Saturday, August 08, 2015

The good, ugly and dirty

DON’T be high blood.

There was a time when such an expression would have merited a sniff, the kindest snub Pinoys give to someone using “poor English”.

English may not be our mother tongue. Yet many Filipinos are obsessed about this second language, even more so than their own mother tongue or the national language, which many Visayans still refer to as Tagalog, not Filipino.

One only has to listen to the comments of those watching beauty contests. Whether it is a national tilt or a barangay pageant, audiences invariably gauge each candidate’s facility for pronouncing and stringing words of English as proof of “talent”. It does not even matter if the English-speaking candidate does not make sense. “Basta” proper English (sniff)!

Our pride as English speakers is understandable, given that many scrimp to put their children in the best private school (where English must be spoken even in the toilet or corridor) and hire an English-speaking yaya (“Bisaya-a aning bataa, uy” reproaches not just the nanny from Cebu or other parts of Visayas but also the parents hiring her for their Cebuano-fluent child).

Nurturing our love/hate affair with English is the recent recognition of “Philippine English,” meaning the “Filipino variety of English usage”.

Last June 26, the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) reported the Oxford English Dictionary (OED)’s inclusion of 40 Filipino words in its June 2015 update. The OED includes words used for at least 10 years in newspapers and novels.

The PDI also reported that the OED cited “Philippine English” for the first time, a “legitimization” of English spoken not just by Filipinos in the Philippines but also in parts of the United States with large Filipino populations.

More significant than the elevation of Philippine English into scholarly study, at par with British and American English, is our acceptance of the way we have adopted and adapted English for our expression and communication.

Every time I’ve received a backhanded compliment from a Tagalog speaker that I speak “good English,” presumably for someone coming from the “provinces,” I’ve always wanted to retort that the choice of language is only secondary to the abilities to think and to articulate one’s thoughts.

But let’s not be high blood.

According to the OED, Philippine English, like other global varieties, shows how English accommodates “loan words” and “changes in the usage of common English words”.

For instance, Filipinos turn the noun “high blood” into an adjective meaning “angry, agitated”.

That’s what the Puerto Galera Council became when they recently declared Kees Koornstra persona non grata. The Dutch citizen, residing in the country for 14 years, posted in his Facebook group photos of uncollected garbage with the caption “Puerto Basura (Puerto Garbage)”.

According to the “mangled English” of the council resolution, Koornstra’s namecalling was an “insult” to the “dignity of Puerto Galerans”. Yet the foreigner’s photographs do not lie: the mounds of garbage bags look like commuters descending on Edsa on a Friday afternoon when malls are holding monster sales.

So when will “pikon (onion-skinned)” make it to the next edition of OED?

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s July 5, 2015 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

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