Posts Tagged ‘language’

pop goes the world: by any other name

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today1 September 2011, Thursday

By Any Other Name

The debate on Filipino language and identity remains hot as ever, the flames stoked higher recently by Ateneo de Manila University student James Soriano’s essay “Language, Learning, Identity, Privilege”.

It was incendiary and set off an explosive string of comments pro- and -anti on the Internet. I have issues with language and identity myself and have written about them here before. But Soriano’s essay, on first reading, stank of the arrogance of privilege and caste. Referring to Filipino speakers as merely the people who wash our dishes or fetch us from school is at the very least insensitive.

On a second, deeper reading – no, still nothing.

Other writers have “deconstructed” the piece and claimed to have found it “satirical” and like Mideo Cruz’s art, meant to provoke. But why ascribe depth when there is none? The work, hardly well-written to begin with, screams that it was crafted by an unformed, immature personality that reminds me of nothing more than a social climber.

Soriano’s was a straight-up statement of fact and I object to the over-readings. Take it at face value.

From all over the world, reactions poured in. Says the California Dreamer (a Pinoy living in Los Angeles): “The fellow might have a serious attitude problem, but it was not about his attitude but his proposition. There’s always privilege and entitlement, especially where access to knowledge is unequal.  It was mean-spirited to say the least, but wasn’t he just a mirror of what’s wrong in society with a yawning gap between rich and poor, the information haves and have-nots?

“Once more, vanity is the death of us all.  He should’ve kept it to himself because from now on it will be all about a certain (bleep), and not the fact he framed his argument so badly that it fell apart.

“Identity is like water- the more one tries to grasp it, the more it slips past one’s fingers.”

Soriano may have a point in that because of the circumstances shaped by our culture’s colonial mindset and economic exigencies, and some individual families’ affluence, there are Filipinos who speak English better than any of the Filipino languages. Still, there is no call to denigrate the people who speak Filipino through preference, accident of birth, or lack of learning opportunity. And why laud one language over another? We are richer for being conversant in more than one.

We multi-lingual people have the advantage, because the words in the different languages we know have specific nuances; thus we are able to communicate more effectively because we have this formidable arsenal of words. Language is foremost a tool for communication.

This is also the point Carla Montemayor raises in her “How do you make dabog in English?” on Newsbreak Online.

“Since most English people are monolingual,” she writes, “they don’t get this seemingly schizoid shifting from one language and one thought process to another. I, on the other hand, cannot imagine myself using just one language all the time, forever. That’s like having a teaspoon in your hand when there’s a banquet spread before you. Attack with all available cutlery!”

I was in Los Angeles two years when an American friend asked me and an LA-based Filipino friend, “Why do you speak to each other in English and not in Filipino?” We replied “There are concepts we discuss for which there are no words in Filipino; but matters of family and the heart are spoken of in Tagalog.”

That is where identity lies – where the heart is. Language is there to help us articulate what is inside of us, struggling to get free and be shared with others.

* * * * *

My column last week was about first-time novelist Samantha Sotto, whose Before Ever After was published recently by Random House. Her story is a miracle of determination, drive, and dreams coming true. Here’s a Q & A with her:

Jenny:  Is this the first time you’ve written anything or had anything published – are you a professional writer? If not, what is your profession?

Sam: I’m a stay-at-home mom and Before Ever After is my first book. My previous career was in marketing management.

J: Where you educated in the Philippines or abroad?

Sam: I studied at Benedictine Abbey School for grade school and high school. I took up AB Communications at Ateneo. During college, I spent one year in the Netherlands where I studied at the Leiden campus of Webster University.

J: You’ve said elsewhere that Audrey Nifenegger’s Time Traveler’s Wife was your inspiration for Before Ever After. In what way is your novel different from TTW?

Sam: I think the key difference is that while Before Ever After spans different historical periods, it is not a book about time travel.

J: You’ve made your characters, except one, non-Filipino. Why did you choose to do it this way?

Sam: This might sound strange, but it was the story and characters that chose me and not the other way around. Max, my main character, popped into my head while I was stuck in traffic in EDSA and told me his story. I just wrote it down.

J: Is there a second novel in the works? Will you set it abroad again?

Sam: I’m 80% done with my second novel. It explores an entirely different concept but is also set in Europe.

J: What has been the most exciting thing so far about this entire experience?

Sam: Holding the finished book in my hands was very surreal. The highlight, however, was when my kids read the dedication of the book.

J: What made you decide to try have your novel published abroad rather than in the Philippines?

Sam: I decided to pursue publishing the book abroad because I wanted to prove to my children that dreams have no boundaries.

The real-life inspiration in Boracay for “Shell”, one of the locations in the book. From the author’s public Facebook Page.

J: It’s been said that Filipinos are not a reading public. How do you think we can increase the popularity of reading in this country?

Sam: I think we should have more accessible public libraries so that people will be encouraged to read.

J: Where can we get your book?

Sam: The trade paperback edition of the book is exclusively available at National Book Store while the hardcover edition is available at Fully Booked. You can also order the e-book version via Amazon, iBooks and Barnes and Noble. People can find and follow me on samanthasotto.com, Facebook, and Twitter (@samanthasotto).

J: Describe your novel in one sentence.

Sam: It’s a fairytale for grown ups.

Samantha Sotto has proven that we don’t have to wait for dreams to come true – we can make it happen. May we all find our happy ever after!

* * * * *

Starting today till September 24 at Silverlens Gallery, catch “Slice”, Kidlat de Guia’s first solo photography show. His wife, performer Lissa Romero de Guia, calls him “the accidental artist”. “Slice” was born of those moments, she says, when “on a whim, [Kidlat] drove to Scout Hill at Camp John Hay. What he found there was completely unexpected: a childhood haunt in its death throes.”

Artist Kidlat de Guia setting up his works for his “Slice” one-man show at Silverlens Gallery. From the artist’s Facebook Page.

The images capture “the eviscerated remains of white clapboard structures in peeling green trim, the ice cream parlor transformed into a garage, debris carelessly strewn on the old tennis courts…[Kidlat’s] knee-jerk reaction to the carnage was to start shooting the beloved space that seemed to have found itself caught ‘in the beginning of the end, and the end of the beginning’. Through the lightboxes these photographs have become, Kidlat allows us a look into a slice of time that may well be gone in the blink of an eye.”

Kidlat is the first of three sons of stained-glass artist Katrin Muller and multi-awarded indie filmmaker Kidlat Tahimik.  ***Email: jennyo@live.com, Web: http://jennyo.net, Facebook: Gogirl Café, Twitter: @jennyortuoste

Image of writer Carla Montemayor here. Image of author Samantha Sotto from her public Facebook Page.

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james soriano on language and identity

It seems the debate on Filipino language and identity remains hot as ever, the flames stoked higher recently with the posting last August 24 at Manila Bulletin Online of Ateneo de Manila student James Soriano’s essay “Language, Learning, Identity, Privilege”.

It was incendiary and touched off a flurry of comments pro- and -anti on the Internet. I first read it at the MB website on Thursday, the 25th. By next day, Friday (perhaps even earlier), it had been yanked off the site.

Good thing it was retrievable via Google cache and posted here at Citizen Media Blogwatch. I repost here in full:

Language, learning, identity, privilege

Ithink
By JAMES SORIANO
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 was stunned. I too have issues with language and identity, but Soriano’s essay on the surface stank of the arrogance of privilege and caste. But wait – read again, and what jumps out is an unformed, immature personality that somehow reminds me of nothing more than a social climber.

But wait, there’s more. The lad was born this way. He’s had that attitude for years. Our Daily Bore found this piece also by Soriano, dating back three years ago.

Filipino as a Second Language

By James Soriano

 2008.12.03

The eve of Bonifacio Day brings back memories of my first days as a freshman in high school, particularly the one where I was sitting in Filipino class listening to my then-teacher, Mr. Pioquid, give an introduction to the course.

I especially remember that the reason it wasn’t boring was because he made a lot of noise by dropping his empty tin can onto the cement floor, and then proceeded to liken our young minds to tin cans which must be empty in order to be capable of receiving new and valuable knowledge. Back then, it struck me as very profound.

But there is one other thing that I remember from that first Filipino session, and that is a small parenthetical remark he made while glossing over the more boring (and unfortunately, the more important) parts of the syllabus.

He mentioned something about us taking an Honors course in Filipino by the time we got to sophomore year. I remember that this struck me as very strange: I could understand taking an Honors course in Math or Science or English, like most other gifted students would in other schools. But why would we have an advanced course in Filipino?

Looking back, maybe I was asking the wrong question. What I ask now is: why don’t most other schools have advanced courses in Filipino?

Oops, dumb question. There are a number of good reasons why we don’t.

For one thing, what is the Filipino language in the first place? Is it Tagalog? Is it Tagalog with tidbits of regional dialects? Or is it a genuine halo-halo of all of our major tongues?

As for me, I really don’t know. Members of the academe are still debating these questions as we speak. Therefore, maybe Filipino is just our cop-out: it allows us to say that we have a national language, even if in reality, we don’t.

Besides, it’s not very wise to master a language that isn’t utilized very often in politics or trade. Our laws, for example, aren’t written in Filipino, and neither are our court rulings and executive orders. They are all written in English. That’s why our lawyers take the bar examinations in English, and those who come out on top, more often than not, are people who are very well-versed in the English language.

The same is true with the language of education. In what language are we taught Science, Math, and Religion? Heck, we can even go beyond that: what is the language of the educated and the elite?

It really isn’t a surprise, then, that people who belong on the upper limits of society, like many of the people I come into contact with everyday, like to laugh at people who don’t speak English very well. English is the language of the man in the mansion, while Filipino is the language of the man on the street.

Besides, English is the language of the professional. It is the key to getting employed. This is especially true nowadays, when the trend is to go abroad where all the lucrative jobs are. If your employers can’t understand you, how can you expect them to hire you? In fact, this is also true with jobs here at home. Do you think call center agents are paid to speak in Filipino?

Hence, maybe I should be thankful that I’ve been trained to value the English language ever since I was a young boy. I should be thankful that I was exposed early to English cartoons and stories, for without them I don’t think I would have developed affection for the language. I should also be grateful that I was sent to schools that put a premium on being able to express yourself effectively in English; otherwise my skills as a student would never have been recognized.

Finally, I should be grateful that I was born in a society that never fails to remind me why that’s important.

After all, you don’t need to love your language to be able to love your country. Right? ***

Reactions ran the gamut from “Sunugin!” to “Hahaha!”

Here’s my favorite so far – a translation by Singapore-based writer Kat Nisperos of Soriano’s MB piece into Bekimon, a speech code said to combine “baklese” (gayspeak) and Jejemon. Nisperos, a graduate of University of the Philippines-Baguio, posted this faaahbulous essay on her Facebook Notes last Friday, August 26, and it has been Shared many times at FB.

Dear James Soriano: Bekimon is the True Language of Learning

by KAT NISPEROS on Friday, August 26, 2011 at 5:15pm

Bekimon ang kuda ng mga brainybells. Knowsline ko na ites even before nyumorsok si watashi sa school. Nung litol gurl pa lang akechiwa, acting teacheraka si mudak with flash cards effect malearning ko lang ang jolfabet in Bekimon. More ng in Bekimon ang mga storybookells at coloringbookells kes, pati cartoonella and songlalus more in Bekimon din! Pati ang piyok sa ballure, Bekimon pa din! Pumaylor pa si madu ng tutorlina para may I train si watashi to kyorsa and kyeme in Bekimon.

 Bekimon din akes mag-jisip, nalearning kes ang style na itembang sa schooliber. Bekimon lahat ng nyobject, numeraka, shorkulation, the works mga teh! Jobservation, jinference, moonsalugells, dancing with the stars, monsoonella, kyorthosynthesis, still in Bekimon! Nahearding din ni watashi ang word of the Lord in Bekimon, thus more ng I say a little prayer in Bekimon din.

Pero ang Filipino, imbey! Imbey to death! More ng imbyernakells kamos ng mga tita kes with Filipino! Aneng, jugas jugas ng shinggan? Wass itong kuda ng learnsalugells. Kuda itembang ng mga jugasera ng shinggan! Kuda iteng sa elm street! Kinukuda lang ites pag babaylor sa mga ateng, pag best in jutos kay yayabell, and textsalugells sa driveraka to fetch galore na si watashi.

More ng survivor in the wild ang drama ng bakla in the real world, and wass akembang magegetget ng mga atengs and manongs and chimi-aas kung wass ko knows ang Filipino. Wass ko namang bet majoldap ang beauty ko sa jeepney! Wazelei! Wizzlebomb!

Cry cry, pero keriboomboomlei kasi smarties ang ate nyes and more ng naging proficient din si watashi sa Filipno. Out in the wilderness (i.e. province lolololol) Filipino ang kuda nga mga cousinboom and titobang and lolobells so best in nakikibagay naman ang beauty kes.

Pero teh, ang jirap jirap jirap.. jirap kyorsahin, jirap kyorlatin, imbey! Wititit na nyortural ang Filipino to me, kumukuda lang akesang ng Filipino sa nyorvince and sa.. ugh, lansangan. (Kyorho ng term!!!) Eh Bekimong neng? Kyorsa, kyorlat, jisip, all in Bekimon bet na bet!  Pero like I pyoked earlybird, smarties akesang so nalearning ko din ang Filipino (in Bekimon!) and for more Gumegermany din akes! Ganda lang!

Pagnyorsok ni watashi sa juniversity nagetrakells kes na languagebells din ang Filipino, wass itong shoryalect! Wass lang itong may I steal from Spanish and Bekimon jolfabets, may systembells, may grammarlyn, may semanticles, fireworks and cartwheels! For more, best in original ang pagkyorsa, pagkyorlat, at pag-jisip ng kudang iteng! Which explains kung ketketloo wass makronslate ang ibang pyok, like shupatembangan, nomo-mes-bakla, baklang nagwawater, at digahan/kyemehan!

Knows ko mga teh, more ng makyorho pa akechiwa sa baklang isda. Filipino daw ang main celebrant sa kudahan, pero carebears mga teh; best in Bekimon akes, sa kuda, jisip, kyorsa, kyorlat, kahit anong kyeme pa yan Bekimon akes!

So I say keriboomboomlei, carebearina lang coz way better itembaloo in a societybells na more pang makyorho sa julok na shorne and fishing pond. Ang Filipino ay kuda sa lansangan (zomg), wass itong kuda ng mga brainybells at edukadang becky.

Sa schooliber, sa la-burat-ory, sa boardroomina, sa joferating room.. wass namang Filipino ang kuda, coz wass itong kuda ng mga mutya ng lipunan (pak!). Best in wit akong signal and na-DC ang beauty ni watashi when it comes to being a Filipino, pero keri lang! Bekimon ang tabas ng dila ng ate nyes and I therefore conclude na forevermore connected na akes everywhere else.

Bet mes? Bet na bet! I have my beckys and parlor gays and beauconessas (whether top, bottom, or versa!) to thank, kung wass kayes wass din akes chechembolin ng ganitells in Bekimon. ***

Amen, sisteraka!

This is the first time I have posted other people’s works in full – I do this only to preserve the texts and to provide a springboard for further discussion for those who are unable to access these works otherwise.

As a communication scholar, one of my major academic interests is language and speech code, therefore my curiosity about this. For now, I shall marshall my thoughts to write a “Pop Goes the World” piece on this issue for next Thursday on Manila Standard-Today. Meanwhile, mga teh, feel free to discuss in whatever language you like. ***

James Soriano image from his Multiply site.

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pop goes the world: language and identity

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 5 May 2011, Thursday

Language and Identity

In a multi-lingual country such as ours that has been colonized by foreigners, language and its use are inextricably linked to issues of national identity and geography.

Tagalog, or “Filipino”, is used as the country’s primary language, and is taught in schools along with English, embedded in the culture during the forty years of the American Occupation. Spanish, spoken by families of the elite during 400 years of Madre España en Filipinas, has sunk into obscurity.

The Philippines, center -the green group of islands that looks somewhat like a dinosaur. Image here.

At different times over the years, either Tagalog or English has been the main medium of instruction, a matter that has always heavily been debated, even fought over.

Cebuanos have contended in the past that there are more Cebuano, or Visayan, speakers, and that it should be the primary language. Tagalog is said to have been designated the national language only for purposes of convenience, being the language spoken in “the center” of the country, where the seat of the national government is located. It’s a case of a language being in the right place at the right time.

We are in a period where Tagalog is the medium of instruction, but many schools are placing an emphasis on the practice of English conversation, giving gold stars and other incentives to class sections that use it. Colegio de Santa Rosa in Makati, which my two daughters attend, is one such example.

Schools are said to be doing this to increase the chances of their graduates obtaining jobs in high-growth sectors such as business process outsourcing, where English fluency is a must, and overseas, because in the past couple of decades the Philippines’s number one export has been human labor.

However, the issue of language has been linked to national identity, and that is another source of contention. As a writer in and speaker of English, I have faced discrimination from native Tagalog speakers, including writers in Tagalog and other Philippine languages, for being “colonized”; I am perceived as somehow unpatriotic.

I write in English and speak it fluently because of circumstances of birth and because I grew up during a time that English was the primary medium of instruction. My sister and I were born and grew up in Manila speaking English, not Tagalog.

My parents were not unpatriotic, it was just that they were not originally from “the center”. My mother is from Bacolod City and speaks Hiligaynon, English, and Spanish; my father was from Cotabato City and spoke Chavacano, English, Spanish, Tausug, Hiligaynon, and some Cebuano and French.

Neither of them spoke Tagalog well; I never heard them speak it at home until I was in my teens. When I did, they sounded barok.

Was it any surprise, then, that they decided to teach English to us, their children? My father also felt it would give us an edge in school; back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, the medium of instruction was English. How could they have taught us Tagalog, when they did not speak it fluently themselves and were not comfortable using it?

In 1993 a romance novel of mine in English – Fire and Ice – was released by Solar Publishing, which put out other titles in that series. This was during the heyday of the Tagalog romance “pocketbook”.

Around this time a writing workshop for romance novels was given at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. I eagerly signed up. The main speaker was an established writer in Filipino who shall remain nameless. When she learned that my published novel was in English, she said, “Hindi ka Pilipino.” And glared.

I replied, “So you’re saying Nick Joaquin and F. Sionil Jose and Jose Rizal are not Filipino?” And walked out.

When my marriage fell apart because my ex-husband fell in love with someone else, my former in-laws told me, “Kaya ka iniwan ng asawa mo dahil Englishera ka.” Like it was a bad thing, that fluency in English was an evil thing, a right and proper reason for breaking up a family.  That made no sense, and all I could reply was, “But you knew that from the start!” It was in fact a matter of pride for them at first that I and my children have an excellent command of English, and we were paraded around to their family and friends in a Laguna town.

You can say that language plays a big role in my life.

So I read with great interest a Facebook Note posted by broadcaster Rico Hizon, now based abroad and working for BBC World News. It was the speech he gave at the Toastmasters International District 75 Annual Conference, and it was titled, “Being Proud of our Own Filipino-English Diction.”

Hizon said:The Filipino diction is clear, simple, neutral, easy to understand. The Filipino enunciates clearly, pronounces every syllable in a pleasant, even, and non-threatening tone modulated for every ear to capture its essence. And when we speak English, for instance, it is neither American nor British English. It is a Pan-Asian diction. It does not pretend to sound western but both Asians and non-Asians can easily comprehend what is being said.”

He went on to say:  “Speaking in English is not unpatriotic. We are not less Filipinos for mastering another language. We are only making good use of our gift for languages to forge ahead. English should be the medium of instruction in schools.”

I agree with Hizon. I too have the fluency and clear diction, trained as I was by my broadcaster father, who belonged to the old school and insisted on clarity in enunciation. He would have been appalled to hear the squeaky voices and mumbling indulged in by a great many TV and radio broadcasters today.

Pops and me at the ABS-CBN employees’ family day picnic, c. ’70s.

Back when I was growing up, a “golden voice” was required for one to be on radio and TV. Think Harry Gasser, Rey Langit, Orly Mercado. Who do we have on now and what do they sound like? You tell me.

I have parlayed my English fluency in writing and clear diction in speaking into skills that have gotten me work in media when my marriage broke up and I had to support my children. My writing and my voice put food on the table. Would I have been able to do this otherwise? I don’t think so.

In addition to English and Tagalog, I also speak Hiligaynon and some Spanish. I am grateful I grew up the way I did, speaking the languages I do. But just because I am more comfortable using English and Hiligaynon rather than Tagalog, does this make me less Filipino?

If you think I am, then them’s fighting words; say it to my face, so we can step outside and duke it out. If we identify as Filipino, live as Filipinos, and anticipate dying as Filipinos, then we are Filipino, no matter the language we speak, the color of our skin, even the nationality of our birth.

Because love of country resides in the heart and mind, not on our tongues.   ***

Nick Joaquin here. Rico Hizon here. Orly Mercado here.

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