Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Mother Tongue

Somebody commented how hard and how awkward I've been talking in Tagalog with Pam, which jolted me a bit because I did not realize I was already talking in Tagalog, and that was very bad. I've switched again into a strange language instead of sticking it out with my own mother tongue, which is pure Bisaya, oftentimes referred to by the miseducated and the unlettered as a "dialect," instead of a language. But why is it that every time I hear someone talk in that other language imposed upon us by the central government in Manila, a language that is totally alien to me, my mind automatically switch into default mode and I end up talking in a language which I have no control?  I only got to meet Pam inside our office, where she hangs around,  and also as part of the photojournalists' group in Mindanao, where I happened to be the odd one out; and although Pam had somehow gotten used to the language spoken in Bukidnon and Davao after staying here for maybe a couple of years, she still continue to use the tongue she used to grew up with in Binondo.  Colette and I used to talk about this before.  Colette, who left the university life in Manila for an adventure life in Davao (or was it really an adventure, Colette?) used to tell me, albeit secretly, how to intimidate an overbearing Bisaya. She used to revert to her Manila Tagalog in a subtle, almost natural way, and almost unconsciously, the overbearing one would revert into Tagalog, expressing it so badly, she'd end up humiliated and out of control.  How we used to tease C for failing to master Cebuano despite her years of staying here; and how convenient it is for her to suddenly revert to her Mother Tongue to conquer an enemy! As we used say inside Dr. Ceres Pioquinto's class in Silliman U, "language is a power game."  Where in that power game is Cebuano, and what does Tagalog do to keep its dominance?
This was what the awardwinning writer Lakambini Sitoy once said about the English language, the invisibility of Cebuano and the dominance of the so-called national language imposed upon us by the central government in Manila. (By the way, Sitoy, who made this speech in 2001 before a Dane audience, writes her stories in English):"I write in English not for political reasons, not to make a statement, but because this is the only language that I am really good at. Because I grew up in the Visayas, my other language was Cebuano. However, because the central government in Luzon dictated that "Filipino", the national language, be based on Luzon's Tagalog, "Filipino" was always an alien language to me. I learned it through my grammar books in grade school but it was never a valid way to express the way I felt. I only learned Tagalog -- conversational Tagalog -- at age 22, when I moved to Manila. Up to now I cannot speak nor write in formal Tagalog: our educational system puts a premium on English, which was always a ready fall-back. And as for Cebuano, it is invisible, virtually expunged, from the educational system. Quite unfair, since more Filipinos speak it than any other indigenous language. I can speak it, but was never taught the formal rules of spelling, syntax, grammar -- nor were we exposed to exemplary writing in Cebuano while in school."

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