boardroom, operating room etc. and how the Filipino language is the language of the streets, that even with the capacity for learning it is not the language of the learned.
Much of what he said about the Filipino language as he perceived it growing up hurts. It cuts a hole deep in our nationalistic hearts and really wounds our pride as a nation. For that he has been criticized, but I believe it is criticism he can be proud of because he has exposed the truth and indeed the truth hurts and can be hard to swallow.
As much as he has been criticized over and over for his untimely article during the Buwan ng Wika – my UP group and Twitter timeline criticizes his article – I beg to differ with their opinion.
Like him, I must say that I grew up with the English language. Although my household spoke Filipino primarily, I was taught how to read in English. Back at school, we were taught in English. Filipino indeed was a special subject of itself, which we all grew to loathe. It was a chore learning of the pandiwa, parirala, pangungusap etc. etc. We had clubs promoting English as not just a way of language but a way of thinking. During break times, people who spoke in Tagalog or the vernacular would be fined for every word spoken. English was promoted and glorified when we were in primary school. And thus I learned to speak, think, even dream, in English.
Of course I knew the vernacular, I could speak Tagalog and Bicol (my dialect) fluently though sadly not as fluent as English. When I was mad, I expressed myself in English. When I discovered my flair for writing, it was in English. I became more comfortable expressing myself in English.
Yes, the Filipino language is beautiful. Growing up and being exposed equally to Filipino literary works made me appreciate the language even more. But I cannot deny that it was English I was comfortable with.
In college, I had to take a subject in Filipino out of desperation. I needed Philippine units to graduate and the course about Philippine culture I wanted were all full. It was the course on Filipino language that was severely lacking in takers. I had no choice but to take it lest I do not graduate. I faced the subject with trepidation. I viewed it as a course wherein I wouldn’t really learn anything but merely enter the class for the sake of attendance.
But I was wrong. In the subject, I learned about the Filipino identity as defined by the Filipino language. I learned that much of the progress our nation lacks now is tied up with the lack of identity we have as a nation primarily because of our adaptation of a culture and a language that is not entirely ours. I learned that to fully solve the problems of our society, we would need to embrace our Filipino language entirely because it would connect to our sense of identity.
However, it cannot be denied that English has indeed become the language of the learned in the country. This is said in the paradigm that our courtrooms, our hospitals, even our government institutions uses English. I posted earlier this year about an incident wherein our municipality released a census survey written in English. And they expected the constituents to fill it out entirely! How can the greater population do so then if they are not taught about English?
And so I agree with James Soriano when he said that:
For while Filipino may be the language of identity, it is the language of the streets. It might have the capacity to be the language of learning, but it is not the language of the learned.
It is neither the language of the classroom and the laboratory, nor the language of the boardroom, the court room, or the operating room. It is not the language of privilege.
For me, his article is a timely article during this month of the Buwan ng Wika. For more than insulting the national language, he has actually exposed the reality of the state of our language now. We are hypocrites trying to glorify the Filipino language in a month when in reality, the way we speak and conduct ourselves is in English.
How many interviews have you attended wherein the language used was English? How many presentations have you made wherein you presented in English? How many forms – even official public forms – have you filled out wherein everything was written in English? What medium is now used in our educational institutions to teach lessons in Science and Math? How many families do you know whose kids learn to speak English first before learning to speak Filipino? How many commercial establishments have you entered where they greet their customers in English instead of Filipino?
I gave credit to our President for delivering his recent SONA in Filipino. I wonder then why all previous presidents delivered theirs in English when delivering one in Filipino is possible and just as effective – if not more so? Is it really because English is the language of the learned?
To all of James’ critics, I say that before actually criticizing the guy who was honest enough to admit who he is, why don’t we examine first what is really happening in our society, as he said, of rotten beef and stinking fish. Maybe we will see that what he said is really something worth pondering about, that it is the reality engulfing us, and that perhaps we are just too full of pride to admit that indeed he is right.
Language, learning, identity, privilegeIthinkBy JAMES SORIANOAugust 24, 2011, 4:06am
MANILA, Philippines — English is the language of learning. I’ve known this since before I could go to school. As a toddler, my first study materials were a set of flash cards that my mother used to teach me the English alphabet.
My mother made home conducive to learning English: all my storybooks and coloring books were in English, and so were the cartoons I watched and the music I listened to. She required me to speak English at home. She even hired tutors to help me learn to read and write in English.
In school I learned to think in English. We used English to learn about numbers, equations and variables. With it we learned about observation and inference, the moon and the stars, monsoons and photosynthesis. With it we learned about shapes and colors, about meter and rhythm. I learned about God in English, and I prayed to Him in English.
Filipino, on the other hand, was always the ‘other’ subject — almost a special subject like PE or Home Economics, except that it was graded the same way as Science, Math, Religion, and English. My classmates and I used to complain about Filipino all the time. Filipino was a chore, like washing the dishes; it was not the language of learning. It was the language we used to speak to the people who washed our dishes.
We used to think learning Filipino was important because it was practical: Filipino was the language of the world outside the classroom. It was the language of the streets: it was how you spoke to the tindera when you went to the tindahan, what you used to tell your katulong that you had an utos, and how you texted manong when you needed “sundo na.”
These skills were required to survive in the outside world, because we are forced to relate with the tinderas and the manongs and the katulongs of this world. If we wanted to communicate to these people — or otherwise avoid being mugged on the jeepney — we needed to learn Filipino.
That being said though, I was proud of my proficiency with the language. Filipino was the language I used to speak with my cousins and uncles and grandparents in the province, so I never had much trouble reciting.
It was the reading and writing that was tedious and difficult. I spoke Filipino, but only when I was in a different world like the streets or the province; it did not come naturally to me. English was more natural; I read, wrote and thought in English. And so, in much of the same way that I learned German later on, I learned Filipino in terms of English. In this way I survived Filipino in high school, albeit with too many sentences that had the preposition ‘ay.’
It was really only in university that I began to grasp Filipino in terms of language and not just dialect. Filipino was not merely a peculiar variety of language, derived and continuously borrowing from the English and Spanish alphabets; it was its own system, with its own grammar, semantics, sounds, even symbols.
But more significantly, it was its own way of reading, writing, and thinking. There are ideas and concepts unique to Filipino that can never be translated into another. Try translating bayanihan, tagay, kilig or diskarte.
Only recently have I begun to grasp Filipino as the language of identity: the language of emotion, experience, and even of learning. And with this comes the realization that I do, in fact, smell worse than a malansang isda. My own language is foreign to me: I speak, think, read and write primarily in English. To borrow the terminology of Fr. Bulatao, I am a split-level Filipino.
But perhaps this is not so bad in a society of rotten beef and stinking fish. For while Filipino may be the language of identity, it is the language of the streets. It might have the capacity to be the language of learning, but it is not the language of the learned.
It is neither the language of the classroom and the laboratory, nor the language of the boardroom, the court room, or the operating room. It is not the language of privilege. I may be disconnected from my being Filipino, but with a tongue of privilege I will always have my connections.
So I have my education to thank for making English my mother language.
What James wrote should serve as an eye opener for us all. The Filipino language is a beautiful language and it is high time that we give it the due attention and respect it truly deserves. After all, how we view our language is how we view our identity.