Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Inglisero War on English--"Using English Conveys False Information to Filipinos"

2008 is the International Year of Languages. Fittingly therefore, the ever politically correct Philippine Daily Innuendo our biggest English language daily newspaper, has seen fit to feature the prolix writings of Isabel Pefianco Martin, president of the Linguistic Society of the Philippines (LSP). Together with some National Artists and English-writing pundits, it seems that PDI and LSP's Ms. Martin have launched a War on the English Language in the Philippines. Her latest offerings are two Commentaries published in the Op/Ed pages: first was Myths about languages in the Philippines which was brilliantly rebutted by a Letter to the Editor from Russ Sandlin. A second piece appears today, Fearing English in the Philippines which is full of straw-man arguments such as the unsubstantiated claim that Filipinos are actually afraid of English and that someone (who???) wants to make English the SOLE medium of instruction in the schools, despite the fact that the Constitution itself upholds bilingualism and NO ONE I know of is against the use of the Mother Tongue in the early years of public schooling. I've had my say on the Language Wars in numerous Philippine Commentaries over the years. But this being the I.Y.L. I would like to present a rather novel linguistic observation on the Ingliseros' whole strategy of war on English in the public schools.

I shall never tire of pointing out the supernal irony in the fact that these Inglisero pundits and commentators use as their exclusive weapon of choice, what else but the English Language itself [sic!] In so doing they present a kind of unconsciously paradoxical counter argument similar to the Liar's Paradox -- "This very statement is false." which I might restate as the Inglisero Liar Paradox:

"Using English conveys false information to Filipinos."

Since the sentence uses English, it must be conveying false information to Filipinos that using English conveys false information. Which means using English conveys true information to Filipinos. Which means using English must convey false information to Filipinos, and so on ad infinitum... {twiddles his lips making a funny befuddled sound.}

From the psychiatric point of view, there is also the point that what these people are really doing is exhibitionism of their English language skills in an effort to awe and impress others with their patriotic but self-loathing erudition.

Nota bene:(a lil Latin if you please)
The term "Inglisero" is kanto-boy Tagalog slang which is a bit difficult to translate. But it might be enlightening to recall how Joseph "Erap" Estrada once used the female gender form of the term when he denied making a girl friend out a bit of Fil-Am fluff, a second runner up in a beauty contest whom Luis "Chavit" Singson did "do" and brought in to Manila two years ago to try to embarrass his old partner in crime. Erap said, "Hindi ko pinatulan ang babaeng iyan. Hindi ko nagustuhan kasi Inglisera siya!" --- meaning to say she was a fake and put on airs by artifically speaking in English all of the time.


Dominique said...

Not so much language, I think, but rather, an imagination or a vision of ourselves that is lacking.

DJB Rizalist said...

I think we imagine ourselves to be something unique and refuse to accept the artifacts and benefits of our colonial past as part and parcel of our very culture, especially the English language, whose integral part is obvious but denied. We merely loathe and not properly appreciate what Spain and America did FOR us whilst concentrating mostly on what they did TO us.

blackshama said...


Nothing represents your last comment as well as the university that thinks it is good "UP Ang Galing Mo" simply because it is a 100 years old!

The University of the Philippines has an American heritage. Since I teach here, I keep on twitting "nationalist" academics and shortsighted students that even the geography of the Diliman, Los Banos and all the other campuses is American. The UP will never escape its colonial past. How the academics and students perceive space will forever be American.

The same thing with English. Unless the university accepts that English is as Filipino like the Latin Americans consider Espanol as their own, then there will be no way to move on.

As Benito Legarda well puts it "these (colonial past) are part where we came from"

At UP they have invented a strange orthography for Filipino that no one uses outside the College of Social Sciences and Philosophy! These are the same academics who imagine a Filipino nation that isn't what the people imagining.

And this is where we put the Inglisero comment in its proper context.

That someone wrote that English is feared, loathed and conveys false information is the worst kind of snobbery I have ever read.

In Australian English such person has a "plum stuck in her mouth", and is a "tall poppy" that needs to be cut down.

Gabby said...

regarding "Fearing English in the Philippines", i suppose that you reject the premise of the argument, that many (not all) filipinos' fear english akin to an unhealthy fear of math.

For me, the revered position of english in the Philippine psyche is strange. I know of no other society where NOT speaking english like a native is so reviled, while the notion of not trying is unthinkable. Consider Ms San Miguel, who couldn't hack it in english was too embarrassed to attempt in filipino.

Don't you agree that this is a problem of english veneration is particularly filipino? And that it is a problem because it is an unnecessary distraction in viewing english instrumentally (at the very least)

My second question is: isn't it true that being good at math and CS requires a different level of english sophistication, than say, writing a blog entry in "Philippine Commentary"? :) You need certain key terms like, 'if', 'do', 'run', etc. You need the concept of flow and logic, which are independent of the specific language you use. I go to school with some chinese, whose english is not as sophisticated as a native's (but more than conversational english surely), but their mathematics skill is the envy of many of us.

To me, this is clear evidence that english and other forms of intelligence is related, but NOT perfectly correlated. You can be good at logic, and be good at it in another language (not necessarily english).

I do agree with you that filipino lacks the vocabulary with which to do serious scientific work. Its a shame; but its also reality.

DJB Rizalist said...

"isn't it true that being good at math and CS requires a different level of english sophistication, than say, writing a blog entry in "Philippine Commentary"?

For Filipinos the choice is not between English and Chinese, or English and French, or English and any other suitable language for learning science and math. No one of our linguists are saying we should use some other major language. They are insisting we can do algebra in Hiligaynon, Ivatan and Tausug, which aren't even WRITTEN languages.

I think this is what most educated Ingliseros who are not scientists neglect. We are debating LANGUAGE OF INSTRUCTION, not some philosophical possibility of doing math and science in other written languages.

You already argue that NO ENGLISH is reqd to do math, so it is irrelevant comparing that with the "degree of sophistication" reqd to write Philippine Commentary. Cute comment but irrelevant.

Why should the revered position of English seem strange to you. It is the biggest part of our intellectual heritage, as this comment thread, including yours proves. All our constitutions were written in English (except for the one in Spanish that was never ratified at plebiscite). All our laws, court decisions, major textbooks, business, research, etc are conducted in English.

I would suggest you examine the relevance to your case of the term "self-loathing" and the "obsession with uniqueness".

It's as if the English speaking people of the world would resent Latin as not being american or english enough.

Btw I happen to be a physicist and I know it is impractical to teach that subject effectively without English in the Philippines, from Physics 101 to the most advanced research.

Anonymous said...

Doesn't matter what language, basta tama spelling at grammar, diba? Or better yet kahit di perfect, as long as what is said is understood, okay.

'tanyo yang mga politiko, marami isip tagalog, bisaya, ilocano, atibapa, tapos ingles ang salita, e talagang mahirap maintindihan. O baka naman sinasadya para di mabuking ang tunay na hangarin?

We are not over this, "Hey Joe" level. At least, sa mentality ng ilan sa atin. Also, I don't think we are over blaming the spaniards for our crab mentality and bahala na attitudes.

Mabuhay ang pinoy!

DJB Rizalist said...

dehins tama yan pare. kasi ang pinaguusapan naman talaga ay ang tinuturing "language of instruction". May wastong linguahe para sa bawat paksa. Halimbawa, siguro naman sangayon ka na maling gamitin ang Ingles para ituro ang Pilipino sa mga paaralan, di ba?

Gayun din, ang naman magturo ng agham at math sa isang linguahe na walang mga symbolong isinusulat na angkop sa mga paksang ito, katulad ng karamihan ng linguaheng Pinoy.

Kulang kulang rin ang bocabularyo ng mga ito.

The medium should fit the message!

DJB Rizalist said...

The medium of instruction MUST be a written language! coz how do you assign homework, readings and tests if it is not?

Pefianco, I dare assay, never taught in elementary school at all but is enamoured of this Mother Tongue hypothesis, which may apply to kindergarten but is silly by the time you tackle arithmetic or health science, for example. Certainly high school science subjects are impossible to teach effectively in nonwritten languages.

The Nashman said...

Being too young, I regret not having the option of formal Spanish language classes in school. (I think one of the reasons given for its abolition was "nationalism" ek ek) One certainly misses out on great Spanish literature and music.

Incidentally, I wonder if there are scientific journals written entirely in Filipino or if anyone cares to make one. Which academic will want to write for a journal that cannot be cited...... Even the Japanese and German Academies of Science have shifted to english. Soon, the Russians......

Jego said...

We merely loathe and not properly appreciate what Spain and America did FOR us whilst concentrating mostly on what they did TO us.

This reminds me of that scene in Life of Brian when the People's Front of Judea was plotting the kidnapping of Pilate's wife.

Yeah. All right, Stan. Don't labour the point. And what have [The Romans] ever given us in return?!
The aqueduct?
The aqueduct.
Oh. Yeah, yeah. They did give us that. Uh, that's true. Yeah.
And the sanitation.
Oh, yeah, the sanitation, Reg. Remember what the city used to be like?
Yeah. All right. I'll grant you the aqueduct and the sanitation are two things that the Romans have done.
And the roads.
Well, yeah. Obviously the roads. I mean, the roads go without saying, don't they? But apart from the sanitation, the aqueduct, and the roads--
Huh? Heh? Huh...
Yeah, yeah. All right. Fair enough.

And yeah, Nash. The scrapping of Spanish was ill-advised. Our kids really should be learning different languages. But we come to the crucial thing here: We hardly have enough competent teachers to teach English, let alone the other languages.

blackshama said...

Scientific journal in Filipino? Good idea but at present it is a waste of time given the state of Filipino as a language and the state of Science in the Philippines.

Science in the 21st century is transnational. There is no such thing as a nationalist science. English is the language of scientific discourse for 1) historical reasons and 2)by the versatility of English. Science requires communication of results to the widest possible audience. It makes sense to publish in English.

You don't need to be a native speaker to write Scientific prose. What is needed is the abilility to think scientifically.

But this kind of science is for practitioners. Another thing we have to consider is science literacy and this could be taught in any language particularly in the first language of the speaker.

The use of Filipino in science writing requires the following

1)grammar,orthography and style standards
2)a working vocabulary.For example what then do we do with scientific terms of Latin and Greek origin?
3)Years of teaching science in Filipino.

In the UP there is a silly jump to number 3 without going through 1 and 2. There have been attempts to teach Physics in Filipino but this did not accelerate and lost momentum! (pun intended :))

Given the state of education in the Philippines, shifting to Filipino given that the scientific culture is very weak will result in more disadvantages than advantages.

We need a long term strategy. For science literacy, it may be practical to teach the basic sciences in the early school years in the vernacular as long as scientific thinking is emphasized.

Those who are inclined to the sciences will then have to take English language courses that will enable them to communicate in the scientific community.

I am of the opinion that English language learning be geared towards the needs of people. Those who need to learn it in order to be good scientists should take appropriate courses. Those who need to learn it since they have service careers should take appropriate courses. Those who do not think they need it shouldn't be forced to do so.(Of course this may affect their competitive advantage)

The English only policies in schools are a pallative to decreasing competence in the language. The schools are forcing students to speak English without thinking. It may be better for the school administrators to have parrots and mynahs as students since they can talk English with an American or British accent.

This is the policy that has funnt consequences. We end up with heaps of bar flunkers who can't write prose (and the High Court had to lower the pass score!). We end up with doctors who can't write a decent case diagnosis. We have science teachers who can't think scientifically.

Anonymous said...

"The medium of instruction MUST be a written language!"

what the!!!!

medium is not the same as language!

i can use the computer as the MEDIUM of instruction. but the computer is not the LANGUAGE of instruction. a medium therefore does not have to be a written language. in educational research, one has to be careful in the use of this term because even the deaf, mute, and blind can be taught without the use of a written language. the medium therefore makes or breaks the learning.

ang medium ay ang pamamaraan. now i think i have said this definition clearly in the vernacular.

just my 5centavo thought on how common language use can mislead us.