Language: Tools Of The Trade

I have always been fluent in English. You can say I grew up with the language.

When I was in high school, people around me seemed to be so enchanted by the English language. There were those who seemed impressed by the way I spoke English while there were those who hated me for the same reason. Of course, growing up in the 80’s, most of the cartoon shows I got to watch were in English, further sharpening what knowledge I had in it. It was in fact the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles who taught me the words “unstable DNA” and it was the Transformers who taught me the meaning of the word “cosmic”. It was only in college that I learned that not everyone was skilled in English and that there are actually people who get offended when you use it around them. It was actually around then that I started hearing people saying that their noses bled when I spoke English around them (to be honest though, I actually thought they were trying to imply I was hot because nasty anime characters tend to get nosebleeds when they see something sexy or nasty going on).

english_languageAnyway, what baffles me to this day is just how many Filipinos treat the language. While English is considered a national language along with reliable old “Tagalog” which many insist should be called “Filipino”, there are a lot of people who demand that English be removed from the school curriculum and that all forms of media be translated to “Filipino”. This, despite the fact that knowing how to speak English fluently has always been the strong point of Filipinos and is one of the things that has helped us keep up with the global community.

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On the other hand though, there are a lot of people who have a different view of the English language altogether. Some people, usually the more elite (or people who think they’re elite), use English as a symbol of their self-proclaimed “superiority”. It’s not at all that different from the way Russian aristocracy once used French in their language, to make themselves seem more superior than the peasants they ruled over. These are people who consciously try to speak English without an accent or add as much American or British in the way they talk so people will be impressed with their alleged “fluency”. I am willing to admit though that during my earlier years, thanks to my grandfather’s influence, I did carry a bit of Appalachian accent which I thankfully mostly lost in college.

Well then, for both sides of the argument, let me clarify something for you. English is a language of trade. I mean sure, not everyone uses it for business, but most major businesses have English as a language option. I’m not really sure, but I doubt majority of video games being manufactured today have a Swahili, Inuit, Esperanto or Filipino voice over. English is right up there with Spanish and Chinese when it comes to being the most frequently spoken language in the world and is used as an official language by the European Union and the United Nations.

On he whole though, I’ll go back to what I said earlier: English is a language of trade. To put things into perspective, let’s discuss a little history…

English evolved from the German language, so it’s actually related to languages like Dutch, Afrikaans and Yiddish. As its name implies, it is a language originally used by the people of England and goes back as far as the Roman Age, when centurions marched across the plains of Britain. English shares some similarity with Latin as well, implying that it is actually a “child” language of both German and Latin, just as Afrikaans is the child of Dutch, English, German and African dialects (excuse me, my nose is bleeding). Anyway, one can imagine that English got its beginnings when the Romans wanted to trade with Germans and Celtics.

Case in Point:

German Barbarian: Was Denn?
Scottish Celtic: Chan eil mi ‘gad thuigsinn.
Roman Centurion: R
epetere placet.
Scottish Celtic: Hey, let’s just speak English guys, this isn’t getting us anywhere.
German Barbarian: Okay, that’s better.
Roman Centurion: So what were you guys saying?
Scottish Celtic: I was saying something about getting tickets for the Colosseum for me and my family.
German Barbarian: And I was looking to sign up for a fight there.
Roman Centurion: Well gentlemen, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve even got a promo for this year: kids can watch for free as long as they’re accompanied by their parents. It’s more fun to watch people’s limbs get hacked off when you’ve got your family with you.
Scottish Celtic: That sounds like a sweet deal.
Roman Centurion: And that’s not all, we’ll also be selling mugs and t-shirts printed with the face of and signed by the Caesar himself!
German Barbarian: Will I get to meet Caesar if I win?
Roman Centurion: Not only that. We’ll throw in your own mansion somewhere in Rome and a slave of your own choosing to boot!
German Barbarian: COOL!

As it is with Taglish (which is the unruly child of English and “Filipino”), English came together as more Germans, Romans and Celtics made contact with each other, traded, intermarried, warred, became friends, warred again, established a peaceful organization that they can ignore together, warred again, ad infinitum. It’s usually how languages evolve in the first place.

Now, back to the present. The English language might not be all that superior to other languages at all. In fact, from my perspective at least, it seems a lot simpler than traditional “Filipino”. However, no matter how you view it, most foreign media (save for dramas from Latin America and South Korea), instruction manuals and modern businesses will have English as a primary language. While Filipinos do speak very good English at best and can at least understand its basic meaning at worst, its sad to say that there are a misguided few who still seek to remove it from our schools because of the perceived notion of “American Imperialism”.

Stephen King once compared language vocabulary to a toolbox. While Tagalog, or “Filipino” if you insist, is interesting in and of itself, it is only a minority language of the world. Sure, it might be prevalent where there are a lot of Filipinos, but I’m sure that not many foreigners will even bother with it unless Filipinos are included in some kind of international event. And even then, they’re still likely to use English for us anyway because we are known for its use.

Unfortunately, as the country continues to fall deeper into poverty and our youth get dumber in each generation, it seems that even our skills with the English language will wane over time. Heck, translated films are already being aired by local channels on a regular basis and that most people of the present generation treat English like Enochian. It saddens me to note that in the time of my parents and grandparents, Spanish and Chinese (both of which are probably two of the most widely spoken languages in the world) were still taught in schools but are now all but forgotten by today’s air-headed youth. Is it only a matter of time before English too is forgotten?

Children of today, please take note: English is not Enochian. No, it isn’t supposed to summon eldrtich abominations (I was summoned into your dimension using an Ilokano incantation) and it’s not supposed to make your nose bleed (my manliness and sex appeal will do that). So please, English might be one of the few things that’s keeping us competent from a global perspective, so let’s work to keep it in place.

31 Replies to “Language: Tools Of The Trade”

  1. The author said “English evolved from the German language,”

    That is incorrect. German and English are sister languages that evolved at the same time in different places and are both descended from a common language called either ‘Anglo-Saxon’ or ‘Old English’. Despite being called Old English it is very different from modern English and German so that modern people can’t understand it, yet much of both English and German is based on it. It is as difficult for a modern English speaker to understand Anglo-Saxon as it is for him to understand High German.

    1. Well, sorry for the inaccuracy then, it seems I need to update my sources. At least you went through the trouble to look it up in history. That’s better than uneducated trolling.

      1. I agree, your portrayal of the evolution of English is extremely misleading and incorrect. The original “Anglish” speakers were the Angles (as in “Anglo-Saxon”) and they lives in an area north of Belgium on the continent, only migrating to the British isles after the Roman empire fell and Europe was gripped by chaos and being overrun by the Hun’s. English is most heavily influenced by French, not Latin, due to the overlordship of the Normans after William the Conqueror invaded in 1066. Granted, French evolved from Latin in the first place but there was no direct contact between classical Latin and old English. It was a certain that the Celtic-speaking Britons that the Romans conquered would have had to speak classical Latin if the ever wanted to approach the centurions. English has also evolved dramatically since it even arrived in Britain, just try reading the original Beowulf. Your article is cute but it utterly butchers history. I recommend as future sources ‘The Power of Babel’ by John McWhorter and the documentary ” The Story of English” by the BBC

  2. Nice article there, though I just want to explain how English really came about, for the sake of accuracy.

    English is actually the product conquest and being conquered.

    During the Roman time, English wasn’t originally spoken in the British Isles. The British Isles were originally settled by Celts: Gaelic, Welsh and Pictish speakers and Latin by the Roman Conquerors. The Germanic speakers who would go on to speak English were still in Germania–a land of “Grimm Walds” (pun intended), where the Romans dare not venture–the memory of the lost legions, victims of “der schlact im Teutoburger Wald” was still fresh.

    During the twilight years of the Roman Empire, the Germanic tribes started running roughshod over the empire: Ostrogoths, Visigoths and Vandals terrorized the continental Roman Empire. Northern tribes, Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Frisians on the other hand, left the Germanic homeland in search of some lebensraum on the backwater Roman colony on the British Isles. The subsequent conflict between the Celts and the Germanic tribes are best dramatized in the 2004 film, King Arthur.

    Old English was pretty intelligible with the old Saxon and old Frisian spoken in the mainland. Indeed, the English language’s closest living relatives is Frisian spoken in the Netherlands and Low German (Saxon). Over the years though, old words and old conjugations for words were lost resulting in a language that seems totally different from the ancient Theod Cynings. The major foreign influences on the English language were:

    1. Old Norse, another Germanic language, spoken by the Norsemen in what is now Denmark and Norway. The Germanic tribes were always a warlike people you see, always out looking for more lebensraum, the Vikings came in rampaging on the Eastern and Northern parts of the British Isles such that the Anglo-Saxons sued for peace and gave them. From Old Norse, the English language lost much of the complicated Germanic grammar.

    2. Norman French spoken by the Frenchified Norsemen in Normandy. Sound like a tongue twister? Haha. These were actually Vikings who settled in the North of France (lebensraum again?) and decided to speak French instead of Norse. From this language, the English expanded their vocabulary. The Norman conquerors eventually became the elite of English society, like the Russians, the English tried to speak French in order to be better identified with the elite. A sort of pidgin higher register evolved from this. We see this today, when one tries to sound well educated, he’d say “Cordial Reception” which uses French words, but if he wanted to sound more down to earth, he’d say “Hearty Welcome” which uses Germanic words.

    3. Latin and Greek. These were the source languages for technical vocabulary. To some extent, the highly creative and colorful Germanic way of compounding words were lost (example is the Greek-derived word “Hydrogen” which the Germans call “Wasserstoff” which if literally translated into English means “Water-stuff”), but the use of Latin was able to give English some flexibility and mobility in the then-latin academic and scientific world.

    4. Celtic. No, Celtic was never a big influence on English. The Celts were always seen as a lesser tribe. The Anglo-Saxons had a name for them, “Wilas” which meant both foreigner and slave.

    Throughout most of its its existence, the English language struggled with its Volkish roots. Academics were never sure if it could supplant French or Latin, but it did. The result however makes it unrecognizable to the speaker of Old English or even Modern day German or Scandinavian except in the simplest of sentences. Will Filipino ever follow this path? I’m confident it could, but people should not expect it to stay in the same form that it is in today.

  3. The question is, are Filipinos backsliding on English? Is our capability to speak the language declining or suffering for some reason? Are we improving and getting better through the years or we need to do more that those demanding its removal from school curriculum are simply wrong?

    1. I only know that in Mindanao, my wife’s generation grew up with English as the language of instruction in school, but now our nephews and nieces are being taught in local Bisaya, and English is relegated to English classes.

    2. As a teacher who teaches the use of the english language, Definitely.

      To answer part of your question, sometime around 2000 and beyond, the local politicians are ti blame. In an attempt to strengthen “National Identity” they flat out removed English in early school curriculum, made most of the schoolbooks that used to be English into tagalog.

      The other half was because most Filipinos have no reason to learn English. Compare and contrast the 90s and today.

      As someone who grew up in the 90s, the books, the news, most of the TV shows, movies, cartoons and anime are in English. The only time you see or hear Tagalog was in Philippine TV shows, Telenovelas, Movies, literatura and of course, Comiks. Basically, you learn or you are left out.

      Nowadays, its the exact opposite. Everything is tagalog. Even the movies and cartoons imported from the US are now tagalized!

      The only time you will see English programming in the local tv are the news and advertisements.

      And knowing kids, they would prefer the former. Because at least that is entertaining.

      Is it any wonder why English is declining in the Philippines?

      1. Subtitling foreign movies and TV rather than dubbing makes a huge difference. When I was travelling, I noticed that Swedish people tended to be particularly fluent in English compared to many other Europeans, and I learned that they don’t use dubbing.

  4. @ Grimwald

    Where in the world was that place you said people were “enchanted” when you spoke the English language? I thought every cave in the world have been explored and discovered?

    This essay is more about you more than what it is about where Filipinos might want to see the English language in the years to come. I say, Filipinos can let the language wither away or abolish its usage completely or make it a lifestyle language like the Taglish. Language acquisition is a skill so why waste time learning a second language when Filipinos have not mastered their own language. The Chinese, the Japanese, the Germans, the Russians and 75% of the world don’t use the English language anyway so why keep it instead of developing the Filipino language.

    1. To answer your question, I went to college in Olongapo City, a place that should be known for good English.

      We could abolish it but then, what would become of us? You’re right, no other country uses it that much but I think it should be part of us. Spanish and Chinese were once studied languages which was a sign of a globalized mindset.

      But now… I don’t even know if Pinoys know a world beyond our islands…

    2. Simple. Is Philippines a world power like the Germans, Japanese, Russians, and Chinese you’ve mentioned? Is Tagalog a sought after global language that will improve the skill-set of the world’s people to effectively communicate in business and trading?

  5. English is the language of Modern Technology. I have yet to attend a Scientific/Technical Seminar, with the Speaker, speaking in Pilipino.

    In some Technical people meetings, I have not heard a Technical person, describing his/her work in Pilipino. We communicate in English, and we can understand each other. Even though, we are from different countries.

    I am very lucky to learn English, and several other languages…it is a Plus on my resume…

  6. @ Hyden004Toro

    When the former USSR launched the Sputnik to circle around the earth, it was hailed the greatest accomplishment of mankind in the 20th century. The Russians used their own language, not English.

    In the United Nations auto translator devices are used both by English speaking and non-English speaking diplomats.

  7. Limit your world to media that exclusively uses Tagalog. News, reading, TV, movies. I have no idea who in their right might will come out smarter. Yet we know people who have done that for decades of their lives. That is the reality for the majority of this nation. Somebody remind me again why am I supposed to be proud to be pinoy.

    1. Are you telling us that English is the better language than our own language. That Filipinos are dumb because our media patronize Tagalog/Filipino as their medium?

      This article is all about English as a tool to keep us competitive globally and not as the better language.

      1. This is not about the better language. That’s a valid test Gogs calls for. What if we limit our material to certain languages. What opens/closes us to more opportunities? I believe the answer will be obvious.

  8. ENGLISH is best for global external application, but internally, FILIPINO, in a fragmented archipelago just like ours, aims to unite our people. The Philippines is not only Manila or Cebu or Davao alone for one. A National Language is a socio-cultural, historical thing. It’s our IDENTITY as a people!

    Language, more than anything, is a tool of communication. It’s suppose to be The TIE THAT BINDS…a Nation! UNITY through Language, that promotes Understanding and Cooperation, is PROGRESS!

    Chairman Mao, ideology aside, will have a hard time unifying an immensely huge country like China if not for unifying power of their language! Japan and Korea patronize their own more than others because they are united by their own language. You see, it really is cultural!

    I totally agree with the statement that “…knowing how to speak English fluently has always been the strong point of Filipinos and is one of the things that has helped us keep up with the global community.” It’s a GOOD Thing!

    However it becomes BAD, if “Some people, usually the more elite (or people who think they’re elite), use English as a symbol of their self-proclaimed “superiority”. As one GRP lady writer declared “Good English is an effective tool for intimidation in the Philippines.” It is SNOBBISH and it is DIVISIVE! That’s why we tend to be more Regionalistic rather than Nationalistic. Promotes Kanya-Kanya Atitude!

    Although ENGLISH will definitely have to stay and be learned alongside ours, there really is a need for a true NATIONAL FILIPINO LANGUAGE if only for the reasons stated above!

  9. @LA702:

    German Nazi Technology was the first to send a man made object to enter the fringes of Outer Space.

    It was not the “Sputnik” program of the Soviet Union.

    During the impending defeat of Nazi Germany, in World War II:

    The top German Nazi Rocket Scientist: Dr. Wernher Von Braun and his 100 key personnel, surrendered to the U.S. They came to America to launch the NASA Space program, as well as the ICBM program.

    The British got the :
    (1) Me-168B Rocket Interceptor, and the Me-262 Jet Fighter.

    (2) It got also the hydrogen peroxide and hydrazine hydrate Rocket Engine, along with the Axial Flow Tubojets.

    The Soviet Union got the Whole Nazi Germany V2 Rocket manufacturing facilities; and shipped them to Soviet Union. Along with some German Nazi Scientists.

    It was not the Soviet Union, speaking Russian, who developed the Space Rocket program…

    In the Philippines, we don’t have any Rocket Program, that sends “satellites” to outer Space. We have a good “RACKET Program”, in the form of DAP, PDAF, AND Pork Barrels. It sends money stolen from the National Treasury to foreign Banks.

    If you want to further your education in the U.S.; you must learn English. You have to pass the: Test on English as Foreign Language (TOEFEL), before you will be admitted to any American University.

    If you apply to any U.S. Corporation. You have to speak and write English, before they can give you a job.

    Now, put your “Pinoy Pride” or “nationalism” in your pocket. You cannot EAT them. Learn English and other foreign languages, if you want to succeed in the international job market…

    1. The Philippines is already massively disadvantaged by protectionist trade policies that prevent modern technology from reaching the people who need it. If nobody can speak (or read) English properly, they’re also cut off from knowledge about that technology, so the Philippines can’t even develop local equivalents. Assuming they could be bothered. And assuming there were anyone smart and educated enough to do so. Thus the Philippines will wallow forever in the stone age.

      Of course, that might be precisely what the politicians intend. People who are uneducated have no means to learn anything about the outside world are more likely to be contented with their country’s “racket programme”.

    2. @ Hyden0011Toro

      Wernher Von Braun’s fascination to conquer space was a deep seated belief that their people was descended from Mars. His “Bell Project” launched successfully into space a few years prior to Nazi Germany’s defeat but never to be seen again. Reports also of Von Braun’s successful landing on Mars. There’s a lot to discuss about black project operations but this is not the right forum…my other lap top had been shot down, so I’m being defensive now.

      The “Sputnik” became what was officially known as the start of space race between the US and the former USSR.

      My rental property in Los Angeles was once rented by foreign students from India. They got into a US university without TOEFL, IELTS or SAT. @ Hyden0011Toro, whatever little knowledge you have, keep it to yourself and your family, OK. Not with me my man.

      1. LA702:

        It was that way, I was accepted in the American University. Maybe, your friends were special cases. Your property in LA is out of question.
        You can read some books and see some film, after Nazi Germany was defeated.. ithey are there. Von Braun is the best Rocket Scientist, during that time. UFO or no UFO…it is out of the topic. My little knowledge is out of the topic ,also…I’m just stating what i’ve read and what i’ve learned from my German co-workers. Their parents came here in the U.S., with Von Braun…and they have PHDs…

        1. You can also read the Peenemunde Rocket Research Center of Nazi Germany. It was headed, by Dr. Werhner Von Braun…they designed and successfully launched there the Nazi Germany , Vengeance Rocket (V1 & V2)…this rocket was copied by Soviet Union in launching their Sputnik project.

          V2 Rockets devastated London, during World War II. The Soviet “Scud Missile” has the same design as this V2 Rocket…

  10. The TurboJet Engine was developed by the British Scientist: Frank Whittle; and the German Scientist: Hans Von Ohain..

    It was developed during the late 1930s.
    The TurboJet Engine uses Gas Turbine with Propelling Nozzles…it is now obsolete…

  11. Language is my whore, my mistress, my wife, my pen-friend, my check-out girl. Language is a complimentary moist lemon-scented cleansing square or handy freshen-up wipette. Language is the breath of God, the dew on a fresh apple, it’s the soft rain of dust that falls into a shaft of morning sun when you pull from an old bookshelf a forgotten volume of erotic diaries; language is the faint scent of urine on a pair of boxer shorts, it’s a half-remembered childhood birthday party, a creak on the stair, a spluttering match held to a frosted pane, the warm wet, trusting touch of a leaking nappy, the hulk of a charred Panzer, the underside of a granite boulder, the first downy growth on the upper lip of a Mediterranean girl, cobwebs long since overrun by an old Wellington boot.

  12. As someone who lives in America and has been here all of her life, it hurts me to read that Filipino is not a tool. It is most definitely a tool! It is a tool in maintaining our culture, individuality, and nation. It is painful to see others feel disadvantageous knowing and developing Filipino, when I yearn to embrace it and know it as its fullest.

    Although I do agree that English is highly important in maintaining our global relations, it is also important to support our own language(s). Filipino, and its many dialects, is such a big part of our culture and to see it as something unprofessional and hindering our world perspectives hurts the preservation of our culture. Filipino is a source of power, for us in our nation and in our people. I feel like this article was degrading its importance, and glorifying English instead. People forget that the spread of English primarily started from imperialism and colonialism. Language = heightened communication = power. English and its distributors oppressed so many people, cultures, and nations. English is important, but the preservation and use of Filipino is just as important.

  13. Like the previous person stated, it is truly saddening how some people are disparaging the Filipino language, and to know that some of them are actually our “kababayan”.

  14. One of the many things that always bothered me was the Filipino language. The so called “patriots” and “nationalists” always lamented the lack of love for the Filipino language. What exactly is this country’s language?

    Important documents cite “Filipino” as the language that binds us. Really? It’s nothing more than a sorry result of Tagalog raping all the other dialects. Yes, there are inclusions of Ilocano, Waray and whatnot, but I don’t here or even read those words in a consistent enough period to merit practical status.

    I don’t that “Filipino” is the proverbial One Ring, the language that binds all. Every time I hear ubernationalist cry “Filipino! Filipino! Filipino!” I can’t help but think that other dialects are being undermined.

    Please don’t think that I’m a Tagalog-hater. I once wrote a piece about the Revolution in Tagalog for a project and I have to say that it was fantastic. Those repetitive syllables, smooth semantics and romantic words was a fun experience, and given for a lad who watched, played and read virtually nothing from mainstream Filipino media, it was a pretty fantastic piece.

    To me, the languages I know is a projection of my personality. This is also why I hate people who think that one is a good Filipino if he only speaks Filipino. Let the dead brand me as rotten fish, I use what language I want (which mostly ends up as English because fuck Pangako sa Forevermore Eat showtime bullshit). Saying that one is a deficient citizen because he doesn’t like the “national” language is just bigotry.

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