ON IDENTITY PLAGUES:
Colonizing the Colonizer’s Language
A Critique Paper on Pinoy English and Internationalism
by Cheeno Marlo Sayuno
That every language has its own identity is one thing; the matter of whose identity is being represented by a language is another.
Filipino as a language, for instance, represents the identity of Filipinos, i.e., how we communicate and the variations that we use, from the basis of location and vernaculars to the changes brought about by the passing of time, in order for us to be able to convey our messages to our intended receivers in daily communication and vice versa. Not only does our language represent our communication skills but it also mirrors our culture and traditions, further contributing in representing our identity as a nation.
However, with how history has become witness and proof of the changes that are too inevitable to avoid, our language, along with our culture and ways of living, among others, has joined the flow of radical change. From this sprouts the question of our language’s identity. The English language, in particular, due to the American’s introduction of a system of education during their invasion and supposed aid in preparing us to be a republic country, has largely affected the Filipino language and the preference of the Filipinos as to which language to use.
Filipinos and Anti-Filipino Filipinos
R. Kwan Laurel, author of Philippine Cultural Disasters, discussed in his book the debate on language issues particularly in the Philippine Literature. In his discussion on Pinoy English and Internationalism, he furthered that the American English has become the touchstone of the Philippine English and that not everybody agrees that this should stay like this forever.
Filipino authors back in the days of yore would argue that Filipino, as our language, should be rightfully used in the Philippine Literature. The problem with using English as a medium is that it takes away the Philippine feel in our literature. A lot of Filipino names, words, expression, and idioms cannot be directly translated in English, and in the process of translation, both the meaning and the impact are compromised. Even Filipino humor, when translated to English, will not be as entertaining as it is in the original.
Also, one of the reasons that Filipinos are not very enthusiastic with reading as an activity is because most Filipino writers would write in English. Not every Filipino is gifted with the mastery of the language. From novels and text books written in English to blog posts and write-ups in the Internet, the Filipino community is generally more attracted to reading those written in Filipino. Seeing evidences of representations of ideas around them all written in a language not very common to them, they tend to reject reading even more. Thus, the use of Filipino in literature was encouraged.
For sure, the Filipino language has its identity. Nowadays, it would rather be carabao English, yaya-to-amo English, conio English, and the like, although there are academic forms as well. But then, Filipino in its authentic form, in its own identity, in a representation of an identity not identified in relation to other identities, is diminished, if not lost.
On the other hand, others would rather embrace the English language instead of eradicating it. Aside from English being a global language, it is not just a matter of language issues but, on a greater perspective, of economic survival and finding a niche in the global arena. We cannot deny that English is indeed the language of the prestige, and if Filipinos would like to have that prestige, we should grab the opportunity while it is there.
However, the tendency is that most writers would instead use English not to uplift the Filipino identity but to become anti-Filipino. This plague of losing the spirit of our being citizens of the Philippines is not new, as the rejection of our own discourse comes along the rejection of our culture in favor of Western societal ideologies. Instead of using the English language to our advantage, we ruin our name and reject our being part of this nation.
Just because we are embracing the English language does not necessarily mean that we will forget the language of our own. Since the Filipino language has been entwining itself to the English language, it resulted to a language that has its own identity—Philippine English.
Philippine English and its Inherited Power
One’s language is a way of representing one’s society. From conversational language to literature, the society is being pictured out using a language. With this, the fear of most Filipino writers is that, in using English in literature, our culture and identity may be subject to misrepresentation, the very reason why they do not approve of the further use of English in the Philippine literary context.
Also, using the English language is emblematic to our approval of being an eternal colony of the United States. We continually feed the colonial way of thinking of these imperialist and it is our way of giving them more power over us than they already have. Our government is forever dependent on them; moreover, we let them take away from us what more we have to call as our identity.
But then, at one point, hyper-representation exists. We consider that the use of the English language symbolizes our bowing down to them, where, in fact, it will always be up to how we use the said language. Any form of discourse will depend on how we use it. Even in pragmatics and ethnography, it is not the mastery of mechanical forms that makes a language powerful but how we put them into good use, that is, in our favor. The functional equivalence of a discourse is important. Shall we use the English language to overthrow our own?
The fact that Philippine English has been bestowed the power of the globally used English language is already an advantage to us. We just have to put it into good use.
Responsibility within Power
In undergoing the process on intellectualization, it is but high time that we build a body of scholarly works using the Philippine English language. Of course, we should not let the Filipino language die just like that. These two languages can coexist. We can use the English language but we should not use it against our own language. At the same time, Filipino writers should still be given their fair share of the arena. They should still be encouraged to write in Filipino and they should be promoted as well.
We could use the English language in showcasing our identity as that Pearl in the Orient Seas. We could use English to improve the language of our own and our ability to communicate to the world our culture and heritage. We could use the power of the English language in portraying ourselves not only in literature but in other aspects so that the world will learn of the richness of our country in various fields. We could use this language in entering into the battlefield of globalization and fitting into a warfare of cultures as the Philippines and not as some country whose people just happens to use the English language.
Filipinos should take the role of representing the Philippines, and for the rest of the world to understand them and for them to belong under the same group who uses discourse as a tool to effectively communicate, the English language should be used in promoting the Philippines and the identity that is truly its own.