Friday, August 26, 2011

How fitting it is that in this "Buwan ng Wika" we see an article written by an Ateneo de Manila University student and a columnist on Manila Bulletin online about the flaws and inadequacy of the Filipino language. Understandably, the write-up has raised a more than a few eyebrows, but before we lash out the argumentum ad hominems that will sure to follow once this news hit the pinnacle of internet fame, let us first try to fully understand the writer's sentiments and dig out the naked truths behind the crude almost-insults.

"Language, learning, identity, privilege" 
by James Soriano
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.
Source: (Manila Bulletin's copy of the article is not accessible.)
Let's see. First of all, I don't think this is satire. And if it is, then I think it's a badly written one. That said, I think this article is a perfect mix of downright insulting statements and stinging facts.

Let me tell you a story. When I was a kid, I was also barraged with the English language. My parents spoke to me in English, read to me books in English and later on I learned to write in English. I am not kidding when I say I cannot write a passable paragraph in completely grammatically correct Tagalog. I would struggle with our composition writing in Filipino in high school yet the words just flow through me when it was in English. 

Now, almost everything that I write on the Internet is in English, including blog posts, articles, status updates, tweets and comments. I also aced my IELTS exam with two 9s and an 8.5 over-all band score (9 is the highest possible score). 

Am I proud of having a decent command of the English language? Yes. Do I think lowly or make fun of people who can't string two English words together? Sometimes, that I will admit. Do I think of the Filipino language as the dialect of the poor and the unlearned? Definitely, NOT!

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.   
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.”  

This, my friends, is the language of the rich, with the American accent and the posh cadence with pieces of Tagalog words thrown in between sentences. It's the "Let's make baka, don't be takot" kind of vernacular only heard from the elite. I've had the unenviable chance to actually hear this peculiar language with my own ears a few years back. I always thought the impressions I've heard from other people were just exaggerations, but it was real.

The erroneous thing about these paragraphs is labeling the Filipino language as the language of the streets just because it is the common people who mostly use it. But what about the timeless literature written in this beautiful language? Or the OPM songs that still holds boundless power with their burning lyrics and melody?

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. 

Halfway through the article, I thought we're finally getting through the heart of the piece. That after whipping our dialect to pieces, he would then rebuild it again with patriotic messages that would make the language shine with beauty and grace. But then he followed it up with sentences that I think were both the best and the worst of the piece.

For while Filipino may be the language of identity, it is the language of the streetsIt 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.

Although I do not agree with the writer's sentiments that Filipino is the language of the streets, I do concur that it is, somehow, the language of the learned. 

"Ako Mismo" Photo by Yjanas
Now the painful part. My dear countrymen, let us admit it. How many subjects in the classroom are taught in Filipino? How many subpoenas and legal documents are written in Filipino? How about in the hospital or in any facets of the medical field? How do you translate Caesarian Section to Filipino anyway? What about Engineering terms? Chemistry? Math? Heck, even our educated senators in the senate were arguing recently on the use of the Filipino language during the RH Bill interpellation.

Before we charge at James Soriano with pitchforks and smoking ears while simultaneously proudly baring the patriotic stance, let us first look at the world around us. 

How many public signs in the metro can you spot written in Filipino? What about restaurant menus? Instruction manuals? If you call somebody using your cellphone and you could not contact them or inquire for your load balance, what language is the message in? If Google was set by default in Tagalog, can you actually find your way around without getting confused?

Lastly, how far can you go without speaking a single non-Filipino word in a day?

My point is this. The author may have carelessly labelled Filipino as the language of the streets and the unlearned but we, ourselves, have degraded the language into something undecipherable. Something that would have trouble standing on its own without foreign help. 

Globalization plans, proliferation of call centers training agents to have fake accents, the mentality that English equals Intelligence, Jejemon and text messaging culture have ripped off the glory from our national language. 

Though the article may have the tone and the content to rub people the wrong way, it delivers a semblance of truth most citizens would not dare swallow. I guess until we learn to open our eyes to the facts and do something about it, our own language would still continue on being the second best and indefinite.

And so will our identity.


*kapurit na laman* *nakikipagtalik sa oras* * tulalang isda* *itlog na pula* said...
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?

Clarriscent said...

Like I said, I don't think it's satire, but if it is, then I think it's a badly written one because most of the paragraphs did not feel satirical at all. One thing is certain though, the writer did point out painful facts that our country probably is not ready to accept yet.

Anonymous said...

dami nega sa article niya? tama naman ha?!!! I think when JS said that FILIPINO IS LANGUAGE OF THE STREETS he doesn't mean that Filipino is only for those who are less educated. He is actually pointing to us that it is what is reflected in our society and i think he's not happy with that. FILIPINO becomes the language of the unlearned simply because we use it when talking to the common people(masa).but when and where do we use the English lg.? He mentioned it in the last part of the article.At itinaon niya na BUWAN NG WIKA, marahil ang gustong iparating ni JS ay bkit hindi natin paunlarin at pagyamanin ang ating wika sa pamamagitan ng paggamit nito sa lahat ng kagawaran/sangay ng gobyerno, sa ating mga batas, sa panahon ng SONA at sa iba pang okasyon o panahon na kung saan ay mas pinipili ng iba na magsalita sa wikang Ingles...FILIPINO IS LANGUAGE OF THE STREET...hindi si JS ang may sabi nito kundi ang katotohanan ang nagsabi at nagdikta sa kanya upang isulat ito

apriL said...

There's nothing wrong with learning English. But I wish our country paid attention to "our own language" as much as learning the world's language of business. As a result of our education system, those who speak another dialect on their everyday lives ended up being "not so good" in English and "not so good" in Filipino.

Too sad, I'm one of them. I can't speak and write English fluently, and I'm pretty much more worst in Filipino. And that is something a Filipino would never be proud of.

Btw, congrats on your IELTS. I'm so poor in writing. lol. I only got 6.. made me laugh and cry at the same time. Are you planning to apply abroad?


truth hurts... but i salute the author for bringing up the facts. I am a Capampangan and i taught my 3 kids the dialect first then i taught them the spoken English using the dialect as reference for translation. They learned Tagalog from the media, and i am glad they are equipped in all 3... however, since i speak the dialect, i am handicapped with the Tagalog language more than my English because yes, all teaching materials are in English and learning the Pilipino language really is like a big burden. try the English-Tagalog translator :(

Clarriscent said...


I hope you don't find my article as one of the negative ones. I do share the sentiments that there is truth in Mr. Soriano's article and that lawmakers and other sectors of the professional world use Filipino as the primary language of communication so as to further enforce the beauty and power of our national language. Cheers!

Clarriscent said...


You have a brilliant point. As a result of mass media, texting, Internet and our poor education system, people today are caught in this Taglish limbo where one is good at neither language. Of course this does not help anyone professionally. Something must be done about this asap.

Thank you. Yes, of course, although I'm starting to regret that I took the exam that early because IELTS only has a two year validity (because apparently, people forget how to speak a language in a span of 24 months) and mine's expiring next year.

Anonymous said...

I am a non-tagalog speaker, I don't agree on making the medium of instruction Filipino(which constitute mostly of tagalog). I find it unfair. As the "native" tagalog speaker have difficulty learning through English, I also have a difficulty in learning through Filipino. Personally, it is then practical to learn using English as the medium of instruction. Proficiency in this language will, at least, make me globally competitive. Should we abandoned English as the medium of instruction then it would be imperative to translate everything to every major dialect of the Philippines.

Clarriscent said...


I also do not believe it would be wise to translate everything into Tagalog and make it the primary language for teaching. That would just be way too confusing and the disadvantages certainly outweigh the advantages. I guess people here should just learn how to love the language of the nation and appreciate its beauty and idiosyncrasies.

Hellraker said...

I ended up writing my own chaotic thoughts on the matter.

The problem are the Tagalistas who ended up brainwashing the Filipinos that we have 175 dialects, instead of 175 LANGUAGES.

Then non-Tagalog school children have to be taught in a foreign language and then another, without any reference with their mother tongue.

Get rid of tagalog from our schools, replace it with Spanish and it will equip our children with English and Spanish to take on the world.

Anonymous said...

I think that Filipino will continue to be the 'other' language unless (a) language experts standardise Filipino and (b) government officials strictly carry out the language policy.

One thing that accounts for the educated people's contempt for Filipino is its lack of rules. Yes, we know how to speak it, and some of us can write it, but is there a difference between the Taglish that Manilans speak and Filipino? Or are they just one and the same? Add to this is the thoughtless and voracious borrowing of words from English and 'uneducated' Spanish. Take the English word 'office'. What is it in formal spoken and written Filipino? I bet most will blurt out 'opisina'. Why? Cos it's closest to the English word 'office'. Did you know that here's already a Tagalog equivalent to it? It's 'tanggapan'. Until our President, senators, congressmen and Filipino teachers use a standard variety of Filipino that can be differentiated from the variety used by just about anybody, the language will be the butt of the joke. It won't have a following from the economic and intellectual elite.

Standardising the language is one thing; using it is another. The language will just be in dictionaries unless our government declares and implements the use of it. ABS-CBN, GMA and TV5 should be tasked to carry this out as well. Without their backing, this initiative is doomed to fail.

Clarriscent said...

@Satsang sa Marikina

Well said, brother. Well said. :)

Anonymous said...

language in philippines is very filipino on its own, not even other countries have the passion of our own language. wathching kids use it inplaying games with their playmates, they are even able to use the language well by creating new variant of slangs.

oh, did i mentioned that foreigners are getting in to tagalog too? americans, japanese , koreans and other europeans enjoy learning tagalog.

Anonymous said...

I'm So Sad For What Is Happening In Our Country.. :"<

Anonymous said...

pugad! kung ayaw niyong gamitin ang sarili niyong wika eh di kalimutan niyo at umalis kayo dito sa lupain ng Pinas.

Catherine, said...

It is sad to know that, in today's times, there are many Filipinos who admire their countrymen who are very good in speaking English. Learning to speak and write in English in this age of globalization is necessary especially if we would like to be able to compete in the knowledge-based world. Well this is not strange to us at all, that most Filipinos (us) don’t speak our national language, but isn't it still necessary for us to speak our national language? Just like what our Philippine National Hero Jose Rizal wrote in Filipino: "Ang di marunong magmahal sa sariling wika, ay mas masahol pa sa malansang isda." It is difficult to consider one as a nationalist if he was ashamed of his own language. This is an important matter for one who does not give value to his native language, In a sense, it is the only language that can represent our true spirit as Filipinos. Every Filipino has the responsibility to love the country of his birth and his own language. Perhaps it is time for a change,and to change something, there has to be a way of making it happen. Being a Filipino is something we should be proud of, learning the language is important in promoting the Filipino identity and sense of ‘Pinoy Pride’.

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