ALFRED A. YUSON WRITES FEATURE ON ENGLISH
The Business Mirror
Written by PLANET ENGLISH / Alfred A. Yuson
MONDAY, 16 MARCH 2009
English, Our Beloved
EILEEN TABIOS, an Ilocana immigrant who now tends a vineyard in Napa
Valley when she's not being an indefatigable poet, editor and publisher,
authored a poetry collection a few years ago titled I Take Thee, English,
For My Beloved.
The cover had her in a bridal gown embellished in that old-trad Pinoy
fashion, with peso bills slipped into its folds by well-wishing wedding
guests. We can easily imagine her having the first dance with a language
not our own, but one that has long been made (and romanced) into our own.
As with all the so-called Fil-Am poets and writers, the favored weapon of
combat in that highly competitive arena is English. These first- and
second-generation writers who still trace their roots, themes, concerns
and imagistic motifs back to the motherland are now legion, and
increasingly successful, staking claims to authorship or pages in
prestigious literary journals, contest prizes and fellowships at various
workshops in the US and Europe.
Together with other expatriate Filipino writers (in London, Paris,
Holland, South Africa, Australia and Singapore among the global turfs our
countrymen inhabit), they provide a great good challenge for all homegrown
and/or still home-based Pinoy poets and writers in English. They, too, are
In the mid-1970s, when the language debate seemed to start favoring the
native tongue by way of nationalist inclination, the well-humored alarum
was raised by Tagalistas in Manila: The death knell was sounding for all
those who still wrote in English.
As it came to pass, however, only imagined was the imminence of a complete
takeover by Filipino, the language that every other Pinoy still contends
Of course, Visayans would have none of it, at least as far as it should
issue from their pens. It has been the movies and electronic media that
are uniting most Filipinos from all over the archipelago in exercising a
Tagalog-based patois that ranges from the classical, in terms of
vocabulary and syntax (as is familiar to speakers in Bulacan, Laguna and
Quezon provinces), to the appropriative (of foreign terms and phrases),
which has always been the metier in urban centers, specifically Metro
But the Bisaya still speaks and writes mostly in Bisaya, the Ilonggos in
Ilonggo, the Ilocanos in Iluko, and so forth. Or they write, literarily,
or at least communicate on paper (thence the computer) in what has been
the de-facto lingua franca that still finds a common denominator among a
great number of Filipinos.
As an itinerant teener in the 1960s, I sought adventure in the
Cordilleras, and noted how the highland natives all spoke correct if
simple English, but couldn't communicate much in Tagalog. It was the same
in the deep South. Actually, just getting past the Tagalog region meant
that one heard more of Pampango or Bicolano, and had to communicate in
sprinklings of English and the then a-borning Filipino, then called
In the last few decades, Filipino has gained more of a foothold all over,
albeit Cebuanos still prefer to sing the national anthem in their own
mother tongue. It is still English that is the pacifier and leveler, so to
speak, when it comes to business, academic and legal communication, let
alone extended discourse.
Ditto in the literary field. While more and more books are coming out in
Filipino, especially in children's literature, the young poet in Zamboanga
or Davao, Batanes or Zambales, would still tend to apply his craft in
English, simply because he has not been trained as sufficiently in
Filipino as the poet from Lukban or Kawit or Malolos.
English-language training has itself fallen into disrepute, true, yet the
young reader can still avail himself of more publications in the
now-acknowledged global language, whether he confines himself to a modest
school library or pays for an hour at an Internet cafe.
And so the love affair with English as we know it continues for Filipinos..
The adopted foreign language may be burlesqued a la Erap, and jokes spun
from declasse malaprops that substitute "chamberlain" for "chandelier." It
may feature Pinoy neologisms like "aggrupation" or "Filipinisms" such as
"For a while" as uttered on the phone by secretaries before they give you
But not only is it here to overstay. As the poet-academic Gemino H. Abad,
University of the Philippines (UP) professor emeritus, has famously
stated, "We have colonized the language; English is ours."
There is a parallel development worldwide. In the mid-1990s, a
British-Chinese publisher in London came out with a literary anthology of
works by Commonwealth writers, giving it the title The Empire Strikes
Back. Indeed, the likes of Salman Rushdie, V.S. Naipaul, Michael Ondaatje
and Kazuo Ishiguro spearhead the takeover of bestsellers' lists by writers
who write in a second language.
The British novelist often goes and stays abroad to refresh his spirit and
material, perchance his own use of language. Cesar Ruiz Aquino of
Dumaguete City once postulated that while Philippine literature in English
was a dynamic affair, English literature in the Philippines was an
entirely different matter, principally having to do with Timothy Mo's
taking up residence in Cebu City. The Sino-Brit novelist wrote Brownout on
Breadfruit Boulevard, with Cebu for its setting.
Aquino might have also cited James Hamilton Patterson, who lived for a
time on an island off Marinduque and produced a wondrous book about it
(Playing With Water), before he took up residence in Mandaluyong. James
Fenton wrote The Snap Revolution for Granta literary magazine when his
extended stay in Manila coincided with the Edsa People Power phenomenon.
Maybe these gentlemen know something other than that English is a crazy
language, as Internet posters continue to pass on. Maybe they're
enraptured by the way we've taken to English as our beloved, or how our
movie stars have taken English apart, the way a bombshell once declared:
"It's a crazy planets! [sic]"
(The Filipino's superior ability to communicate in English, the only truly
international language, is recognized worldwide. British life insurer Pru
Life UK believes that this is the Filipino's competitive advantage, and is
committed to enhancing and nurturing this valuable skill through this
campaign, with the help of the best writers and experts in the language.
Promoting good English is our unique way of caring for the future of our