Wednesday, September 02, 2009


I do have a love affair with languages. It mostly consists of dangerous lust to speak a multitude of them because I know it's something that I could never really do -- unless of course, I'm Wonder Woman. At best, I can probably speak a butchered version of a hand-picked selection, but nothing noteworthy.

I've tried studying Spanish and Chinese in the past -- and now, I'm onto German. Even though I'm a far cry from being a fluent speaker, I take comfort in knowing that I can probably survive going to parts of those countries that don't really speak English. Well, at least I know how to ask for the bathroom and to ask where I can get food. What else do we need, right? *grin* If I lived in a universe that resembled to that of The Matrix where I can download almost anything into my brain, I would love to learn Latin, Russian, Swahili and Thai. Why? I'm not sure, really, but doesn't that sound like a fabulous array of skills?

However, my biggest frustration lies on my own mother tongue. I find it the teensiest bit ironic that my spoken and written skills in Filipino is just a notch higher than "poor" and yet I have the hide to say that it's my first language. I assume that this is so simply because I was born in the Philippines. But in truth, I'm just absolute crap at it.

I blame our classist society, our colonial mentalities, and our overeagerness for Westernization for all this. It's not necessarily a bad thing, though. After all, it is because of the Filipinos' superior English-speaking skills (relative to the rest of Asia) that brought about many international businesses to be established and developed in the country. That is always a good thing for our GDP. Alas, I cannot say the same for our culture and native language.

Because of the government's and society's drive to get everyone to learn proper English -- which eventually became an indicator of one's level of education -- people continued to shy away from speaking Filipino. Nay, let me correct myself. It led people to speak broken Filipino because the focus just wasn't there anymore. Everyone was so bent on speaking in English that it no longer mattered whether or not it was real English. As long as someone speaks more English words than Filipino words (whether correctly or not is a different story on its own), then that was fine.

This incited the rise of the "conyo class" -- a class consisting of confused people that could neither speak neither straight English nor straight Filipino. The "conyos" (as they have lovingly become known as) have skillfully managed to create a language of its own that combine both English and Filipino dubbed as Taglish (Tagalog + English). Seeing this statement in black and white is enough to find it genuinely appalling but the sad reality is that the Filipinos have embraced this conyo way of speaking with both arms.

I can almost see our Filipino ancestors frowning on us trying to demand what we have done to a perfectly decent language. We, as a people, tried so hard to reach a bilingual status only to the detriment of our mother tongue. Finding someone in the Philippines who can still speak a full sentence in Tagalog without much of a pause or the interjection of an English word in it is just as good as finding a unicorn walking in the middle of a busy mall. I am not a hypocrite -- I am not one to deny guilt in being one of these people.

What have we done? We have bastardized our own language further than our Spanish ancestors have bastardized it (I know they did their fair bit in pouring truckloads of Spanish vocabulary in it).

I get the heebie-jeebies hearing today's generation try to speak Filipino. And I thought I was bad. I would probably forgive them for having such poor Filipino skills if they actually spoke English well. The sad reality is, their English language skills are just as bad as their Filipino language skills because they are used to blending the two together. And well, I highly doubt they can build a nation that can have Taglish as a national language.

Then again, I ought not speak so soon... it might just happen (that'll be the first sign of the Apocalypse). Both my parents are Filipino and both of them speak Filipino quite well. I know I have no excuse for my poor language skills in Filipino. Even though I know that I'm more competent in English (which a lot of people can appreciate) than my mother tongue, I still feel like a loser of sorts because of this fact. I envy those countries where English only comes as a secondary language -- where the locals still speak their native language flawlessly.

Is it too late for a country like the Philippines to be one of those?