Buencamino is the resident satirist of Action for Economic Reforms. This piece was first published in Interaksyon.com on September 6, 2011.
A different language is a different vision of life. – Federico Fellini
An essay on the English language by Bulletin columnist James Soriano was met with so much protest and condemnation it became a trending topic in social media. Unfortunately, by the time I heard about it, the Bulletin already removed it from its archives. Wimps. Now I have to rely on excerpts from Billy Esposo’s Sunday column in the Star. Tragic. (Just kidding, Billy.)
At any rate, it seems that the majority of those who read James’ put-down of the national language reacted like some Catholics did to Mideo Cruz’s Christ collage. They were outraged.
I was not offended by the Christ collage because human intellect needs sacrilege and blasphemy if it is to continue evolving. I was not offended by James’ essay either. I felt sorry for him. Because he believes that his ability to speak English is his wang-wang. And that is neither sacrilege nor blasphemy. It’s simply stupid. Even as satire.
I hate to disappoint you but English is just another means to communicate with other humans. English is not a magic potion, speaking it does not endow you with special powers. When you speak English in English-speaking countries you are just like everyone else there. And when you speak it in countries where they don’t speak English… well you will be different. And different is not the same as special.
“I may be disconnected from being Filipino, but with a tongue of privilege I will always have my connections.”
No, James. That would be like Mommy D. saying, “My Hermes handbag will get me into the salons of the old rich.”
Was your mother responsible for your pathetic attitude? “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.”
I don’t think so. I think she only wanted to teach you a second language, with great difficulty.
Was it your school? “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.”
I don’t think so. I think your school was only making do with what was available because in this country we do not print textbooks in our native language.
So who is to blame for your belief that Pilipino is inferior, that it is “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”?
I think you acquired that pathetic attitude all by yourself. As a coping mechanism. Because you patronize tindahans instead of supermarkets, because you put down tinderas like a stupid tourist who faults locals for not speaking his language.
Now I don’t know about your personal circumstances but you did mention that you ride jeepneys and you address your driver as manong. So let’s talk maids.
A privileged lady once told me that if you have to talk to your katulong in Filipino then that means you either cannot afford to hire one who can speak English to begin with or you don’t have the wang-wang to phone your local bishop to tell him that you have a new maid just in from some godforsaken province and to please take her to the convent so that his nuns can teach her how to speak English and be a good maid.
So I asked her, “Why send a katulong to a convent instead of Maid Academy?”
“Well,” she replied, “that’s because we are good Catholics and we want out katulongs to learn the right values as well. Because we know that if we send our katulongs to Maid Academy then chances are they will learn not only English, right values, and good maidsmanship but also how to text, twitter, and facebook. And then they will connect with an English-speaking foreigner and marry him. But we don’t consider that a problem, as a matter of fact we would be happy for the maid.”
However that would be a problem for someone who seems to have no other qualities other than his English to differentiate himself from his katulong. Can you imagine running into her and her American better-off-than-you husband while you are bargain hunting at Serramonte Center with your English-as-a-second-language immigrant relatives from Daly City? “Hi Sir James, this is my husband Jack. I’m teaching him Filipino.”
Anyway, where did you get the idea that you can pontificate on something you know nothing about? “(Filipino) 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.”
Tell that to the tindera. And don’t be shocked if she replies, “Filipino is not the language of call centers either.” In other words, they speak English in call centers but call centers are not exactly places where you would go to rub elbows with the privileged.
Allow me to also point out that your notion of English being “the language of the learned” is absolutely wrong. Because to speak English and to be learned is not the same thing. Sarah Palin speaks English, duh.
And that brings me to my last point. Knowing English is not good enough. You also have to speak it with the correct accent. Now there’s no right or wrong accent per se. But there’s the accent of the privileged and the accent of everyone else. And I’m sure you don’t want to be included among the everyone else because “connections”, as you proclaimed, are important to you.
So you have to learn to speak English like the privileged. You must hang out with them, pretend to be one of them. Fortunately for you, your school, the Ateneo, is a school where you can learn how to fake good breeding. But, unfortunately, you also have to deal with pedigree. And there’s nothing your Alma Mater can do about that because pedigree is all about being a sperm from a long line of privileged sperms.
I guess what I’m trying to say is you might be better off learning Filipino and embracing it instead of deluding yourself that English is your wang-wang.