Why there is no Tagalog word for ‘efficiency’

Lots of people seem to have, at best, a rather shallow understanding of what I mean when I keep harping about the lack of a concept of “efficiency” in the Tagalog dialect. My simple explanation is that the lack of a concept of efficiency native to (or long embedded in) Tagalog reflects the inherent intellectual range of its speakers. Why then is it important for us to understand how language comes to reflect the inherent potential of its speakers to achieve in the modern world? Only when we learn to appreciate the full nature of what hinders our ability to apply knowledge that is otherwise unprecedented in history in its abundance and accessibility can we learn to embrace wholeheartedly the key to our future prosperity — the English language. It begins with acquiring a good grasp of the profound bankruptcy of the Philippine intellectual landscape.

The modern concept of “efficiency” (i.e. in the sense that it is now used for evaluating engineering problems) didn’t really come of age in the English language until the invention of the steam engine when more careful thought began to be put into measuring wastage incurred in the process of converting heat into mechanical energy (which is what engines do). Key point here is that the concept emerged organically in English to reflect the requirements of its speakers — as they advanced technologically. As the ethic of technological achievement blossomed and more devices that turned fuel into useful work were invented, the language grew and evolved to reflect that progression. Societies where that sort of inventiveness became a habit needed a word to describe the fundamental performance metric of these new contraptions — the amount of useful work these delivered given a quantity of energy; in the case of English-speaking societies, the word efficiency came to be used to describe it.

In fact, as more of the nuances of engineering these machines came to be understood and how that understanding also uncovered the scientific and mathematical principles that governed how these machines work — and how well they worked — more words were needed to articulate that understanding so that they may be applied to further scientific and technological advancement.

To go further with our example (bear with me as there is a point to all this), the rise of efficiency to memetic dominance went in parallel with continuous improvements in engine design that made machines more efficient — delivering more work for less fuel. Soon, however, it became apparent to engineers that there was no such thing as a perfectly efficient engine; i.e., one that converted all of the energy it consumed into useful work. Every engine always wasted some of its fuel in the form of heat that it dissipates into its environment.

But then someone came up with the bright idea that energy is neither created nor destroyed (the principle of conservation of energy). This means that the total amount of energy in the universe remains constant. It just gets transformed from one form to another. So scientists then wondered about what happened to all the waste heat dissipated by engines. Because this energy had been dissipated, it can no longer be harnessed for useful work. Here we see, yet again, the emergence of a new notion that required articulation. The term entropy came to be used in the English-speaking subset of the technological world to describe such a notion — the existence of a quantity of something in a closed system that is unuseable or beyond the reach of re-ordering.

And so the English language added efficiency and entropy to its lexicon as a result of what its speakers achieved. It went on to acquire many other words as its speakers expanded their knowledge, technological prowess, and scientific insight. And that growth continues to this day.

The point I wanted to make in that quick look at that tiny cross-section of scientific history that led to the birth of two concepts that are completely outside of the scope of the Tagalog dialect is that the English language came to acquire its conceptual depth and range as a result of the inherent character of its speakers.

So perhaps, as some would argue, communication is efficient when both parties are “comfortable” with the medium over which it is transmitted, and this they use to argue for the continued use of a quaint but impotent language as a medium of education. I agree to some extent. When two Filipinos are exchanging ideas, the exchange is better articulated in Tagalog — a language that most Filipinos are quite comfy with. Trouble is, we have for so long known that Filipinos don’t learn much from fellow Filipinos. For that matter, we rely on foreigners as a source of just about every form of capital our livelihoods rely on — financial capital, intellectual capital, social capital, and cultural capital. Indeed, much of our entire future is hinged upon the prospect of attracting foreign capital to the country. And the medium over which this capital is negotiated, acquired, and exchanged is not Tagalog. Those who have the best shot at acquiring and controlling this capital tend to be the ones who are proficient in the language that it is traded in. That language is English.

Specifically, the knowledge that time and again proves to be useful to support our aspirations to advance in development is knowledge that lies outside the Philippines. This knowledge — technology, modern ways of thinking, and groundbreaking ideas — are all articulated in English. To gain access to this knowledge, we need to be proficient in a language with both the range and depth of capability to represent it. Does the Tagalog dialect fit that criteria? Guess again. The fact is, those who have superior command over the English language will always have an immense advantage over those who aren’t in both acquiring the knowledge to succeed and transacting with those who have capital to invest.

As such, the obvious solution is to equip as many Filipinos as possible with command over a language that has a more complete coverage of important knowledge — the sort that could help Filipinos extricate themselves from that supposedly most pressing of our national issues: chronic poverty.

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Post Author: benign0

benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.