James Soriano and his Language, learning, identity, privilege Manila Bulletin article has been the hottest topic this week. The article has since been pulled down from the MB’s official website. Soriano writes about how he was brought up to talk and think in English. He writes that “Filipino, on the other hand, was always the ‘other’ subject — almost a special subject like PE or Home Economics, except that it was graded the same way as Science, Math, Religion, and English.” Sad but true.
Filipino is not given much importance in a school curriculum. I remember there would be speak-only-and-only-English day in school. If you don’t there would be some sort of punishment. A company where I used to be employed had this too, and you pay 5 or 10 pesos for every Filipino word spoken. The whole exercise was some sort of training for the mastery of the English language and a fund-raising drive.
I particularly like when Soriano writes “Only recently have I begun to grasp Filipino as the language of identity: the language of emotion, experience, and even of learning. And with this comes the realization that I do, in fact, smell worse than a malansang isda. My own language is foreign to me: I speak, think, read and write primarily in English. To borrow the terminology of Fr. Bulatao, I am a split-level Filipino.”
Soriano writes “But perhaps this is not so bad in a society of rotten beef and stinking fish. For while Filipino may be the language of identity, it is the language of the streets. It might have the capacity to be the language of learning, but it is not the language of the learned.“ Emphasis mine.
Filipino is not the language of the learned? And English is? How about the Japanese who only speak Nihonggo and only a trickle of English words? How about the French who only speak French and only a trickle of English words? Does that also mean Nihonggo and French are not language of the learned?
This struck a raw nerve in me. I get pissed when people think they are better than most for the sole reason that they have an impeccable grasp of the English language. Intelligence is not measured by how well you write and speak in English. Gets?
Soriano also writes “It is neither the language of the classroom and the laboratory, nor the language of the boardroom, the court room, or the operating room. It is not the language of privilege. I may be disconnected from my being Filipino, but with a tongue of privilege I will always have my connections.” Emphasis is mine.
Is Soriano emphasizing that English is the language of the bourgeois? Of the moneyed? Of the high class? Is mastery of the English language defines where one belongs in the social class? I guess not.
I strongly suspect Soriano means English is the language of opportunity in the Philippine context. Having a good grasp of the language may give one an advantage when hunting for jobs. Now that most companies have gone global, outsourcing their business to foreign shores like the Philippines, a grasp and not necessarily mastery of English is a must.
But bagging that job is not the recipe for success. Perseverance and dedication and intelligence and, some say, luck are.