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Language Wars (updated)
By mlq3 Posted in Daily Dose on April 26, 2007 134 Comments 4 min read
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The other day I attended the second session of taping for GMA7’s “Isang tanong, isang sagot” senatorial forum, which will be broadcast this Sunday and the next (I represented the Philippine Daily Inquirer for the second session, the first session had Conrado de Quiros). It was interesting watching the different candidates react to the questions and their interaction (or lack of it) with one another. As the first shift was leaving, I ran into de Quiros and in our brief chat he expressed concern over what people are going to do if and when the massive cheating in the coming elections takes place, and people start to find out about it. Something worth thinking about.

During the taping, the scuttlebutt among media colleagues was that Senator Joker Arroyo didn’t show up, because he was in an emergency meeting because of upcoming survey results (the results came out a day or so later, for SWS and most recently, for Pulse Asia: Joker’s concern seems to hinge on the need for a candidate to be safely in the top 8, otherwise it’s a mad scramble to protect votes during the counting). From what I gathered, Joker’s survey results were such, that he was very much concerned over the possibility of being junked. It wasn’t clear to me, though, who would be doing the junking, although afterwards reading the views of colleagues such as , perhaps the danger is this: a loose cannon (from a Palace point of view) like Joker could be junked, to accommodate the election of a more malleable candidate like Gringo Honasan. As it is, the various camps are already in the thick of speculating -and accusing- each other of preparing to junk candidates.

One thing concerns me, as the campaign enters its final stages, and the Palace tries to frame the election favorably to itself. The decision by the Left to endorse a mixed list of senatorial candidates is, I think, a strategic mistake. So is Senator Lacson’s decision to endorse non-members of his slate, but his decision is less of a mistake than the Left’s: they are still oppositionists. The Left’s endorsement of a mixed bag of candidates blurs the line between the administration and the opposition -it makes it politics as normal, when there are issues that are abnormal and which thus require a more rigid line between those siding with the President, and against her. When you start blurring the issues, what your group stands for gets blurred in the minds of voters, too. You’re just another political player in a disreputable exercise. That may account more for Bayan Muna’s drop in the surveys, for example, than it’s merely not hogging the headlines.

In the punditocracy, My column for today is Misplaced emphasis on English. (For those who read the language, see the reaction of Sulat Kapangpangan to my column).

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See the Pleading that will be filed before the Supreme Court tomorrow. Philippine Commentary pens a rebuttal.

Speech Randy David-1
Randy David’s views.

Conrado De Quiros-1
The views of Conrado de Quiros.

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The views of Patricia Licuanan. See also the views of Juan Miguel Luz, formerly of the Department of Education, in ‘English First’ policy will hurt learning.

My views on the English-Filipino debate were put forward in a column I wrote in November last year, Practical Languages. I believe a distinction has to be made between the need to provide a solid, basic, education to the public, and the requirements of advanced learning in various academic disciplines (see also the chef at chez panda, for her thoughts on whether a food blog can help teach English).

As for other columnists: Federico Pascual writes about the candidacy of Fr. Panlilio for governor of Pampanga; Billy Esposo on the candidacy of Manny Pacquiao; Bel Cunanan on the candidacy of Speaker de Venecia. Regarding the political bounty offered by our glorious Secretary of Justice, the Inquirer editorial gives him a good thwack. Now Gonzalez has recanted -but it has to be asked, is he getting senile?

In the blogosphere, my entry in Inquirer Current yesterday was The Wily Filipino.

Uploaded my talk on diplomacy at San Sebastian College in 2005, to ourmedia: there’s part 1 and part 2. At long last.

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  1. DJB:

    Please don’t fool yourself. Filipino-Americans are not Westerners, they are Asian, more specifically East Asian. We See Richard Nisbett’s The Geography of Thought: Why We Think the Way We Do. why this is so.

    The language aspects of cognition and why we can think as Asian and Western given the right cultural contexts are discussed in depth by Nisbett.

  2. ok now it gets interesting…

    Who gets to say whether DJB is Asian or Westerner? Who gets to say what the cultural identity of any given individual human being actually is?

    The individual or Nesbitt or Conrado de Quiros or Blackshama?

  3. djb,

    “It is senseless to play the nation vs nation game with TIMSS. It’s purpose was to help each nation learn from the others’ strengths and weaknesses.”

    let me reiterate: in the 1999 timss study–please download this from dost website if it still has it–a pilot test was conducted in the philippines where 10% of the test takers took the test in filipino, and the difference in result with english test takers was deemed significant, favoring filipino test takers despite the fact the even ilocanos and cebuanos and warays and illongos, who made part of the filipino subsamples, were made to sit in tagalog-based test (aka filipino; that’s where the notion of linguistic distance makes more sense: to surmise that our regional languages may indeed be gramatically closer to one another rather than to appropriate filipino by transliterating into english). indeed, timss is not meant to play one nation against another, but language factor has never been relegated as a trivial issue in mathematics learning! that is why for the subsequent 2003 timms, the recommendation of the philippine committee is to look deeper into this factor [i was hoping they’d increase the sample size], but for the life of me, i wonder why this was not pursued. instead they opted to change one variable: instead of letting grade 7 filipino students take the test as in 1999, this was elevated to grade 8, hence the “marked” improvement in our ranking from rank 35 (1999) to rank 32-33 (2003). remarkable, no?

    further, mathematics researchers the world over has always maintained this lingering suspicion that language, in the wittgensteinian sense, defines your thought [i leave it to you to read tractacus which is readily availble on the net].

    your’re asking, who’s pitting which country with whom? no one, only that with these timss results, we can indeed infer–in the context of this debate, and in relation to several ongoing studies worldwide–that language might indeed be a crucial factor to learning. of course, there are other factors that come into play: resources, teaching styles, cultural ethics (eh, do you think singaporeans are doing pretty well because of their english proficiency; no, you’d be surprise that they are ‘programmed’ to do well in timms. but hey, do you know that they are hesistant to take the pisa mathematics oecd-administered test because it is more task-oriented, and the route memorization training hammered among them will no longer work, and therefore likely to drag their international rating down?), and a lot more confounding educational factors. but you see, we can only tease out one at a time. we already know that funding and resources are critical, let’s now move on to investigating language. [and please check the timss manual for a voluminous list of intervening variables that one can appreciate].

    “There is absolutely NO basis for your claim that Asians in the US cohort are what pulled up their mean score since there is no such traceability in the data.”

    oh, but i was just following up your innuedo from previous and earlier language discussion [not this one; but two topics ago] on your claim that in fact migrating asians in the u.s. shore do highly pretty well in maths and sciences [which is true, anyway; so let’s not kid ourselves, just surf the net and you’d be able to find copious surveys pointing to u.s. based asians being at the top in maths and sciences. we’ll infer from there.]

    “I am NOT an Asian. I am a Filipino-American.”

    for a second i thought i was reading michelle malkin. but hey, lucky you–you were educated in your FIRST LANGUAGE, which is english. unfortunately for the multitude of filipinos in public and rural and/or provincial schools, english will only be a third language, next to filipino. it might become 4th, considering that math has its registers.

    what i find interesting in this language debate is that the agenda for the medium of instruction has veered away from the intended recipient of the policy: the students. instead of focusing on the cognitive impact of employing a foreign language (that is what the fl in toefl means, english as a foreign language; which means it is not our first language) on maths and science learning, the discussion has centered on ideologies and sociocultural ek-ek. lost in the middle of this exchanges is the central issue for the language purpose: INSTRUCTION–which means investigating its impact at classroom level. so could your temporarily leave your ideologies by the doorstep before entering the classroom?

  4. “For example, even if the Philippines mean score was near the bottom, we still had a small percentage of our students scoring in the above average ranks because we have a broad curve (large standard deviation).”

    dean, these data are readily available in the timss website. you can download heaps of them. indeed i have no argument with that. but then perhaps our local students (could you still claim “our”, considering you have manifested your cultural allegiance to ungkel sam? ;D) who performed in the upper percentile mark may have the luxury of english language education at home and at home (making it their first if not second language). but i go back to bourdieu’s notion of cultural capital, which can be proxied by high income level: i urge you instead to consider looking at how the disadvantaged students (whether financially or linguistically) would have generally fared. we are, after all, seeking here for means to improve their academic lot. do these people have the cultural capital exposure enjoyed by private school students? hence this personal advocacy: bilingualism, i.e., support instruction through first language use where it may be needed, or when the need arises. filipino-only policy will not work in other regions; it only rehashes the debate on the demerits of english-only policy.

  5. “Bro. Andrew wanted: Math, Science and Language, today’s equivalent of reading writing and ‘rithmetic.”


    are you aware that during bro andrew’s time as sec of educ, there were several pilot schools involved and assigned to vernacular teaching across the archipelago (ilokano, cebuano and tagalog, primarily)? in that experimental set up, the initial results were showing promising impact, until your ate glo scrapped the program. see, a scientific study was being conducted to resolve the language factor issue, and here comes the gnome scrapping what she perceived to be ineffective because, oh well, she must have thought her georgetown english should be emulated instead.

  6. There is also a line of thought (Mahathir of Malaysia said something to this effect; the government of Malawi and a couple of others are putting it into practice) which says that the educational system of a country should be focused primarily on the available jobs that exist in that country and not on the jobs being in demand in the EU, Australia, or the US. The policy implication for public school funding is the reduction of emphasis on features that are overseas-oriented (including the English language) and putting focus on the jobs that exist in the country (farming, merchandising/retail trade). Nuclear physics? No reason for a public institution to orient itself to that — the nuclear science technicians only head overseas eventually.
    Funding is also being reduced for public universities based on the observation that said it is the children of the elite that get into those universities.

  7. UPn: “Funding is also being reduced for public universities based on the observation that said it is the children of the elite that get into those universities.”

    That should not have been a problem. The Public Universities or the Education Ministry could just easily make the requirements to admission to Public Universities, for those deserving students with lesser means. And it is not very hard to determine by just checking on the family’s or parents’ Income Tax returns. Why punish the students by reducing the funding, just because it is being abused by the elites ? I would say, correct the defects.

  8. vic: I believe reason given for reducing public university funding is because of the elimination of quantum physics, molecular biology and other courses (and entire curriculum) that did not match the job opportunities of the country.

  9. This “language war” is very interesting indeed. Reading most of the well-reasoned comments made here, I think the consensus is that the Filipino, which is essentially Tagalog, is in its present state, an inadequate medium of communication for all purposes.

    I think the reason for this inadequacy is the conventional, but unrealistic, wish to have a “pure” language that we could call our own and would give us a “national identity”. As DJB sees it, the desire is a throwback to the traditional dogma called nationalism which had lost its lustre with the advent of globalization.

    I think the only way we could make a national language work is to discard the purist attitude and supplement the Filipino with words and terminologies that we could best understand and which could impart the very ideas that we want to convey. We should be able to use any word from any language or dialect as we need it.

    Thus we need not invent words like “salumpuit” for chair, or we could say “ang bahagi ng ating katawan ay binubuo ng ma nga cells na binubuo naman ng molikyuls.

  10. By the way (and this is for the US environment, but the same legal mumbo-jumbo may be applicable to Canada) grandparents who open trustfunds for their grandchildren are encouraged to put “last-resort” wording. This means that if their 20-year-old granddaughter qualifies for a scholarship because she has no job (as well as bright), but would not qualify if the trustfund is tapped for tuition/fees, that the trustfund will NOT be source for tuition/fees (so that the no-job student obtains the scholarship).
    ** Rich kids opening trustfunds for their parents are also advised to put the “last resort” clause, this time for Medicare benefits and similar.
    [Any and all who benefit from this legal advice is encouraged to send $250.00 to the ACLU.]

  11. Bencard, a better way to phrase it is ‘Ang katawan ay binubuo ng cells na siya namang binubuo ng molecules.’ No need to contrive spellings unless you’re trying to be cute. Also, after 110 comments, you’re the first one who brought up ‘salumpuit’, which is obviously another attempt at a strawman argument. I agree with you that, oftentimes, we are able to better convey an idea if we discard a purist attitude like when i say, for example, ‘sablay na naman ang summary ni Bencard‘ (where the word ‘summary‘ is used in place of ‘kabuuan‘).

  12. cvj, you really like the word strawman, don’t you? I’m glad, though, that you seem to get the point I was trying to make – grudgingly, but you really seemed to. The “contrive(d) spelling” is just to TAGALIZE (if you don’t mind) a borrowed term which we often do to fit into our vernacular, as when you (and your fellow travelers)say “burgis” for bourgeois.

  13. which study?

    if you have access to this journal, grab it:

    Allan B. I. Bernardo (2004. McKinley’s questionable bequest: over 100 years of English in Philippine education, World Englishes 23 (1), 17–31.

    and then of course, you can also inquire from decs about this vernacular pilot study which up to the time of dr. isagani cruz (not the nemesis of mlq3) as under secretary was still on going but was cut short for political reasons.

  14. “I think the only way we could make a national language work is to discard the purist attitude and supplement the Filipino with words and terminologies that we could best understand and which could impart the very ideas that we want to convey. We should be able to use any word from any language or dialect as we need it.”

    bencard, indeed. language after all is living and therefore evolves. english is the most impure language that has adopted several words from different world languages. so why can’t we do the same?

  15. My disagreement with JUMPER:

    Just because we Filipinos already have exposure to the English language doesn’t mean that we should exclude the teaching and learning of other vital foreign languages. What century is this? The 21st century. What else is this century called? The ASIAN CENTURY. Meaning the economic powerhouses of, China, Korea, Japan and Taiwan. With China making trillions in revenue, Korea, Taiwan and Japan as huge investors and tourists to the Philippines, wouldn’t it be wise and practical for students to learn Mandarin and Korean? Nihongo is already well established in many schools in the Philippines with thousands of Filipinos already fluent in Japanese. Mind you there are already 22 million students around the world learning Mandarin, so why not the Philippines learning Mandarin? The Philippines is the crossroads of Asia where tourists, investors and students from neighboring Asian countries visit. So it would make sense to at least start learning Mandarin, since this language is becoming the third language among the SE and East Asian nations. The Philippines with it’s laborforce and trained professionals will not be able to advance with English only, when we have a market of billions of Chinese right next door to us. Don’t forget about the hundreds of thousands of Koreans and Japanese who visit our country.
    I’m sorry to say, but your own thinking is limited and bias at the least. We don’t need limited and biased thinking, but need optimistic thinking!

  16. ken, i never said that we shouldn’t learn languages other than english. my point simply was if you’re already exposed to english, if you already have a headstart in it, then it would be quicker and easier for you to learn that. but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn mandarin or spanish or korean if you want to. you can choose to learn any of them depending on your needs and/or preferences. heck, you can even learn all of them if you have the time and perseverance!

    i’m talking about choosing paths of least resistance, not which language is better. i’m sorry if you misunderstood my point. perhaps i should have written it in mandarin? 😀

  17. “…language afterall is living and therefore evolves”.

    Amen, I say to you, iniduro. And it evolves with education, necessity, and civilization, if I might add.

  18. well… i just visit here.. i only say that when i read this websibe.. i feel like im in a solemn place… well i dont know.. but can you give me the history and biography of Manuel L. Quezon? Te whole article… Thank you… Someday i want to serve our country… Today i am 14 year old but sooner i will become a public servant.. i want to study in U.P. Diliman… but my lifestlye still doesn’t fit in U.P.. we were too poor…. actually my older brother is now studying at U.P Pampanga. And i hope and wish that i can follow my brother…

    That’s it.. i am just sharing what i am..
    thank you for reading!!!!

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  20. “language is our nature” even though filipinos has its own language sa kanya-kanyang provice – still were are all Filipinos. . my question is, why Mr.manuel L Qeuzon recommend that the “Tagalog” is our national language?

  21. “language is our nature” even though filipinos has its own language sa kanya-kanyang provice – still were are all Filipinos. . my question is, why Mr.manuel L Quezon recommend that the “Tagalog” is our national language?

  22. djb, why were Filipinos are not belong to asianers? hehe so why is the Philippines are count in to the asia?!