Sunday, May 20, 2007

Birth of Taglish, or Why Niknok Spoke That Way

A Personal Note: Reading the passage below made me understand the phenomenon of Taglish, or the admixture of Tagalog and English. When I was in grade school, we would rush to the school library every week to read the latest Niknok komiks. Niknok, who I guess is kind of a Denise the Menace or Bart Simpson-like character, constantly found himself in trouble with his elders and with his use of Taglish. I remember educators being upset by the example Niknok supposedly held for us youngsters. Of course, this 'problem' had a different inflection for us in the Visayan region where we spoke the Cebuano vernacular. Instead we were reprimanded for speaking dialect in class, a vernacular that I was slowly learning.

"Spanish, on the other hand, has never been widely spoken or understood in the Philippines. Less than 1 percent of the population has ever been fluent in Spanish at any given moment in Spain's 350 years of colonial rule. Owing to the Spanish practice of converting the native populace in their local vernaculars and given the absence of comprehensive, secular public school system throughout the Spanish regime, the learning of Spanish was limited to the an elite, mostly mestizo (Chinese and Spanish) minority with access to a university education in Manila and Europe. By the later U.S. colonial period, and more so throughout the postwar republic, Spanish became largely supplementary, a way of signaling class attachments to an ersatz, aristocratic lineage that predated U.S. rule or reclaiming the legacy of the late-nineteenth century nationalist figures.

The history of Tagalog is no less complex. As I have detailed elsewhere, Tagalog was grammatically codified and phonetically reduced to Roman characters by Spanish missionaries for purposes of translating prayers and Christian texts as early as the late sixteenth century. Hence Tagalog was a print language has long been infused with foreign borrowings. Latin and Spanish terms for Christian concepts with no direct equivalents in Tagalog were left untranslated, lodged as the traces of an alien presence periodically erupting into the fabric of the vernacular texts. But as the medium of conversion, Tagalog also tended to dislocate Christian-colonial meanings by supplying native hearers with an array of associations that exceeded missionary control. Tagalog betrayed, in both senses of the word, Spanish Christianity and colonialism.

To the extent that Tagalog has been used as a language of addressing a mass audience--that is, an audience required to give up its local identity in order to assume a more global one, as in the case of Christian conversion--it has always been entangled in the grammar of colonial discourse and subjected to colonial control over the means of mechanical reproduction. Tagalog lent itself to the solicitation and expression of deference with its honorifics, such as ho and po to signal social and generational distance between speakers, whether these be God, government bureaucrats, Spanish friars, landlords, and so forth. But it is also important to point out that since the 1890s, Tagalog has been the focus of various nationalist concerns. Projected as the potential language of cultural authenticity with which to articulate a precolonial past with a decolonized future, Tagalog has been regarded as one site of translating colonial order into a national one. Insofar as Tagalog could furnish the means with which to elicit the attention of a mass audience, nationalists elites, like their Spanish colonial predecessors, could imagine it as a language that might fuse the interests of those above with those below the social hierarchy across a variety of vernacular, non-Tagalog speaking communities.

Accordingly, Tagalog was designated as the basis of the yet-to-be instituted national language (wikang pambansa) by the Commonwealth government in 1938 and again by the Japanese occupation regime in 1943. But objections by non-Tagalog speakers in the national legislature during the postwar period resulted in a series of name changes. The Philippine legislature renamed the putative national language 'Pilipino' to stress the national vocation of Tagalog. In 1973, however, the constitutional convention held under the martial law regime of Ferdinand Marcos changed this name yet again, to 'Filipino,' while admitting that it was merely designating a Manila-based lingua franca that was still far from having a truly national currency. The constitution of 1986 upheld this term to designate not so much the national language as what the national language might be called should it ever emerge. Filipinos continues to be based on Tagalog with greater infusions of English and bits of Spanish rather than, as nationalist linguists had proposed as early as 1915, a fusion of all the different Philippine vernaculars. As the linguist Andrew Gonzalez has noted, 'One must class the Philippines as among the nations thus far without an official code with which to conduct [official] transactions.' In effect, there continues to be a lack of fit between the officially designated national language and officially conceived borders of the nation-state.

At the bottom of the linguistic hierarchy, Tagalog is the most unstable and elusive as well. Its history--from its reformalization by Spanish missionaries and its reification by the Institute of National Language into an 'archaic' and therefore 'classical' language of the country to its mutations in popular and official discourses--suggests something of its thoroughly impure origins and highly malleable and contingent workings. Seized on by the new social movements of the 1960s--consisting of left-wing student, worker, and women's organizations--Tagalog as Pilipino or Filipino has been a popular medium for mass mobilization at political rallies in and around Manila. Outside the Tagalog-speaking regions in such cities as Cebu and Iloilo, however, English and the local vernacular continued to be the languages of political movements. Similarly, while the teaching of Tagalog grammar and literature in secondary schools has been mandated by the state since 1946, and while the Bilingual Education Policy of 1974 has provided for the use of Filipino as a medium of instruction alongside English, Tagalog has yet to replace English as the sole language of official transactions and higher education. In this sense, Tagalog cannot be thought of as a language of national identity that subsumes all other local identifications.

Yet even if Tagalog does not represent the nation, it does serve as the language of commercially driven mass media, specifically radio, television, and film. As the lingua franca of the mass media, Tagalog manages in fact to have a translocal reach. It does so, however, only and always in conjunction with other translocal languages: English and Spanish. Thus, it is another kind of language, Taglish, that Tagalog comes across as a lingua franca, providing the conditions for the emergence of a mass audience in the contemporary Philippines." (168-170)

From Vicente Rafael's White Love and Other Events in Filipino History (Duke UP, 2000)


RT said...

gaAnd now Japanese too is filled with embedded English words, I guess?

"Historically, foreign words are the points at which a knowing consciousness and an illuminated truth break into the undifferentiated growth of the aspect of language that is mere nature: the incursion of freedom. One cannot decide on their legitimacy or lack of it by whether they adapt but only in purely social terms. The more alienated human beings have become from their things in society, the more strange are the words that will have to represent them if they are to reach them and to indicate allegorically that the things have been brought home. The more deeply society is cleft by the contradiction between its quasi-natural and its rational character the more isolated will foreign words necessarily remain in the area of language, incomprehensible to one group of human beings and threatening to the other; and yet they have legitimacy as an expression of alienation itself, and also as the transparent crystals that may at some future time explode human beings' dreary imprisonment in preconceived language." (Adorno, "On the Use of Foreign Words," in Notes to Literature Vol. 2)

orpheusfx said...

Thanks for the great passage from Adorno.

The peculiar thing with Japanese is that words borrowed from foreign words are written in katakana, which signals its non-Japanese origins. Also, it's curious what gets absorbed into the language. For instance, the word for apartment is mansion, which I suspect is British in origin. And then there is 'arubaito' which is part-time work, which supposedly comes from German. There are many examples, but one that makes me laugh is the anime called laputa, which sounds like a bad joke.

According to my sister, who lived in Tokyo for five years, some of our familial use of Japanese, specifically a few turns of phrase, are in fact inflected by Okinawan dialect. When I learned about this, it furthered my anxiety in speaking Japanese to non-family members.