Jan 19, 2009

[Philipines] Language Does Not Equal Nationalism

Bulul guardian figure of the Ifugao people. Th...Image via WikipediaA friend of mine directed me to this opinion article from the Philippine Star that talks about how changing our medium of instruction back to English is a bad thing. While I'm a tad undecided about where I personally stand on the actual issue he's discussing, I do have a bone to pick with the author in terms of the arguments he puts forward to further his side.

The joys of the internet - the ability to post responses like this without dealing with an editor, haha.

Fundamentally, his primary argument centers around the ties between language use as leading to stronger feelings of nationalism and going away from that language makes us want to associate with the nations related to English such as the USA (although they hardly speak true English, LOL) and the U.K. Worse, he goes on to belittle the Filipino's ability to comprehend English and how all learning facilitated in English becomes just a painful experience of translation.

Oh poo, where do we find these guys?

First, how does simply using a language lead to nationalism, what more a language that doesn't even have universal acceptance in our own country? Filipino, which is fundamentally Tagalog with a legally name change is hardly the true language accepted by everyone in the country. There are far too many dialects in a nation so small that if you do want to find a language we all speak in common, it'll always English. I don't understand a word of Cebuano or any of the other Visayan dialects and I doubt I could even begin to comprehend more southern dialects like Chabakano (if I even spelled that right). The point is that the use of Tagalog is hardly indicative of a universally accepted national identity.

He then goes on to cite a Hong Kong study that showed how difficult a time students had trying to do their coursework in English. However he forgets how deeply the English language has penetrated our country and how everyone is able to comprehend this a lot better than your average Hong Kong citizen probably does. We're swamped with books, movies and TV shows in English and we're even coupled with a legal system that's still based within the English realm and lawmakers who continue to give long-winded speeches in English as well. I don't think I'll ever be able to get over how I needed to learn History in Filipino while using an English text book. Now what's up with that logic?

Let's go on further to our own military and police forces who continue to struggle with speaking English and yet continue to insist to do so, haha. English is a lot more universal in the country and just changing the medium of instruction won't change things. If he really wants to force everyone to embrace the language, we're going to need to change things from top to bottom and change the way our government works, reinforce the proper language in all government institutions like those I mentioned prior and somehow promote / require stronger language representation in the media through legislation. We even get the news mostly in English after all. Plus remember we'll be pushing Filipino, thus making it harder for everyone else pretty much outside of Manila.

I admit, I suck at speaking Filipino. My upbringing can be thanked for that and now I'm only comfortable primarily speaking English. However that doesn't mean I don't care for my country or my limitation of language makes me any less Filipino. Quoting the Indian study didn't really do the author any good from a factual standpoint - he just presented someone else's paper where all he did was quote Gandhi. I strongly support the progress and advancement of this nation and I'm willing to fight for its freedom. Just because I choos to do it in English doesn't make me any less nationalistic.

I think we all have to face the reality that our culture is a lot more diverse than most. We've been occupied by colonizers for most of our history and in that time our national identity has become inevitably married to other cultures. Our languages and dialects are colored with Spanish influence everywhere and our interests and beliefs beyond that have an undeniable Western flair here and there. Our system of government owes a lot to the Americans and our cuisine is a grand mix of everything in the region and beyond. What Filipino identity is he looking for? The last time we were without significant foreign influence was during our tribal period before the coming of the Spanish colonizers. Is that what he wants?

Nationalism is a good thing, I agree, but we first need to understand what exactly the Filipino identity is. We need to acknowledge the value we've gained from all the foreign influence and agree that we can come up with a national identity based on what we've acquired from them and more.

He probably could have sent a much stronger message had he actually written the article in Filipino. Instead he chose to chastise the government in English - the very language of instruction he's arguing against. That was the real cherry on top of it all, haha.

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