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Pinoy Kasi

Practicing Filipino

/ 12:22 AM November 04, 2016

“CR (comfort room) breaks” can be useful for hatching new ideas during a class.

I had excused myself for such a break from a graduate class in linguistic anthropology last Wednesday, and as such breaks go I sprinted to the CR but did more of a brisk walk on the way back. Because the class had been talking about language and national identity, my attention was caught by a sticker on the CR door: “Stop fascist violence against national minorities.”

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There were more stickers and signs down the corridor, including on several classroom doors with the posting.

“No Food or Drinks Allowed Inside the Classroom.”

I was smiling because all the signs were in English except for two very old ones: “Masamang manigarilyo” (It’s bad to smoke) and “Bawal mag-ingay” (It is forbidden to be noisy).

Note the irony of the “Stop fascist violence” sticker posted by nationalist groups. When I got back to class we talked about how, at the University of the Philippines, our student activists still chant, “Junk commercialization” and many other “junks” (at one time mysteriously pronounced as “jonk”), while in the Philippine Normal University, one of my graduate students proudly points out that they shout “Ibasura” instead.

Yet, UP has gained such a reputation for the use of Filipino that it has cast fear in the hearts of many burgis (upper-class) Filipino parents who raise their children with English as the mother tongue.  Parts of UPCAT (the UP College Admissions Test) are in Filipino, and are said to have affected the overall performance of many private high school graduates. Then parents often ask me—almost in a whisper—how true it is that all lectures are in Filipino and that students have to submit all essays and papers in Filipino. They’re relieved when I say it’s not true, but I add, mischievously, “unfortunately.”

Schizo

We in UP are, like the rest of the country, quite schizophrenic when it comes to a national language. We proclaim Filipino as our national language, and declare it part of nationalism to use that language. But in practice, we waver, we waffle. Our nationalism is reduced to quibbling, for example, about whether the national language is Filipino or Pilipino.

Let me explain that last sentence. I still get irate e-mails from some readers who ask why I call the national language Filipino. “We are Filipinos and our national language is Pilipino” is the typical refrain, but I know those e-mails are from people my age. (I’m 64, as my new photo shows—look to the right. If you’re reading a print copy of the Inquirer, look to your left and see how much younger Ambeth Ocampo looks. Grumble, grumble.)

Yes, older Filipinos were raised on this “Filipinos are the people and Pilipino is the language,” but today, officially, it is now “We are Filipinos and our national language is Filipino.” It’s part of our schizophrenia: We quarrel over the right words but hey, notice that we’re slugging it out in English.

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Now, if only we could be more consistent and use our national language, we could then say, “Tayo ay Pilipino at ang pambansang wika natin ay Pilipino,” although the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino suggests that even when we speak in Filipino, the national language should be referred to as Filipino.

‘Bibingka’ or pudding

When it comes to languages, the proof of the bibingka is still in the eating.  There, that’s the Filipino, however schizo, in me that’s beginning to rebel when I want to communicate to a larger Filipino audience, and bibingka comes through better than pudding.

Eating is a metaphor for practice. What is the practice out there?  Filipino, the language, is widely used, with many changes going on: new words, old words mutating, borrowed words, and more.

When we had the national minorities visiting UP Diliman for two weeks, they delivered hundreds of speeches and class lectures, speaking of land as life, of their alternative schools, of their dreams for their children—all in fluent Filipino tinged ever so slightly by regional accents.

And while many Cebuanos will rail against “Tagalog imperialism,” many will use Filipino, and with an eloquence surpassing that of Tagalogs.

It’s happening, this practice of Filipino, and it took a fruit vendor to remind me about that. Years after I started buying fruits from her, she asked one day if I was writing a column in the Inquirer. And when I said yes, she laughed and said in Filipino: “I wouldn’t have known if I wasn’t wrapping fruits with the Inquirer pages and suddenly saw your photo and column.” She said she read the column but couldn’t understand it, so I must be a pretty good writer.

So we have two language worlds, disconnected.

And we are not seeing enough of the nudging, coaxing, yes, even pushing, from formal institutions to connect the worlds.

The bibingka/pudding metaphor simply means: We have to go beyond the rhetoric of language and nationalism—abstract ideologizing—and translate that rhetoric into policies and practices.

Look at our schools: We still have several who have “English Only” policies, but none with a “Filipino Only” policy, not even UP.  One of my graduate students shared a story about taking the government teaching licensure exam in a private school and returning to check for exam results. When she asked the guard, in Filipino, where the results were posted, he refused to answer and pointed to a sign at the entrance declaring the school as an English-only campus.

I was a product of a school where we were punished for not speaking in English. It has worsened now, it seems, with schools even expelling students for not using English.

Mind you, I would oppose UP becoming a “Filipino Only” campus. Linguistic diversity is important and must be respected. But it should not be at the cost of privileging one over the other, and the current situation involves English being privileged over local languages.

If we want a national language, and respect for all our Philippine languages, our young must grow up hearing and using these languages as part of daily practice—not just for casual conversations but as the language of transaction for science, business, the arts.  It must be a daily practice that becomes part of us, part of the way we think, and live.

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