Monday, August 07, 2006


Filipino Librarian has a very interesting post about the remarks delivered by Manuel L. Quezon at San Juan de Letran Alumni Annual Banquet in Intramuros, Manila, on November 7, 1937.

In it, Quezon urged the Filipinos to establish a common national language based on one of the native dialects. He claimed that a country without a unified language is deprived of a national soul. And without a national soul there can be no genuine national pride.

He also expressed his embarrassment and frustrations for his inability to communicate directly with the Philippine people: “Did you ever hear of anything more humiliating, more horrible than that? I am all right when I go to the Tagalog provinces, because I can speak to the people there in the vernacular, in Tagalog. But if I go to Ilocos Sur, I am already a stranger in my own country, I, the President of the Philippines! I, a stranger in my own country! How can I tell the people what I think and feel when in order to do so I need an interpreter who, in the majority of cases, says what he wants to say and not what I have said? That happens, because sometimes the interpreter, either because he has not understood me or because he cannot think of words in the vernacular expressing what I have said, says whatever occurs to him. How often have I not said to some one interpreting for me into Visayan or Bicol: You are not saying what I have said?”

This took place about 69 years ago and now that we’re in the new millennium, I assumed that Tagalog is presently the defacto medium of communication amongst our entire populace; that is, until I met a Visayan friend for lunch last week. He brought along his nephew who recently graduated from college. Much to my surprise, this young man hardly spoke any Tagalog. My friend told me that our national language is rarely spoken at his home town and this young man has to first brush up on his Tagalog before applying for a job in Manila.

As for my family history, my mother is from Bicol who as a youngster spoke the local dialect, Spanish and English. When she was sent to Manila to study at St. Rita’s College and later met and married my father from Zambales, she had to converse with him and his family in English until she became fluent in Tagalog.

My father was fluent in Ilocano, Tagalog and English; however, he had that very pronounced Ilocano accent in his speech. He also learned some Zambal from his father who had close ties with the Magsaysays. When Ramon became president, my grandfather was given the job to represent the interests of the Aetas and Negritoes who were once driven to the hinterlands when the settlers begin to inhabit the region. It was also my grandfather’s job to encourage these aborigines to co-mingle and actively participate in the local culture. Zambal was the main language used in their communication.

My mother eventually became proficient with her Tagalog while my father continued to speak with his Ilocano accent. As for the children who were mostly born and raised in Manila, Tagalog was the medium of choice, but the periodicals and books that my father and older siblings favored and brought home were all in English. Spanish was also learned by us in school, but it was mostly my mother who spoke it with some aunts and friends. There were also times, though rarely, that when exasperated by our rumbustiousness she would berate us in Spanish.

Incidentally, while preparing this entry, I was surprised to have discovered something about President Quezon I never knew before — that one of his remarkable humanitarian acts, was having facilitated the entry into the Philippines of Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis at a time when they could not legally enter the United States in large numbers. They were resettled in Mindanao through a project also promoted by him. This may explain why my New York Jewish friends’ parents always welcomed me with open arms whenever I stayed for lunch or dinner.

As for President Magsaysay, what no one knew about was that he used to come often unannounced to our house in Santa Cruz, Manila (I was a mere infant to remember any of it myself) in an ordinary looking sedan with only one person with him — his boyhood friend and bodyguard, Cacho. Cacho’s job description included having to first taste every meal the president was served at public functions.

Ramon and my father became close friends when my father supplied his guerilla forces with some of their much needed munitions during the Japanese occupation. However, my father shied away from engaging in any business dealings with the government when Ramon was elected president so as to avoid any talks of cronyism. And since my mother was very close to the president’s wife, Luz, one can only imagine how many kids in the neighborhood boasted having the president as their godfather, even though by proxy only.

President Magsaysay died on March 17, 1957, in an air crash while en route to Manila from Cebu; whereas, President Quezon suffered from tuberculosis and died in Saranac Lake, New York on August 1, 1944.

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posted by Señor Enrique at 9:20 AM


Blogger KJS said...

As for your comment regarding the walking pace of NYC, don't worry ... I can keep up with the best of them.

Interesting blog entry. My titas from Quezon City (Manila) cannot communicate well with people from provinces in Mindanao or the Visayan Islands.

August 07, 2006 12:10 PM  

Blogger Rey said...

The picture brought back a lot of memories. My mother is a retired public school teacher and I used to do all these things for her classroom, drawing and cutting and coloring and painting.

I started earning money this way coz the other teacher has seen what i've done and they started hiring me to do all their visuals too.

August 07, 2006 1:20 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Glad to know that you're faring well in nyc, KJS, despite the heat wave. Did you finally get your box fan?

I forgot to mention that President Magsaysay was originally a Visayan but had considered himself an Ilocano since moving to Zambales.

August 07, 2006 2:29 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

I had a classmate in elementary school from fourth to sixth grade who was a talented artist. Like you, Rey, he was our go to guy when it came to drawings and other artsy stuff for our class projects. I sometimes think of him and wish that he'd ended up as a fine artist and thriving in it -- like you.

August 07, 2006 2:32 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think nowadays, Pilipino (which is mostly Tagalog) already serves well as a medium of general understanding among our pupulation although there are so much room for improvement. Maybe in decades time, our nation would be able to have a greater grasp of a more effective national language where the present difficulties could be minimized.

I want to see our national language to gain more prevalence and broaden its terminology, especially in scientific terms and mathematical items. This way, our young could have a better understanding of this special knowledge. As young kids, we are thougth science mostly through a foreign language that it is harder to internalize. Maybe, if we were inculcated with this knowledge thru the medium that we are most comfortable with, maybe by now, we would have greater understanding of these...where in a developing country, it is necessary for industrialization a population so adept in science and mathematics...

August 07, 2006 4:18 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

I do agree with you, Major Tom, that a familiar language would make even math and the sciences more accessible and fun for our children to learn. But wouldn't expanding Tagalog to accommodate translations of more English words, including scientific terms too monumental a task to achieve?

How about continually promoting Tagalog as national language but at the same time, English as well so as to enable our youth to better grasp the sciences and math as done here in the Pihilippines when I was young. But I think there was a backlash against English during the '70s or '80s? Am I wrong?

Now I'm thinking of Ipanema's current post about the Chinese currently scrambling to learn English as quickly as posible just to be able to ride along this wave of progress that it's now experiencing.

August 07, 2006 5:01 PM  

Blogger ipanema said...

Though it’s nationalistic to learn all subjects in our native tongue, I can only imagine our hardship when we couldn’t even communicate through the global language. I don’t think that we will be exporting our labour force if not to our knowledge of the English Language.

This is what happened in Malaysia during Dr. Mahathir’s time. Since all Commonwealth countries are subject to British educational system, Mahathir decided to veer away from the General Certificate of Education, Ordinary Level and General Certificate of Education, Advance Levels (in short, GCE ‘O’ Level & GCE ‘A’ Levels). The General Cambridge Examination is a pre-requisite before one goes to study in University. They spend 5 years in secondary school (high school) after which they sit for exams prepared by University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate. All Commonwealth countries sit for this though in different syllabi. Malaysia then required all subjects to be taught in Malay (it’s different if you are in a Chinese school), English as a subject only. This backfired and before he retired, Mahathir ordered Malaysians to sit for the Cambridge Exams. Their first will be next year, 2007, after a long hiatus. One can really see the difference when conversing with the older generation and the younger generation. So if one applies a seat in one of Malaysia’s school, their English entrance exams is way too easy than those who have followed the British educational system.

I read with interest how our 7,107 islands can be divided into dialects, then integrating through our national language, and the global language. I think this makes us special. I’m from the South as both my parents are. It is a family joke that even if my mother will stay in the US for a century, she’ll never get away with her Visayan accent. I learned Tagalog through comics bought by our house help. When I was young, I had to sneak into her room and read aloud. My father never allowed comics into the house. I was struggling and it was a shame. When I went to Manila to study, I was fortunate all my Pilipino teachers were very kind. But what I lack in Tagalog, I excel in English and Spanish. Even up to now, I prefer to speak Cebuano than Tagalog, though they said I can never be suspected of being Visayan. I lost my accent!

In my family it was my father who spoke several languages. Both my grandparents speak Spanish, Japanese and English at home.

Nice post, Eric.

August 07, 2006 8:21 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your house was graced by the presence of a president. That's quite something.

I remember when I was in my first year of high school and we had to learn Social Studies and The Government in Tagalog. That was a first because I had learned Social Studies throughout my elementary school years in English. And we were also the first batch that had to study Social Studies in Tagalog that year. Our textbook was in English and we really had a hard time translating what we read and answer our assignments in Tagalog. I can just imagine how hard it would be to translate Science and Math terms. Not that I don't love my native language but I don't know, I think we better leave Science and Math in the English language.

August 07, 2006 9:10 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

True, Ipanema, at this point, we should encourage our young to hone their skills in global communications.

Incidentally, here's the first paragraph from Quezon's remarks:

"We shall not drop English, because English can be of great help to us in so far as democratic ideas and practices are concerned. Thence we must continue Spanish and English. But I am going further; I tell you that I want neither Spanish nor English as the language of our Government. The Philippines must have a language of her own, a language based on one of the vernacular tongues..."

In the States, other than English, Spanish is the next widely spoken language. If living in one of the country's major cities -- not only in Florida and southern California -- it would be an asset if bilingual.

Amongst our local youths, per my observation,those attending private schools have a better command of English while those in the public school system, for the most part, lack the confidence in its very basic conversational use -- a great disparity indeed which should be addressed accordingly by our Dept. of Education.

August 08, 2006 6:52 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Yes, Niceheart, perhaps we ought to encourage our youths to continue expanding their knowledge and command of both Tagalog and English.

As for President Magsaysay -- fondly referred to as Monching by my parents -- was truly a down to earth man; a true probinsiyano in fact. Perhaps, his frequent visits to the house was more to find kindred spirits such as what he saw in my father :)

But his gallivanting with only a trusted aide with him reflected an era much different than what we have today.

I remember when walking along Avenida Rizal when we'd suddenly hear someone yelling, "Peding, Peding!" and it would be Senator Genaro Magsaysay riding in his car without any tinted windows or bodyguards. Everything seemed so laid back and not so dangerous in those times.

BTW, I once met the president's son, Jun (Senator Magsaysay, Jr.) in NYC many years ago, and just like his father, he was a relaxed and unimposing gentleman.

August 08, 2006 7:07 AM  

Blogger Sidney said...

Half of Planet's Languages to Disappear by 2100.
Scientists who gathered for a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Seattle, Washington, gave a warning: half of languages spoken now will vanish by the end of the century.

There are about 6,800 unique languages as of today, however social, demographic and political factors make many of them disappear. Following disappearance of languages, ethnographical and cultural heritage gets lost as well.

English & Tagalog are important to learn but cherish your dialects & your cultural diversity.

August 08, 2006 10:22 AM  

Blogger Senorito<- Ako said...

Wow.. I like cacho's food tasting job ! I think its quite safe these days... nobody poisons anybody anymore.

Influential ties ! :)

August 08, 2006 11:23 AM  

Blogger Wil said...

Interesting topic you have here. I agree with Sidney. Language is part of one's cultural identity. Anyway, the "Philippines" is just a political concept whose borders have been drawn up the Spaniards. It contains many cultures and languages. So the idea of a 'national' language is sort of an oxymoron b/c it has many languages (or dialects, if you prefer) which are equally unique. Manuel Quezon should've asked why he himself didn't know Ilocano or Bisaya instead of asking why the Ilocano or the Bisaya didn't know Tagalog. I'd say Quezon was being ethnocentric. Regarding which language to use for business, science, etc., I agree with Niceheart and stick with English. That's my opinion, anyway. Cheers. :)

August 08, 2006 11:37 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Influential ties, S.A.? But that was almost half a century ago ... hahaha.

But wasn't that something? The president of a nation gallivanting without an army of bodyguards?

August 08, 2006 9:03 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

That's some valuable information and suggestion, Sidney. Thanks! Totally agree with you.

August 08, 2006 9:11 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Thanks, Wil and welcome to our humble hangout or pit stop, if you will :)

Yes, English is fast becoming a very very important language as our world becomes smaller -- come to think of it, there was one time I made a couple of intercontinental trips in one month and it made me realize that due to speedy air travel, our world has indeed become smaller. Good point there about a head of state knowing a few dialects at least.

August 08, 2006 9:16 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I was in grade school, the teachers asked if we knew any linguists. I said my dad, because he can speak English, Tagalog and some other Filipino dialect (I forgot which). The teachers just laughed, it was embarrassing.

My mother's family speaks Kapangpangan (don't know if I spelled that right) - but I only picked up the bad words.

August 09, 2006 1:34 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The current president has many faults, but she is a proficient linguist. On her first visit to the Visayas as president she spoke in Visayan (naturally, since she is fluent in the language and wanted to connect with her listeners). This threw the Tagalog-speaking press corps into dismay, since few of them could understand what she was saying.

August 09, 2006 12:15 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

You may have picked-up some bad words in Kapangpangan, Aurea, but surely there's no bad home-cooked meal at any proud Kapangpangan abode. :)

And something I wasn't much aware of until Torn mentioned it -- our current president who I believe is a Kapangpangan knew exactly how to make good use of her knowing Visayan. Thanks for the info, Torn!

August 09, 2006 2:47 PM  

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Life in Manila as observed by a former New Yorker who with a laptop and camera has reinvented himself as a storyteller. Winner of the PHILIPPINE BLOG AWARDS: Best Photo Blog in 2007 and three Best Single Post awards in 2008.


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