I’ve always made the assertion that proficiency in the English language is the Filipino’s ticket to success. Being a good English speaker is the key to upward social mobility in Philippine society where a persistent and deeply-ingrained colonial-mentality continues to imprison the Filipino mind. More importantly, the vast majority of information and knowledge critical to competing in today’s world is documented in English. To limit one’s self to Tagalog or any local Philippine dialect severely limits one’s range of available knowledge to draw upon as there is very little Tagalog-articulated material out there (whether these be books, movies, or television progamming) that nourishes the brain.
What’s more, I believe, English is efficient. You can express a technical or scientific concept in English with half the words that you might require to express it in Tagalog. For that matter, consider the word “efficient” and wonder: Is there a Tagalog word for “efficient”, to begin with?
That Tagalog lacks a direct translation for the word “efficient” says a lot about the character of the people who speak the language. Perhaps efficiency is simply not a part of our “cultural DNA”. And this property is reflected in our language. Unfortunately for us, this could be one of the single biggest factors that is hobbling our efforts to compete globally. I wrote about this possibility extensively in my book…
So while the masses are now able to understand Tagalog language news programs and political talk shows, they still struggle with business, science and technology material expressed in English. Tagalog is like a dog collar donned by Philippine society as a puppy. The puppy is now struggling to grow but the size of the collar remains the same. This puppy has only two choices — (a) remove the collar or (b) suck all its food through a straw. Both alternatives are equally difficult. I’ve never known of a dog that managed to remove its own collar without help. Similarly, I’ve never seen a dog pucker up its lips much less suck anything through a straw.
Yet, the question persists to this day. Should we undertake a massive effort to translate as much of the world’s knowledge as possible into Tagalog? Or should we start engineering massive change in the institutions of Education and Family to impart a culture of speaking English properly and intelligently. Speaking in English is certainly not about speaking it to look cool. Filipinos in the Philippines use English (even as they struggle with it) as an instrument to perpetuate social stratification — as a tool to delineate social class boundaries — the A-crowd with their country club “coño”-speak, the general private-schoolers with their collegiala or “Arrneo” accent, the “jologs” with their SMS-messaging-derived form of spoken and written pidgin English, and the English of movie stars portraying rich Filipinos.
I am conceding, however, that a past experience of mine had challenged the assertion that English is an “efficient” language.
I recall participating in one of those Tagalog-vs-English “debates” in the online message forum Peyups.com where I proposed a kind of a test on the efficiency by which Tagalog can articulate complex concepts by issuing a challenge to translate the following text into Tagalog:
Just because molecular irregularities cause a ballbearing’s radius to vary by nanometers along its surface does not stop us from attributing a spherical quality to it at a macro level.
The performance criteria is simple. Above is a concept articulated in one sentence using 30 words. The challenge is to match that economy of expression using Tagalog while maintaining the clarity, conciseness, and completness (the “three C’s”) of the original message.
One of the forum inhabitants who goes by the handle “bazookabubblegum” came up with a pretty close one:
Dahil ba ang di-pantay na pagkakamulatil na nagdudulot sa pagbabago ng sukat sa lihit ng bolitas sa nanometro ay di ibig sabihin walang kinalaman ito sa anyong pantimbulog sa pangkalahatang antas.
And introduced the following Tagalog words (though I’m not too sure if these are real or made up):
mulatil (mulaang butil) = molecule
lihit = radius
timbulog = sphere
And I thought: At 32 words (missing the mark by only two), Jeez, maybe I may in fact be wrong about Tagalog! So being the strapping sportsman that I am, I decided to take a stab as well. This is what I came up with:
Bagama’t ang pang-molekyular na irregularidad ay sanhi ng pagbabago ng reydyus ng bolbering sa sukat na nanometro ay di sapat na rason na di nating i-regard ang mala-bolang kwalidad nito sa makrong lebel.
My 35-word bid above assures Mr. bazookabubblegum’s record is safe for now. Unless of course some brave soul takes up the challenge to defend the dignity of our beloved Tagalog dialect by coming up with better translations.
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