My photo
ALBERT B. CASUGA, a Philippine-born writer, lives in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, where he continues to write poetry, fiction, and criticism after his retirement from teaching and serving as an elected member of his region's school board. He was nominated to the Mississauga Arts Council Literary Awards in 2007. A graduate of the Royal and Pontifical University of St. Thomas (now University of Santo Tomas, Manila. Literature and English, magna cum laude), he taught English and Literature (Criticism, Theory, and Creative Writing) at the Philippines' De La Salle University and San Beda College. He has authored books of poetry, short stories, literary theory and criticism. He has won awards for his works in Canada, the U.S.A., and the Philippines. His latest work, A Theory of Echoes and Other Poems was published February 2009 by the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House. His fiction and poetry were published by online literary journals Asia Writes and Coastal Poems recently. He was a Fellow at the 1972 Silliman University Writers Workshop, Philippines. As a journalist, he worked with the United Press International and wrote an art column for the defunct Philippines Herald.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


One of the critical linguistic requirements of multilingual literature, theory, and criticism was succinctly spelled out by Albert Sbragia in his “The Modern Macaronic”; i.e., “Language tilts from its centripetal pole to the extremes of centrifugality.” (As quoted by Isagani R. Cruz in his Literature in Other Languages blog, 5/12,09)

A tall order for any language, it is a mode of communication that does not simply move inward to a community of users as a tool for cultural and social development, but must also expand in vast eddies of significance to include not only the core users of the language but also the ancillary or even peripheral “borrowers” of the language.

That language could properly become a “national language” which integrates the rest of the dialects and languages that are primary instruments of social interaction. This is an ideal situation. The language that presents a preponderance of communicative energies normally becomes the core language. Users build around it by accretion where the most functional additions from other dialects become part of the community’s “lingua franca”.

A period of social, cultural, economic, and political activity enables the strongest language to emerge as a de facto national language, at which time institutes of language development come in to codify the medium of communication before transmitting it to the “consumers” as the language of their culture which must be exemplified in their various literatures and literary products. Like gross domestic products as indicators of a vibrant economy, these literary products are indeed indicators of the acceptance and currency of a language.

Dr. Isagani R. Cruz provides a scenario for this process: “In the Philippines, until about a decade ago, Tagalog purists wanted to retain Tagalog as the national language and to reject the constitutionally-mandated Filipino, leading to legal and academic battles with writers in Cebuano and Ilocano. The conflict has been partially resolved by the country’s leading university, the University of the Philippines, which came out with a dictionary of Filipino (rather than Tagalog)…

“Unfortunately, the dictionary has not led to a growth in the number of writers writing in Filipino, but it highlights the multilinguality of Philippine literature, where writers can make very fine distinctions between closely related languages.”

Certainly, unless the government of the day assumes ownership of this dictionary so that it becomes the official codification of a “national language” and “handmaiden of its literature/s”, it would remain like “pearls strewn before swine.”

Under the present Philippine Government, however, Filipino seemed to have beaten a retreat when its leadership decreed English as the medium of instruction once again. The experiment on the development of a national medium of communication is not a new undertaking. It has always been attempted from the inception of the Republic. Because of the widespread rejection of Tagalog as the basis of the national language by the competing regional languages like Cebuano, Ilocano, Kapangpangan, and the Arabic-based dialects of Southern Philippines (Muslim populations), up to this date, the best achievement of the “nationalized language” is the use of “urbanized Filipino” or Manila’s lingua franca.

Frivolity occasioned the introduction of Tagalog-based dictionaries that included words like “salumpuwit” (for chair, literally “a derriere catcher”, vulgarly, a “bum catcher”). It became saucier when barbershop philologists would ask how this Pilipino language would call underwear like “brassiere”. Would that be “salun-suso”? When more than half of the population ridicule this national vocabulary for the simplest words, there cannot be a great promise for its adoption by the “nation” as users of the language.

In his advocacy of multilingual literary criticism, nevertheless, Dr. Cruz recognizes that: “One of the most difficult challenges facing a multilingual literary critic is that s/he has to be knowledgeable not only about languages, but about entire cultures or literary traditions.”

“Similarly, a reader of Philippine literature in English that does not know Philippine literary traditions in Tagalog, Cebuano, Ilocano, and other vernacular languages runs the great risk of completely misreading a work.”

Because of the unsettled linguistic milieu of Philippine literature, critics like Leonard Casper, Fr. Miguel Bernad, and this writer have asked time and time again: Is Philippine literature perpetually inchoate? (See my entry on “Questions Begging for Answers: Is Philippine Literature Perpetually Inchoate?”)

The clash of languages and cultural nuances in Philippine Literature appear at this point to be the highest hurdle to an authentic expression of the Filipino soul in his “language of the blood.” Spanish, English and Filipino-English have had active stand-in or understudy roles in Philippine Literature for some time now. When will the Filipino writer walk away from his sandbox?

Or is Philippine political leadership in the right track when it prescribes English as the primary medium of instruction because call-centres need English-speaking telephone operators?

No comments: