It’s August again, Buwan ng Wikang Filipino, when we’re supposed to remember our national language, but which has been converted into some kind of Filipiniana month in our schools, with students asked to wear “native costumes” and perform folk dances.
We should stop using that term “native costumes,” because it exoticizes what’s Filipino. When we want people to come to an event in coat and tie, we don’t ask them to come in a “Western costume.” Costumes are theatrical. Think of the imprint on our young students’ minds when they do wear a baro’t saya, which we call a “native costume,” for a performance of folk dances.
For our Buwan ng Wikang Filipino, we should be organizing activities, in and out of the classroom, that get our students to better appreciate not just Filipino, our national language, but all our other Philippine languages, as part of discovering our sense of national identity.
To many private school (read middle- and upper-income) students, Filipino remains a peripheral subject, almost like PE (where you learn the folk dances). The deficiency is serious, to the point where private school graduates taking the UPCAT (UP College Admission Test) excel in science and language but fail miserably in Filipino, which drags down their overall score.
Language teaching needs to be fun. I see UP students signing up for Japanese and Korean, which are worlds apart from Philippine languages, yet because they are so intrigued by anime and Korean telenovelas, they work hard and pick up proficiency in those languages fairly quickly.
Chinese, on the other hand, remains mysterious and difficult with all its tones, and even threatening, especially because it’s still taught as “Intsik.” Think Intsik, think South China Sea.
But then, look at KZ Tandingan, who picked up, and performed, difficult Chinese songs when she competed in China.
Ironically, we need to relate Filipino to the Philippines. Have students follow the Filipino newscasts and pick out the words that struck them, and the context in which the words were used. Let them think of similar words and their meanings, and you have an opportunity for wordplay.
Here’s an appetizer to serve in August, taking off from a banner headline I caught the other day on TV: “Sandamakmak na basura, tumambad sa Manila Bay.”
Let’s focus on “sandamakmak,” a word I’d never encountered but which I figured must be similar to “sangkatutak.” I waded into the internet and found several discussions about these san(g)-prefixed words: “sandamukal,” “sangkaterba,” “sangkatutak” and, of course, “sandamakmak.”
“Sang” is from “isa/isang” or one, but as a prefix, it becomes a group noun to refer to a multitude, a whole lot. Unfortunately, I could not find the meanings of “damukal,” “damakmak,” “katerba,” and “katutak.” Rather intriguing, though, was a post on a Yahoo Answers discussion about “katutak” as probably having Indonesian origins. But Bahasa Indonesia is actually adapted from Malay, and there are other Indonesian languages — Javanese, for example — from which we have loan words. Anyway, when I checked “tutak” in Bahasa Indonesian, it translated as “bald,” so that’s a dead end for now.
“Katerba” is interesting. The Yahoo Answers contributor said it was of Arabic origin, and, indeed, when I checked, I found “kthyr,” meaning many. “Alkthyr min” is a throng or a crowd, which resonates with the way we say “sangkatutak na tao.”
Another reader suggested that “damukal” is used to refer more to the nonquantifiables, like emotions. “Sangkaterba,” he or she suggested, refers to quantifiables, but which are “bad” or not desirable, while “sangkatutak” would be the quantifiables that are “good.”
I’m not sure about that. “Sangkatutak” na tao is good for many Filipinos, but oh-no-let’s-go-home for Westerners. Then there’s “sangkatutak na problema” — lots and lots of problems like the ones we face in our country today.
All this isn’t abstract or academic. I like “sandamakmak” because it uses repetition to convey the sense of quantity. The newscast referred to Manila Bay’s waves bringing in all kinds of stuff, including carcasses of dogs, cats and pigs. It’s a graphic reminder of more apocalyptic scenes in the near future, as typhoons and the monsoon batter us and bring back the garbage we created, now jamming our drainage systems and causing floods.
We learn Filipino to speak with Filipinos. The best ads are those in Filipino, like “isang patak, isang katutak,” referring to a brand of detergent that claims that one drop does the job, no matter the quantity that needs to be cleaned. (Another version is “isang patak, bisang katutak.”)
Have you wondered, too, about our penchant for miracles, “sangpatak” of panaceas like supplements and federalism, for the “sangkatutak” problems we face?
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