The Language that is Filipino

Photo Credit: spade13th deviantart


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, privilege

August 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.


Author: elleica

Jesus Lover. Writer. Blogger. Biologist turned marketer. Child of Learning. Thrill Seeker. I long for my next adventure.

31 thoughts on “The Language that is Filipino”

  1. I must say I agree that denying our identity as a Filipino is tantamount to disunity. We are composed of regions of different cultures and languages – different identities – but that doesn’t mean we are not one nation and one entity recognized as Filipinos.


  2. ‘Di gaya ng ilan… Aking binasa ang kabuo-an ng artikulong nilikha ni Santiago (James) Soriano, at aking napag-tanto’ng TAMA ang mga punto’ng kanyang ipinapahayag sa naturang artikulo. Nadama ko ang “lungkot” sa tinig ng kanyang panunulat… na, bagamat sinasabi niyang siya’y may kakulangan sa pagbigkas ng ating inang wika, batid rin niyang ito’y hindi nararapat para sa isang pilipino’ng gaya niya. Tanggap niya rin ang alipustang kakambal ng kasabihan ng ating bayaning si Rizal na isa nga siya sa pinatutungkulan nitong “malansang isda”. makabu-buti sa ating lahat na basahin munang maigi ang buong artikulo bago husgahan ang batang ito na nag-pahayag ng upinyong may katotohanan bagamat sakdal-pait na aminin.


  3. It is in the nature of every nation to be divided at some point. In a sense, we could attach it to the label of our country as one of the developing countries of the world. We are still a developing country, prone to division and prone to disunity. Haven’t you observed how people has misplaced the meaning of democracy as being “what I think more than anything else?” If we are going to improve the intellectual understanding of the Filipino (which in this case is the job of the mass media to educate more than to entertain), then maybe we could place our language in a higher bar at the hierarchy of priorities that parents should teach to their children.

    Lumaki po ako na tagalog sa bahay, ingles sa paaralan. Pareho pong mahalaga ang dalawang wikang ito sa akin pagka’t nagagamit ko sila upang makihalubilo sa mga taong kailangan ko kausapin at ipamahagi ng aking mga kuro kuro. Maaring hindi ko masisisi si James Soriano sa kanyang punto at sa paraang siya ay pinalaaki, ang kinababahala ko po ay bakit kailangan siya palakihin ng ganun ng kanyang magulang. Puwede naman sabay? Puwede naman pareho? Makikita kang nakikipagusap sa mga tindero’t tindera sa kanto at maaring mas maintindihan mo kung bakit sila ganoon at bakit sila naghihirap? Maiintindihan mo ang taong grasang palakad lakad, nababaliw at minumura ang mundo dahil sa sinasabi niyong realidad?

    The truth hurts, and we need not to continuously be so.

    Hindi dapat pagawayin ang Ingles at Filipino, o kung ano pa mang lingwahe/dayalekto (kung ano mang gusto niyong gamiting pantawag dito). Lahat yan ay paraan ng pagsasaad ng damdamin. Sana ang pagmamahal sa sariling wika ay maisaad sa paraang hindi lamang praktikal, kundi sa paraang pagmamahal lamang. Mahalaga pa ba sayo kung Cebuano ka o Ilokano ka? Face the facts my friend and my fellowman, you’re still a Filipino. Kung Ingles ang paraan para tayo ay magkaintindihan, wala akong problema, pero hindi ko iiwanan ang Lingwahe ko para lng sabihin na ako ay tunay na PINOY, tunay na TAGALOG, o tunay na ABOGADO, o tunay na DOKTOR, o tunay na SIYENTISTA. Filipino pa rin ang aking inang wika. 🙂


  4. Hi! My brother Chuck (he commented before me) expressed similar views in our own respective blogs. What James Soriano wrote was an eye-opener and really made me think about what English and Filipino mean to me (being an English speaker since childhood and a Filipino speaker later on c/o school and friends).

    The fact that I’m replying in English shows my inadequacy when it comes to Filipino. And I do want to be more fluent in Filipino. James Soriano’s article challenged me not only to embrace and love our native tongue but to USE it — in various aspects of life.

    What I didn’t appreciate, however, was the way he came off as arrogant. Like English was the superior language and he was blessed because he was maybe one of just how many who mastered it.

    I believe that Filipino IS beautiful and should be made more accessible: not just in Filipino or in Sibika classes, but in others as well. I consider myself blessed because I was able to study Philosophy in Filipino back in college. Kakaiba ang nagagawa ng mga konseptong gaya ng pagmemeron kumpara sa napaka-payak na “being”. You’re right. Maybe we should be speaking it more: during interviews and meetings, in court, when we shop, etc.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I appreciated them a whole lot. 🙂


      1. I was born into an English-speaking family so I know where you are coming from.

        I too have grown to love and appreciate the Filipino language despite my own limitations in speaking or writing in it. I genuinely hope that Filipino languages be given primacy over English as the language of education, of the courts, governments, etc. I also hope efforts are exercised to promote its proper use. I may not be the most fluent Filipino speaker, but I try to speak it correctly when I do. Taglish simply sounds cheap and dirty, and quite frankly, makes its speakers come off as uneducated.

        The use of English as the primary medium of communication in matters of importance is a peculiarity the Philippines has among nations that do not speak it as a 1st language. I hope this is changed eventually.

        I have always felt that English should have never been granted Official Language status in the country in the 1st place. The Filipino psyche can never be expressed in English simply because it doesn’t speak to our identity. In my opinion, the true Filipino languages are the native languages of the islands and Spanish has immense significance to our history and culture.

        Sorry if I digressed 🙂


  5. Its obsolescence is just one thing to regret.

    But let us not forget that the Filipino language is also under attack from cultural diseases such Taglish and the over-use of slang (“Jejemon” and whatnot). Let’s not turn a blind eye to this issue as it is just as prevalent, perhaps even more important.

    We have bastardized the language over the years. Tagalog is a beautiful tongue, but what we have today is nothing but a pidgin of what it used to be. Taglish is what is masquerading as Filipino these days. If you can’t tell the difference, then listen to someone like Randy David articulate in the language. It’s a far-cry from the crap you will hear on the streets, or from the brainless banter on your typical Sunday afternoon Showbiz talkshow with Kris Aquino.

    Complain all you want about how Filipino has taken a backseat to English in matters of importance (education, government, etc.), but returning the language to relevance starts with learning how to use and communicate in it correctly. If you’re not willing to speak PROPER Filipino, then don’t even bother acting outraged when someone points out its plight in today’s society. You and your infectious habit of “Tagalizing” English words are just as big a part of the problem.

    Soriano is mistaken if he claims Filipino is the lingua franca of the uneducated. In fact, true fluency in the language is rare these days. Competent and eloquent Filipino speakers in the country are even more scarce than those who can actually speak in straight and grammatically English. Now if he is merely referring to its more common and corrupted counterpart, then yes, perhaps he is right. Maybe such jibberish can never be considered a language of the learned.


  6. Ngunit ang basa ko sa nasabing artikulo ni Soriano ay heto: isa po lamang itong kabalintunaan.
    Na ang totoo nyan, ang kabaligtaran talaga ng naipahayag na ang kanyang sinasabi. Na hindi sya kaaway ng wikang Filipino katulad ng sinasabi ng maraming nanggagalaiti. Bagkus, sya ay nagsisilbing ‘devil’s advocate’—o kung gusto nyong mas malapit sa puso: pang-asar lang talaga si Soriano para parepareho tayong matauhan, haller?


  7. your article should be in mb and not james soriano’s. His article came out arrogant and snob instead of trying to expose the sad truth about our language and what it implies on our national identity, if this was what he wanted to do in the first place. But then if he wanted to do that, his article did not deliver on that point.


    1. Wow, thank you. It is my dream someday to be published in a national paper.

      I also believe though that because of his snobbish article, the fire was ignited and it left a blazing trail. I believe a lot of people has written articles encouraging everyone to pay a deeper attention to our language in the hopes of exposing the various dependencies we have on the English language but sadly their articles have gone to deaf ears. I guess it takes someone to write a snobbish article for the nation to be irked and react about the reality of things.


    1. I was just about to correct that. 🙂 Yes, I believe that with the Soriano incident, people would reflect more about what it really means to be Pinoy. Ultimately, the end result is more appreciation for the culture that we say is “ONLY IN THE PHILIPPINES”. For indeed, where can we find people who are patriotic and genuinely proud of themselves as a nation but otherwise challenged to speak their mother tongue which is the very source of their identity.


    1. I hope though that James Soriano becomes a wake up call. If we do not intensify measures of making the Filipino language truly a language of the learned and privileged, then I’m afraid we will see more people like him developing contempt for the mother tongue.


  8. Perhaps the goal of his article is to expose the ill-conceived perception on our national language.

    Nevertheless, people toss disparaging remarks on him, not because they feel terrible for the exposition or the truth in it but because the writer seems to not even feel any remorse on the state of our national language. He just seems grateful enough that English is his mother tongue. This is not an article which calls on the youth or the general populace to lodge in reforms and save the ship, out of genuine love for the Filipino language, but it is an article which reeks of arrogance and sorely expresses extreme relief that even if the boat is sinking, he has a lifesaver, other passengers be damned. His stance is similar to that of the Levite in the story of the Good Samaritan.

    “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.”

    ” I do, in fact, smell worse than a malansang isda. But perhaps this is not so bad in a society of rotten beef and stinking fish.” Yes, go ahead, blend and stay in the rotten system. This is patriotism at its best.


    1. I agree with you. I guess then what we, the nationalistic and patriotic ones, should learn from this is that we cannot let our country be filled with people who have fallen out of love with the national language and instead are content blending in with the rotten system and embracing a culture entirely foreign to begin with.

      That’s why I like Amaya, GMA 7’s teleserye because it brings to prime time the Philippine culture and the rich Filipino language.


      1. Tamang tama ka Ann. Wala namang problema kung sabihin nya ang totoo. Ang masakit ay ang kawalan nya ng panghihinayang o pagkadismaya dahil hindi nya sya matatas sa Filipino. Hindi naman po ako nagmamarunong. Ako man ay may kamalian din. Pero sana… nakita nya ang karunungan sa Ingles bilang isang aspeto lamang ng kanyang kalinangan at hindi ng pagkabuuang paghuhusga sa kanyang kagalingan.

        Sana lang maisip natin na wala tayong dapat ipasalamat sa kanya dahil sa pagsusulat nya. Sapagkat wala naman itong katiyakan na sa pagkatapos nito lahat tayo ay magsusulat o mas magsasalita sa Filipino. Sana sa pag iisip natin sa ginawa nya, pag tuunan natin ng pansin ang ating mga sarili. Mas magsalita po tayo lalo ng Filipino (Tagalog man, Cebuano, Ilokano, Hiligaynon atbp)

        Ellecia, may punto ka!


        1. Salamat. Sa aking palagay dapat mabuksan at mamulat ang ating mga isipan na sa kabila ng pagkakaroon natin ng Buwan ng Wika, meron parin mga tao na sadyang wala ng pagmamahal o pag galang sa sariling wika. At ito ay dahil ang lipunan mismo ang nagdikta na ang pagiging bihasa sa wikang banyaga tulad ng Ingles ay pamantayan ng pagiging magaling.

          Sana maituro sa bawat Pinoy na hindi masama ang maging bihasa sa Ingles kung papalawakin at papaunlarin din ang sariling atin. Gaya ng patalastas sa GMA na si Jose Rizal ay bihasa sa madaming wika, subalit kinilala parin nya ang galing at importansya ng sariling wika.


  9. I’m sorry, but I don’t identify myself as Filipino…I’m a Cebuano, scion of a proud people colonized by a Tagalist country


    1. According to my Fil40 class in college, Filipino is not really just the Tagalog words. Although indeed, the language is predominantly Tagalog, still Filipino is more of a combination of the various dialects of our country. I didn’t quite understood what my teacher said back then but watching GMA 7’s Amaya made me realize that the language they used had to be Filipino in its purest sense because of the incorporation of the various dialects. That is Filipino language at its best.


    2. your way of thinking is one of the reasons why the Philippines does not progress as a nation. scion of a proud people? blinded by pride, you fail to realize that for us to succeed as a nation, we should be able to grasp our national identity. I myself is a proud Pangasinense but it does not prevent me from accepting the Filipino language as our national language. It is the language that most Filipinos understand. And I think if you keep telling yourself that you’re not a Filipino, I say you should build a floating house, sail into the pacific ocean and call yourself a Cebuano as much as you want. You don’t deserve to be here on OUR country. Tagalist country? come on. grow up.


      1. I must say I agree that denying our identity as a Filipino is tantamount to disunity. We are composed of regions of different cultures and languages – different identities – but that doesn’t mean we are not one nation and one entity recognized as Filipinos.

        As I said earlier, Filipino at its best is the combination of all the various identities of the different regions. Without each region there is no Filipino nation.


        1. Unfortunately, it is the nature of our country to be divided, multi-cultural, and diverse.

          That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Although you must realize that there still exists a LOT of dissatisfaction as to what the national language is. Do you honestly believe those outside of the ‘Tagalogs’ consider Tagalog as their mother tongue? I doubt it.

          There is no such thing as a mother tongue. If there ever was one, it was Spanish and not Tagalog. Tagalog holds no special status over Cebuano, Ilocano, Zamboangeno (Chavacano), or any other language spoken in the islands.

          That is why I no longer consider them as dialects because as I grew older and learned more about our history, I realized each is as important as Tagalog. They are languages and NOT dialects.


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