Monday, August 29, 2011

In Answer to James Soriano

The Filipino is Multilingual

by Mila D. Aguilar

This is not to disparage James Soriano, a young man who may have learned German, but hasn’t yet seen the world in all its gritty detail. I wouldn’t quarrel with him, especially since I’m a very old woman of 62; but I would love for him to learn a thing or three about his country.

When I was born in 1949, my father, Jose V. Aguilar, was winding up what became known as the Sta. Barbara Language Experiment. Before I turned two months old, he had already proven through this experiment in a remote town in Iloilo, the island of Panay, that pupils who were taught in their mother tongue during the first two years of school learned better than those who were shocked into learning through the medium of English.

But that does not mean that I grew up entirely using my mother tongue, Hiligaynon. My father was wise enough to speak to me purely in English, while he bid my mother and siblings to speak to me purely in Hiligaynon.

Did I grow up confused? No. I grew up versatile in both languages. When I transferred to U.P. Diliman with my family at the age of four, I learned my Tagalog from playmates. By the time I reached Grade 1, I was speaking it fluently.

When, at the age of 25, I was assigned to the underground of Mindanao and consciously mingled with the urban poor, I learned Cebuano in a month. When I made a week-long foray into the hinterlands of Samar at the age of 34, shortly before I left my beloved movement, I was able to get the rudiments of Waray and would not have forgotten it had I stayed in Samar a bit longer.

I also know a smattering of Kapampangan and Ilokano from friends both within and without the underground.

The Filipino is multilingual. You can see that from 10 million Filipinos all around the world, learning the languages of their adopted countries so quickly, you could hardly hear them stuttering. And most of these Filipinos aren’t rich; they’re masa, domestic helpers, drivers, janitors, seamen, nurses with hungry mouths to feed.

As to whether they become grammatical or not is not the point. The point is, they could communicate with anyone in any language.

So what’s this “revelation” about living a princely life with English?

There is nothing new to it. During the Spanish times, the conquistadores herded the datus and their families into town centers and cut them off from their barangays, the better to prevent them from staging rebellions. They brainwashed those datu families into thinking they were a privileged lot by teaching them Spanish, among other things.

The datu families began to think they were princes, living a princely life using Espanggol.

No different from our “princes” today, who think they’re so lucky to be born privileged.

But then this shows that life today is no different from life centuries ago. We still have a privileged class bragging about how good they are in the language of the conquistador.

This is not to disparage James Soriano, a young man who may have learned German, but hasn’t yet seen the world in all its gritty detail. I wouldn’t quarrel with him, especially since I’m a very old woman of 62; but I would love for him to learn a thing or three about his country.

In English, because that is the language he understands. But I could very well switch to Filipino, which serendipitously combines all languages with Tagalog as base; or Hiligaynon, or Cebuano. But he wouldn’t understand.

I have written underground tracts in Tagalog and even tried to translate Bible verses into Filipino right on Facebook, so James can’t say that our languages are meant only for informal conversations. And has he heard U.P. professors teaching biology, physics and chemistry in Pilipino?

Truth is, English is not necessarily the language of connection, because a full three-quarters of the world don’t speak it anyway. One does not have to connect using English; one connects by communicating with the eyes using one’s Filipino smile. The language, whatever language that is, comes after.

That is what Filipinos all over the world, from Europe to Asia to the Middle East to Latin America to Africa, have discovered.

Oh yes -- I left out the U.S. That’s because it’s perhaps one of the few countries in the world left that is largely monolingual, and bilingual only among first and second generation immigrant families. That they’re teaching second languages like Spanish now is a recognition not only of their Latin American migration problem but of their scientific finding that monolingualism makes for a dumb population.

No, English is not a universal language, I teach in TESOL. Does God, who rules the universe, and the multiverses as well, speak in English? Of course not. He speaks to you Spirit to spirit, in any language you can accept with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength.

At most, English is the language of world commerce. If that is what the upper classes of Philippine society need it for, then so be it. Let them deal with Japanese and Chinese CEOs in English.

But let me tell you what happened to this language of commerce in the 1950s, after my father had so painstakingly shown, through his Sta. Barbara Experiment, that the mother tongue is a better medium of instruction for efficient learning in Grades 1 and 2.

A man named Clifford Prator, from the University of California in Los Angeles, came up calling vehemently for a return to English as the medium of instruction on all levels in Philippine schools. His reason was, in a word, in my view, something like: Ah basta! English is superior.

Subsequently, my father’s findings were twisted statistically to show that, indeed, his findings were wrong: English was really the better medium of instruction on all levels.

I’m sure these same tactics are being used and will be used again and again to push the superiority of the English language in the Philippine scene, including and especially in the Constitution.

Sige, go ahead. Meantime, I will use the language of the reconquistador to shout down its proponents.

So have I connected?


N.B.: It appears (no pun intended) that James Soriano's teacher has since retracted for him. Please see for that.

The original essay by James Soriano is here, after the Manila Bulletin withdrew it from its website: