Sunday, January 11, 2009

English, true multilinguals and please flush the toilet after use

It also amazes me that like the reinstitution of capital punishment, the Philippine Congress (and the rest of elite Pinoy society) can't settle the language issue. The Philippine Daily Inquirer takes essentially the same position as leading our own language and academics do. The language gurus in the UN and our colleges of education have long known that acquisition of literacy, numeracy and basic science skills in schoolkids are best through the mother tongue.

House bill 5619, the proposed Act Strengthening and Enhancing the Use of English as the Medium of Instruction authored by Cebu Rep. Eduardo Gullas seeks to junk the bilingual policy adopted by the old education department in 1974. While it is patently obvious that English competency has declined precipituously since the Americans left us to run our own education system, the bill may be the wrong band aid for the right problem.

The Marcos regime instituted a bilingual policy that split the teaching of certain subjects in basic education in two languages. The "soft" subjects like social science, humanities, civics, arts, music were to be taught in Tagalog-based Filipino, while the "hard" subjects like science and math were to be taught in English. While the idea seemed to be attractive at the time, it defeats the whole idea of bilingual education where all subjects can be taught in the two languages. Since English then as now is considered as a "prestige language" it was to expected that we end up with a case of semilingualism, in which the acquiring literacy in first language is interrupted and results in essentially the same thing in the second (more usually, prestige language) language. The majority of Pinoys may be considered semilinguals as far as the National and English languages are concerned. They can't achieve the expected monolingual standard.

This is the true irony. Pinoys are inherently multilingual. Pinoys could be functionally multilingual in their regional and national languages. In addition they can be receptively multiulingual in another regional or foreign language. As with the use of English, Pinoys have a spectrum of language abilities from true functional multilingualism to receptive multilingualism.

Since I am a Diliman brat, a completely University of the Philippines education has made me a true functionally multilingual in at least three languages (Tagalog-based Filipino, English, Spanish), receptively multilingual (in different degrees) in German, Japanese and Latin and rather unfortunately just basically receptively multilingual in Cebuano, Hiligaynon, Ilocano and now trying to get a bit of Itawes and Ibanag!

Since I am part of the Pinoy elite as a result UP education, the only difference between me and rest of the masa is that I learned the foreign languages formally. In the rest of the Pinoy society many kabayan learn it by immersion usually on the job. I am learning the regional languages this way since I know not of a formal course in Itawes! So allow me to comment why the Gullas bill is a wrong solution.

I have been travelling all over the planet and the island world we call 'Pinas. Travellers inevitably will have to use the toilet or in Pinoy English "CR". The challenge is to find a clean one especially in regional Philippines. Now one of the triumphs of the Department of Health under Dr Johnny Flavier is fostering a greater consciousness among Pinoys to keep toilets clean. Please flush the toilet after use!

Thus the toilets have signs in English, the regional languages and if you are nearer to Metro Manila, Tagalog-based Filipino. If you are in the toilet of the Piat Basilica in Cagayan you would find the signs in English and Itawes. If you are in the Guimaras Provincial Capitol, you would find the signs in English and Hiligaynon. In Cebu, the signs are in English and Cebuano. In the University of the Philippines Visayas, in English, Hiligaynon and Filipino. In Looc Municipal Hall, Romblon it was in English, Rombloanon and Filipino, In Zamboanga City it was in formal chavacano (not much difference to Castellano) and English.

But in our airports the signs are all in English!

The reader may have noticed that the signs are all in English even if the foreign tourists are rare visitors in some parts. Perhaps nothing shows the language milieu in the country like these signs in the toilets. The signs are in English and the regional language but rarely in Filipino unless you are near Metro Manila.

Dumping English will go against what the people want. The so called "nationalists" are living in a language wonderland if they impose this idea. They should be sent to the toilet! However it reinforces class divisions if English is imposed and taught in a mediocre manner. Since the politicians have noticed declining English competency, they themselves are purveyors of bad English as the Inquirer notes in its editorial. They also should be sent to the toilet!

What we have to face is what we consider as the National Language, Filipino. What should be its role in our identity? The whole idea started with Manuel Quezon's commonwealth which imposed Tagalog as the national language. True it has basis since Tagalog then when the Spanish first heard it spoken and written, was and is the most developed of the Philippine languages. But what has happened to Tagalog since then?

Obviously Tagalog-based Filipino cannot be dumped. More than 80% of Pinoys are true multilinguals in the language. Only a minority are receptively bilingual in the language. What then?

Since the elite run our "democracy" the people are barely considered on what kind and at what level of English competency do they want to learn. The Gullas bill remains another colonial relic imposition, among the many ones Pinoys have to endure.

We have to decide settling the language issue. However if you have flushed a toilet, you would notice that the language settlement will have to include

1) Elevating English beyond its official status
2) Developing and advancing the regional languages
3) Deciding the direction of the National Language or doi away with it

We can make English and Filipino national languages not just official ones. Although some people would blanch at the idea. I think Pinoys are now more cognizant of their regional heritage and cukture that in a way it isn't divisive of national identity but unitive. Number 2 is acceptable to many. As for number 3, we can follow India, it doesn't impose a national language but official ones. It leaves to the states what language they want to use. I think our closest language situation analogue is India. When there were moves to dump English for Hindi alone, the non-Hindi regions rioted. So English remains to be used and despite the language and religious diversity, incredibly India as a national identity and to my opinion an even more functional democracy that we are. So the Indian tourism come on "Incredible India!" is apt.

1 comment:

oli said...

Toilet is rather "declasse"
I prefer lavatory or colloquially (sp ?) "loo"