Yes, this may be a late reaction. I only Googled “James Soriano + article” after being privately messaged by my good friend and former Brain Train colleague Engr. Jennyl Estil, asking what my reaction to the piece is. In case you still haven’t read it, I’m quoting it (copy-pasted from pinoymoneytalk.com). It originally appeared on Manila Bulletin but was later removed from its website. Here it is and my two cents about it.
Language, learning, identity, privilege
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.” –> Dito pa lang, tumaas na ang kilay ko. I started smelling arrogance.
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. –> And this didn’t help.
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. —> OK, so Filipino isn’t just for the manong and the katulong but for the probinsyanos too.
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.’ —> Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I think “ay” is NOT a preposition but rather a linking/auxiliary verb, as in “Ang bata ay kumakanta” = “The child is singing”
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. —> I was actually starting to like the guy, thinking he has realized the error of his ways.
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. —> And I thought, why was this controversial? This was a guy who initially made himself sound arrogant to show everyone that he has had a humbling experience. This kind of writing is actually effective to shame those who haven’t yet “seen the light”. You know, the, “I’ve been there, done that, and regretted it” kind of piece.
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. ––> And just like that, I understood why many were irked.
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 usually do not dislike essays that call a spade a spade, and I like pieces that actually recognize the pink elephant in the room. James Soriano just mentioned what he observes: that the “erudite” or “rich” speak English, and only the manongs, manangs and ‘syanos of the Philippines speak Filipino. But he made a hasty generalization, probably done out of pomposity he can no longer contain. Despite the fact that I encourage my students to be fluent in English, I could never write an essay like that. Why? Because I don’t believe that good English speakers are automatically superior (James may not have blatantly said it but that is the impression most of us get). My co-teachers in Brain Train are among the most intelligent people I know, not just because they graduated with honors from UP or were Oblation Scholars or were board topnotchers, but also because talking to them stimulates my mind. And guess what? Some of them are horrible in speaking and in writing in English, they won’t deny that. I’ve also met people from my previous jobs who were, y’know, like, they’re sho gud (pronounced with a short “U”, as in “gut”) in like speaking in Eng-glush pero (the “r” here is spoken as though you were really bulol with the “r”) I don’t have bileb (bilib) in them. Honestly? I think some of them are airheads who got good in English (are they considered good even if they don’t really speak in straight English?) because of 1. the want to sound sosyal; or 2. too much exposure to Cartoon Network when they were kids.
Mr. James Soriano, please immerse yourself more. Get to meet Palanca Awardees whose pieces are beautifully written in Filipino, and intellectual students who, despite the fact that they CAN speak straight English still try their best to speak in Filipino.
I may no longer be coherent because so many things are on my mind, things that tell my usually-liberal mind that that piece was wrong (Yes, yes, he was just expressing his thoughts and yes, yes, there’s that trite and abused “freedom of expression” defense). But what really made it wrong is because upon reading it, I could feel James Soriano’s disgust for our language–the language that is our soul and identity. Sure, he said nice words about it too, but for most of the time, he was lambasting it. It’s like what I did about rabbits. You see, I’m afraid of rabbits. Or to put it bluntly, nandidiri ako sa rabbits. In my opinion, they’re big rats in a better packaging. All of my life, I avoided rabbits (I : rabbits :: James : Tigalog). But there was a time when I did find them cute, and even touched them. For a time, I found them amusing (similar to James’ “fondness” for Tagalog). I even pondered on getting a pair as pets. But in the end, I decided not to buy because deep inside, I know that I still find them kadiri.
To add insult to the injury, James wrote his peace in AUGUST, when most people are rereading excellent literary pieces like Florante at Laura and Noli/El Fili, paying homage to the language that is one of the major major (hehe) things that gave us our identities. Another thing that would have saved him is if he called us readers into action to eradicate the image of the Filipino language as merely the language of the streets. Something like, “While this may be offensive to Filipino teachers and other people, I am not alone in thinking this, you have admit. So let this article be a challenge to us to empower our language.” blah blah blah blah.
Let’s learn to speak good English to compete globally but let’s not forgot to speak good Filipino to complete our identity.
Tell me what you think!
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