English vs Tagalog: James Soriano owes no one any apologies

Whatever it was said by whoever this James Soriano is, if it is the truth about the utter lack of intellectual tools Tagalog provides its speakers, then no apologies are needed to be given to those who take offense from these words.

A Manila Bulletin column published on August 24 titled “Language, learning, identity, privilege” has gone viral online, garnering mixed reactions from netizens, reports GMA News. The column, written by James Soriano, discusses what he believes are problems with the Filipino language.

Soriano, who was taught to use English at a young age, said that learning Filipino stemmed from practicality. “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.” Though the writer learned to grasp Filipino as the “language of identity,” he maintains that it is not “the language of the learned.” He ended his column by describing that Filipino “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 agree with Soriano 100 percent.

Tagalog is a quaint dialect at best. Perhaps we continue to hang on to it because it gives us that familiar warm fuzzy feeling inside. The reality today is quite stark, however. Tagalog does not deliver. The sooner we as a people come to terms with that reality, the sooner we can move on to tackling much bigger challenges.

Some would argue that perhaps rather than make an issue of the medium of instruction used in our education system, there are more pressing needs to upgrade its impoverished physical facilities — classroom shortages, books, etc. Indeed these are all serious problems. But the bottom line is that every new classroom and every new textbook we deploy into the public education system are assets we need to sweat. We need to optimise their ability to support the delivery of high-quality education so that the system turns out productive and employable Filipinos.

The medium of instruction used in the public education system of the Philippines is therefore an important issue. Education is all about (1) connecting people to useful information and (2) giving them the intellectual and cognitive tools to comprehend and evaluate that information. The fact that we continue to invest precious classroom time delivering instruction in Tagalog — a dialect that achieves very little for its speakers — already begs an obvious solution.


Between the Tagalog dialect and the English language, which one returns more for every peso invested in classroom time used in its instruction?

The active ingredient in this critical decision can be encapsulated in the simple fact of the lack of a Tagalog word for a simple concept with far-reaching implications on our ability to progress — efficiency. What does this tell us? Consider, how there are lots of Tagalog words for something very familiar to Filipinos: rice. We have ‘bigas’, ‘kanin’, ‘sinaing’, and ‘palay’, among others. That’s because rice is an important aspect of Filipino culture and society. The number of words in Tagalog devoted to articulating specific aspects, forms, and natures of this staple reflects its important and significant place in Filipinos’ lives.

So what then would one conclude about the glaring absence of a Tagalog word for efficiency? I think the implications of this fact are quite evident. One just needs to experience the Philippines to validate that implication. Tagalog, the dialect that forms the kernel of our so-called “national language” reflects the degree to which its speakers apply themselves intellectually. If it is incomplete as far as its ability to articulate the complex ideas required to prosper in a complex world such as the one we face today, then that incompleteness reflects the scope of our society’s intellectual landscape.

We therefore need to turn to a language that we are already relatively proficient at that is up to the job.

The poverty of the Philippine school system, is but a component of the broader impoverishment that crushes Philippine society overall at all fronts. Therefore, the more fundamental question is: What is at the very root of this pervasive and profound impoverishment of the Filipino? I believe a key factor at play in our ability to compete in today’s environment is our lack of a tradition of and, as a consequence, a lack of an ethic for efficiency; and, perhaps, many of the other concepts we need to grasp at a profound level to get on the right track.


Post Author: benign0

benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.