In his August 24th Manila Bulletin article (Language, learning, identity, privilege), James Soriano reaped a whirlwind of protests and condemnation from many Filipinos. The backlash was such that the Bulletin removed Soriano’s article from its archives. Soriano drew flak for writing, among other controversial assertions, that Filipino is not the language for learning.
Soriano wrote: “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.”
Soriano further wrote: “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 (store keeper) when you went to the tindahan (store), what you used to tell your katulong (helper) that you had an utos (order), and how you texted manong when you needed “sundo na (fetch me now).
“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.”
He closed with this statement: “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 (rotten fish). 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.”
Soriano correctly described himself as a split-level Filipino. Soriano demonstrated the mentality that transformed some Ateneo Blue Eagles into Blue Vultures when he said: “I may be disconnected from being Filipino, but with a tongue of privilege I will always have my connections.” He overlooked the greater values for what provided him convenience.
The pressures caused by our economic deprivations are making some Filipinos adopt very narrow-minded perspectives to the language debate. They failed to appreciate these:
1. The nation pays a greater price for the loss of its identity when we allow a foreign language to replace what is the very soul of Filipino communication — our native tongue. The Chinese, once behind us economically, pushed for a national language — Mandarin — knowing the need for a national language to weld a national aspiration.
2. The Japanese did not need English to excel economically. On the contrary, the Japanese never had a language problem and they’re a great country because of a language that promoted one mind, one heart in one Japanese nation. In contrast, our counter-productive language debate reflects our damaged culture and the deep divisions in our sick society. Countries that are on the march to progress don’t have this embarrassing debate while those that are basket cases never progressed by shifting to another language.
3. Both Filipino and English can be learned and this need not be at the expense of losing the natural language of the Filipino mind and soul. A country’s native tongue need not be sacrificed in order to have a facility in English.
4. Technical terms that may not be in the Filipino language are easily adopted. Even the English language adopts foreign terms emanating from non-English minds. Rolando Tinio, the late National Artist for literature and one of the greatest artistic minds of our race, proved in his translations of the classics of Shakespeare, Shaw, Ibsen, Sophocles and so forth that Filipino is a great language and can easily retain the essence of foreign classic literature.
5. We’ll be lucky to have five percent of Filipinos thinking in English. Many who claim to be proficient in English actually think in Filipino. They may be able to translate their thoughts in English but the fact remains that they think in Filipino. Note how the Thais, Chinese, Singaporeans, Malaysians, had all overtaken us even if they had never been as good as us in English in the ’50s and the ’60s. English did not get them to where they are.
6. English can never capture the Filipino national spirit. Try singing the old national anthem — Land of the morning… — in English and compare that to the flood of emotions that the singing of Lupang Hinirang draws from your Filipino soul.
7. More Filipinos can achieve levels of excellence when taught in the tongue they’re most familiar with. The worst-case scenario is to have Filipinos studying engineering, for example, under teachers who speak defective English. In such a case, neither learning English nor learning engineering is facilitated. Using English as medium of instruction merely adds another impediment to progress.
8. We can never trade our national identity and the language of our Filipino soul for the sake of better job opportunities overseas. Those jobs overseas will not be there for us forever.
We’ve closed our eyes to our festering social gangrene. The sooner we accept the reality, the sooner we’ll be able to address it. We’re like a basketball team that’s blaming our rubber shoes for our losing streak, when in truth we’re losing because we’ve not been playing as a team.
This is the state of Team Philippines. When we don’t really know our problems, we tend to arrive at ridiculous and illusory solutions. We then become our greatest enemies.
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