Ispokening 2

James Soriano should be a familiar name to most netizens these days.

In a post published in The Manila Bulletin last August 24, the senior Ateneo student expounded on the ever growing and intensifying debate on the subject of language in the Philippines:

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

I admit after finishing the piece my immediate reaction to it was hostility. Specifically to the author, who obviously was another one of the pompous  upper class types who lived in bubbles detached from reality, and only using language as an excuse for further validation of his ‘coño-ness’.

But the last sentence caught my attention when I read the thing again.

I know people nowadays will go through great lengths just to achieve a kind of minor notoriety in today’s online social networking jungle.  Or just make a dent in the vast areas of pop culture, even for a short time. So I tend to take controversial stances meant to provoke people with a lot of caution and skepticism.

It was initially infuriating because 1) the thought that this guy is making a glorified attempt at being obnoxious just to be talked about and 2) it specifically talks about a subject matter I am still sore about (see previous entries) for being shoved down my throat.

There was temptation to join the online lynching the guy reaped because of that article. But good sense dictates that mob mentality is worse than the very evils it appears to eradicate.

So I  read again, hoping to see any trace that maybe, this guy was just having fun of the average Pinoy’s predisposition towards hasty reactions and volatile emotions.

By all accounts the essay really is that provocative. I have a fair grasp of both the English and Pilipino language and it still came across as a piece of an arrogant SOB trying to say how great he is compared to the rest of the population.

But what convinced me about it being a satire of sorts is, as I have mentioned, the last sentence:

“So I have my education to thank for making English my mother language.”

Of course I could be mistaken. But what I got from that declaration is definitely a jab at the skewed educational guidelines and rules I myself had experienced since Kindergarten carried all the way to the corporate environment I currently belong to.

Even non-Ateneo alumni or the so-called ‘manongs‘ and ‘manangs‘ of the world are forcing English to their kids. Just look at the average Pinoy household and chances are 9 out of 10 of these speak to their toddlers in trying-hard carabao English just so the neighbors would think of them as classy or intelligent. Never mind if the pronounciation and grammatical construction of the conversations are atrocious. Ingles naman e. Start ’em young, ikanga. Never too late to prepare for the life abroad.

But what the essay touched on was merely the reflection of Philippine society’s perception on the use of the two languages.

Society’s perception of the two, and not the supposed merits or dominance of one over the other. Apparently, and I have a little experience on this of my own, speaking English does open a lot of privileges and doors in this culture.

And this mentality has been carried over to places that do not necessarily require people to talk talk to each other like that. Proof is the workplaces and academic institutions  (mentioned in the essay) and most government agencies, demonstrated in the same day the essay was published by the debate between Rep. Sergio Apostol and Rep. Arlene Bag-ao.

There’s no doubt that this debate won’t go anytime soon. And there’s a hilarious coincidence to all this that it has to happen on August in this country, known as the Buwan Ng Wika.

Who am I kidding. Willie Revillame, anyone?

Yeah. I forgot about it, too.

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