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Saturday, June 18, 2011



The great English language shift
URBAN PILGRIM By Leslie Lofranco Berbano (The Philippine Star)


You have to hand it to the man.

Manny Pacquiao’s English may be far from impeccable but his punches are immensely articulate. In the ring he neither beats the air nor beats around the bush; every jab is a sure shot and every wallop deadly. Despite being linguistically challenged in English, Pacquiao has no trouble communicating his lethal intentions to a global audience. Indeed, by being clear-minded about his goals, he has risen from his origins as a two-bit boxer slugging along in provincial backwaters to become an international celebrity whose athletic prowess ranks among the very best in boxing history.

As a congressman, he’s pitting himself in an arena where the silver tongue wields as much might as the strong arm (of politicians, that is)  a prospect I find intriguing in relation to its repercussions on the English language. Pacquiao chose to deliver his first privilege speech in English, which, in his inimitable style, happens to be heavily accented BisayĆ¢English. He can, of course, opt to speak in Filipino or Cebuano and thus be freer to express his (many substantial) plans for his constituents, but that might turn him into a serious lawmaker quite inappropriate for Congress (as critics are wont to wisecrack). For now, the novelty of Pacquiao the champion-boxer-turned-Inglisero-congressman runs high as shown by the resounding applause he received from his fellow legislators  they being avid Pacman fans themselves  when he invited them to get “rridi to rrambol!”

Pacquiao has appropriated Michael Buffer’s famous catchphrase and stamped on it a uniquely Filipino trademark with his accent. Will such Pacquiaoisms eventually slide over into Philippine English? Language being sensitive to pomp and circumstance, the influence of prominent personalities who have enough social and cultural capital, or power and status to dictate trends can certainly shape the direction of a language. Of course, some expressions are so obviously blunderous (now, is there such a word?) as to be outrageously hilarious. Janina San Miguel, the erstwhile Bb. Pilipinas-Universe of 2008, claimed to be overjoyed at being included among the “Tough Ten” candidates. Well! In that case, she’d be all beauty and brawn, wouldn’t she?

Obviously not everything that gains popularity or notoriety becomes a legitimate part of a language  which raises the question of standards, to which we shall return shortly. World Englishes (or WE in linguistspeak) are by nature accommodating and resilient. As discussed earlier, the term refers to varieties of English that have developed in former colonies of England or the United States through the assimilation of local idioms and conventions. Philippine English, a variety of World Englishes, is chockfull of Filipinized expressions influenced by the vocabulary or syntax of native languages, chief of which is Tagalog. A common example is the use of the Tagalog word “na” oftentimes appended to an English sentence in place of the present perfect tense to mean an action already performed, as in: “I did the work na” meaning “I’ve done the job.” Add “eh” and you may inject a bit of impatience into your tone, as in: “I did the worknaeh” meaning “I’ve done the job, what more do you want? Kulit!” The word is sometimes substituted with “already,” as in: “I did the work already!” Come to think of it, it’s a much-abused word already, but what the heck, this is Philippine English, folks!

In the Access conference mentioned previously, Dr. Judy Ick, UP professor of English and expert on Shakespeare and feminist literature, recounted the history of English in the Philippines and, in view of our native appropriation of English, asked whether it was not more accurate to refer to Philippine literature in English as “literature in Philippine English.” According to her, English on our shores first started as a language of conflict, after which it quickly developed into a language of civilization (or colonization) as the Americans implemented their programs of “benevolent assimilation,” until finally it evolved into its current nativized form as Philippine English  which is English that’s neither purely American nor British but resplendently Filipino.

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