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James Soriano’s column: ‘Filipino is language of the streets’

The original column written by James Soriano, entitled “Language, learning, identity, privilege” which appeared in the Manila Bulletin on August 24 has already been removed from the newspaper’s website.

Below is a reprint of the column as posted on that site.

In the controversial piece, Soriano branded the Filipino language as the “language of the streets.” He concludes by saying that Filipino “might have the capacity to be the language of learning, but it is not the language of the learned.”


Language, learning, identity, privilege

August 24, 2011, 4:06am

MANILA, Philippines — English is the language of learning. I’ve known this since before I could go to school. As a toddler, my first study materials were a set of flash cards that my mother used to teach me the English alphabet.

My mother made home conducive to learning English: all my storybooks and coloring books were in English, and so were the cartoons I watched and the music I listened to. She required me to speak English at home. She even hired tutors to help me learn to read and write in English.

In school I learned to think in English. We used English to learn about numbers, equations and variables. With it we learned about observation and inference, the moon and the stars, monsoons and photosynthesis. With it we learned about shapes and colors, about meter and rhythm. I learned about God in English, and I prayed to Him in English.

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. My classmates and I used to complain about Filipino all the time. Filipino was a chore, like washing the dishes; it was not the language of learning. It was the language we used to speak to the people who washed our dishes.

We used to think learning Filipino was important because it was practical: Filipino was the language of the world outside the classroom. It was the language of the streets: it was how you spoke to the tindera when you went to the tindahan, what you used to tell your katulong that you had an utos, and how you texted manong when you needed “sundo na.”

These skills were required to survive in the outside world, because we are forced to relate with the tinderas and the manongs and the katulongs of this world. If we wanted to communicate to these people — or otherwise avoid being mugged on the jeepney — we needed to learn Filipino.

That being said though, I was proud of my proficiency with the language. Filipino was the language I used to speak with my cousins and uncles and grandparents in the province, so I never had much trouble reciting.

It was the reading and writing that was tedious and difficult. I spoke Filipino, but only when I was in a different world like the streets or the province; it did not come naturally to me. English was more natural; I read, wrote and thought in English. And so, in much of the same way that I learned German later on, I learned Filipino in terms of English. In this way I survived Filipino in high school, albeit with too many sentences that had the preposition ‘ay.’

It was really only in university that I began to grasp Filipino in terms of language and not just dialect. Filipino was not merely a peculiar variety of language, derived and continuously borrowing from the English and Spanish alphabets; it was its own system, with its own grammar, semantics, sounds, even symbols.

But more significantly, it was its own way of reading, writing, and thinking. There are ideas and concepts unique to Filipino that can never be translated into another. Try translating bayanihan, tagay, kilig or diskarte.

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.

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.

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.

So I have my education to thank for making English my mother language.


Our opinion on James Soriano’s column

The Manila Bulletin piece touched a sensitive nerve among Filipinos who, appropriately enough, are celebrating the “Buwan ng Wika” this August.

In his column, Soriano ranted and described his use of the Filipino language as practical because, according to him, he is “forced” to use this language when dealing with the “tinderas and the manongs and the katulongs of this world.”

I will not rage against Soriano. I pity him instead for having been raised that way. Blame should be made on his parents and the environment that nurtured his arrogance and naivete. Soriano’s mindset stems from an elitist society that looks down on people who speak Filipino and parents who require their children to use only English at home.

What’s sadder and more alarming is that millions more Filipinos are starting to embrace this elitist belief. Sosyal ka ‘pag ang anak mo, fluent sa English kahit 5 years old pa lang. Cheap ka ‘pag mali-mali ang grammar mo sa English. Sa Pilipinas, mga katulong, driver, yaya, at tindera lang ang nagpi-Filipino.

There’s nothing wrong with learning a foreign language but to actually downgrade and avoid the use of our native language — here in the Philippines by Filipinos themselves — is absolutely lamentable.

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318 thoughts on “James Soriano’s column: ‘Filipino is language of the streets’”

  1. test gscraper says:

    whole of the UK but of course most of our work is in London .

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