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English after a century or so
by Morr Tadeo Pungayan

Any place in the world today: When one meets a Filipino and when the same Filipino is asked (or “praised” (!)) for his use, facility, or excellence-par in the English language, he will gladly or obligingly say he speaks [the] American [variety of] English.

If his statement is still wanting to the listener, he will cite the 45 (1901-1946) years of American rule in the Islands; if not seeming to suffice, he will cite the Thomasites – first teachers of American English; if still needing proof, he will discuss the Tydings-McDuffie Law, the US bases, other connections – depending upon his persuasions!

* * * * * * * * * *

The main purpose of this paper is to touch on the present state or assessments of the use of the so-called and aforestated American English among present-day Filipinos, particularly among Cordis as well as the other groups in their immediate peripheries; or those neighbors to them, recently or otherwise.

The logical, Utopian conclusion for a non-Filipino when faced with such a situation is to expect – à l’intsant – the introducing Filipino national blurting out, or fast-shooting English words; sounding American “real enough”; or at least, speaking in similar style to the Pidgin English spoken in some Caribbean Islands; or better, his English akin to the Afro-American English, better known and recorded as BEV or Black English Vernacular.

But to the non-Filipino’s dismay (or amusement), neither of the Supra immediates happen! [Often] he hears instead, “another” variety of English... one he never heard before, distinct and different in its own modest or complicated way – a quaint, “beautiful Philippine accent” as was heard described  on American Television – from USA TV and radio announcers, covering the EDSA I “Uprising” and referring to then Madame President-to-be Corazon Aquino’s speeches in English!

But why? and why so? And as we attempt for “satisfactory” answers, we deal in the process with the “factors” intervening nl. historical, educational, cultural, technical, curricular, among other things.

English as a medium
Measured as a medium of communication, English (i.e. American English) will be more than a hundred years now in the Cordis: it was first heard spoken by the
Nigdo
(Black American soldiers) in 1898, according to the memories of the Baguio oldmen as well as their Itogon kinsmen.

In those times, it was not yet spoken nor understood; in fact, Aleu-eu – July Lampitao’s grandfather, although an Ikulos (i.e. an Agno River Ibaloi), had to be “imported” to work later in the Kennon Road construction mainly for one special qualification: He spoke Spanish and a little Makkao (Cantonese Chinese).

So that was one way it went: The Americans spoke English, and they could not use it with the local or “native” workers nor with some Chinese labourers. But since some of those Americans spoke Spanish, they used it via some “native” interpreters – like Aleu-eu and Depaclos (later to become Presidente or mayor of Itogon township) – and voilá (!) today we have the best monument of first English (American) “on-field” applications to Ibaloi or lowland listeners via the intermediary español: The Kennon Road itself! (Uh! “or Benguet Road” [as it was known then] – lest some rigours-of-history scholars comment unremittingly again).

From the socio-cultural standpoint, American English, and culture of course, could be retraced to the arrival of American men with the occupation army in 1888 – or early 1889 – especially in the Southern Cordi and its native-speaking use by those men within their immediate family members who came alongside; or otherwise, subsequently resulting.

The listing hereunder could be more, but a few examples must suffice for our space allotted. Without intention to omit, old Baguio-Benguet families have beautiful memories of, inter alia [again]: Patrick Dugan, John Muller, J.J. Murphy, George M. Icard, Paul Gulick, Clarence Bowers;  – even the names Edward Sherlin and J.F. Reavis are current, occasional spices in faraway Itogon when gold and mines are the topics of fiesta Is-istorya.

Added to the above listing, were the [American] English-speaking “government men” and whose “imprints” were intensified (or “worsened”) [later on] by Filipinos – English-educated or “self-trained” – who as well brought to the Cordis the “in-tongue” of the ruling class in those times.

Even now our streets, parks, and buildings testify to those “imprints”: Harrison Road, Burnham Park, Malcolm Square, Stewart Bldg, Wright Park – all are named after real, live individuals who, in their own distinctions, made use of English in their daily lives and in the discharge of their duties – in their own whereabouts and milieu – before the coming or introduction of formal English instruction to their areas of assignment.

Inside Baguio and beyond, even ring the historical names of [perhaps never aware but certainly] influential “ambassadors” of the language’s usage, to wit: Herbert C. Heald who later brought us the Heald Lumber Company; Bishop Charles Henry Brent whose “exclusive boarding school” gives us today the evidence of Brent School; and of course the very much-loved and remembered Eusebius Julius Halsema, former Mayor of Baguio City (1920-1937), but who came to the Philippines in 1908.

To their constituents, higher-ups, families, and friends, it would be needless to question their influences on the usage of English as a medium. According to Jim J. Halsema, distinguished son and biographer of Mayor E.J. Halsema: “Most of these men [staff] would stay with him through his entire 17-year tenure as Mayor and District Engineer... All belonged to the first Filipino generation who spoke English. This was fortunate...” (J.J. Halsema, E.J. Halsema: Colonial Engineer, Quezon City” New Day Publishers, 1991, p. 168).

Not only in politics, government, and the “social presence” [of Americans] was English “unconsciously” handed down to the Cordi “tribes” of that time: even in the military; even via religion/mission work.

Finin, for example, quotes Frank Jenista (in The White Apos, 1987): “The [mountain] soldiers lived away from their isolated rancheria homes for months at a time... were in daily contact with apo ’mericano [the American officer], and perhaps received rudimentary schooling” (Gerard A, Finin, The Making of the Igorot, Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University, 2005, p.50).

Or cites with emphasis: “The best-known mission in the Episcopal Church was in Sagada where Fr. John Staunton, beginning in 1904, endeavored to build a
‘little Christian metropolis in the midst of a pagan wilderness’” (Ibid, p. 64).

If all the above laid the “informal” foundations of the propagation of English, said foundations were not left to self-destruct, nor wane, nor co-terminate, with the passing or retirement of the earlier sowers and native-English speakers. On the converse, history witnesses the nurturing, the development, and the “intensification”.

These are evidenced by the putting up further of the following institutions and establishments: Saint Mary’s of Sagada; Teachers’ Camp, a vacation establishment in Baguio begun in 1908 “as place where American teachers – from posts scattered around the archipelago, could receive in-service trainings and spend a few weeks living in tents, among their own kind” (E.J. Halsema, Ibid, p. 172); Bishop Brent’s Easter School which restricted enrollment to “Igorots” (Finin, op. cit., p. 69); Trinidad Agricultural School founded in 1916, and so on. All of these were fertile, practice-application grounds of the English language.

After the grant of Independence to the Philippines in 1946, we already know the rest of the story: English remained as the Medium of Instruction in the schools and remained as one of the Official Philippine languages. The real and only main difference: its care, its “packaging” and “delivery” to the citizen end-users of the next generations, were now under the Philippine Rule, run mostly – if not all – by Filipinos themselves.

After more than a century of its introduction, followed by almost a century of nurturing, [Americans] English has “survived the times” and is today still the language of Philippine affaires and relations: diplomatic, societal, trans-cultural. In the present Constitution, it is one of the three official languages of the Republic – the two others being Tagalog and Arabic.

Assessments and conclusions
The most fantastic claim – made by Filipinos – glorifying the more than a century stay of English in this land is that: We, Filipinos, speak English.
And multiply glorified (!) it is when people claim – officials and policy-makers included – that said English is American English. But, is it, really?

Another [more]
fantastic claim is that in general “Highlanders could speak better English than Lowlanders.” Note that this is not only said nor thought; it has been written or “observed.” Finin, for example, wrote of the Highlanders in the late ’40s: “…But highlanders studying during this period also recall another, more subtle strategy for challenging lowlanders in the social arena – superior command of the English language... Given the strong American presence before the war, many highlanders came to Baguio with a mastery of spoken English that few lowlanders could match” (Finin, Ibid, p. 159).

And perhaps the most fantastic is the claim that “this school/institution produces the best (!) English-speaking graduates.” Mamma, Mamma mia!
In my own view, I can understand the fantasticity, the “pride” attached, or even the “competitive” ring of these claims; but I cannot simply fathom how a learner – and later, a user – of English can add to the weight of his human brain nor expand his human brain cranium – in his journey to English acquisition and proficiency – by reason of his birth as a Highlander or by his college stay in this or that school, its exclusivity notwithstanding!

* * * * * * * * * *

But what really is the end-in-view of the State or its arm – the policy-makers – in keeping English in the Constitution and requiring it to be taught to all citizens, from start to finish of their education?

If it is only for literacy’s sake, then do we need to identify the subject as “English [American]” or “American English”?   If it is to equip our citizens “a linguistic passport” as they experience life in and out of the Philippines, why don’t we give the “other variety” as well, i.e. British English? In this way, they will not sound “still foreign” if they speak English in British English-inspired areas like: Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, [old] Rhodesia, or even Hong Kong and most of Europe.

The historical presence of “American” English in the Philippines has left that mark or impression: Filipinos now still use the same variety [they call “accent”] used by their predecessors. But do they, really? Take stock of any “regular,” educated Filipino speaker of English today and in most probability, you will discover that his pronunciation is “Philippine”; his stress is British or [old] American; his vocabulary is either: Spanish e.g. rotonda, sofa, aparador); or British (e.g. to cheat, nowhere, drug-addict); or American (e.g. pants, run [in stockings], stand in line); and his syntactic “errors” or nuances are his own group’s: i.e. “Philippine.” He will most unlikely commit the American nuance of “I knowed you some place before!” Nor the British insertion of an unwritten /r/ between vowels as on “Asia R and Africa R two great continents”, but he will most be caught unaware saying: “Ms. Divina is my closest friend... and I am his too!” by interference of his “Philippine” word Siya, [which stands for] both “he” and “she.”
[American] English: A century or more of stay, presence, and instruction in the Philippines; let me ask: Where are you truly now?

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