Keys — unless you jiggle them — do not a wang-wang make

This represents my two-bit response to James Soriano’sLanguage, learning, identity, privilege” which is the subject of Bill Davis’s comment, “reThinking Soriano” and Manuel Buencamino’s comment/open letter, “James Soriano and his wang-wang“, all of which are in the immediately preceding post, “Language dilemma: an outsider’s perspective“:

No, I don’t think that English language skills are a wang-wang for the perverse desire to say “Get the heck out of my way!” just so one can move through with ease. Like the key to your house or your car, language skills are just a communication tool to gain access to or understand information such as those encoded on a printed page or any media, spoken or expressed by others. Language is a tool to communicate your thoughts. Language is not the same as “I’m speaking English, so you better get out of my way!” as compared to an ambulance in legitimate use utilizing its siren in an emergency.

Perhaps, the importance of language skills is illustrated in that anecdote, “Multilingual situation but non-verbal“, which is in a prior post.

We generally learn English to unlock, for instance, the information readily available in math and science textbooks or other media in English because this type of information is not generally and widely available in Filipino or any other local language. We, like the Russians, the Indians, the Asians, the Europeans, etc., learn to speak English because it is the lingua franca in the global arena. Even in countries like Japan, Korea, China and most European countries which have succeeded in “intellectualizing” their language, some of their people look to gaining English skills to be able to communicate with other players in the global arena or unlock widely available information that is encoded in various English media. Google Translate is not perfected yet.

This reminds me of a Bonifacio Sibayan piece, “The Intellectualization of Filipino“, written more than two decades ago but still relevant in the present dialog:

The Intellectualization of Filipino

By Bonifacio P. Sibayan

Language has domains, ones that have human populations and support institutions, structures, and services. There are three classes of language domains, namely: non-controlling domains (NCDs) those of the home and the lingua franca; semi-controlling domains (SCDs)controlling domains (CDs) chief of which are (1) government with sub-domains of executive, judiciary, and legislature, (2) education with sub-domains of elementary, secondary, vocational-technical, and higher education; (3) the professions such as law, medicine, accountancy, etc.; (4) science and technology; (5) business, commerce and industry; (6) information technology which includes mass media, (7) literature and (8) international relations (Sibayan 1991, 1994a). which include religion, politics, and entertainment.

The language(s) and language varieties used in the NCDs, SCDs, and CDs differ in many significant respects. In the NCDs of the home and the lingua franca, there is no restriction on what language or language variety that may be spoken or written although reading and writing are optional. Any language, for example, English, Filipino, Ilocano or any mixture may be used in the NCDs. The lingua franca of the Philippines before 1940 was English. Today it is Filipino or a “mix-mix”, what is technically called code-switching variety popularly called Taglish. The rules of acceptability and correctness are very liberal. A ‘fractured’ variety may be acceptable. One does not need to go to school to learn the language of the home and the lingua franca.

The language(s) and language varieties used and the rules that apply in the SCDs of religion, entertainment, and politics are more strict than those in the NCDs of the home and the lingua franca. The population in religion, for example, consists of various categories of persons and different levels of education such as the well-educated priests, nuns and ministers who have to learn an intellectualized language required in their denomination for their education. On the other hand, many of the participants in religious services may be passive as to the language used. Many participants may not be able to read and write.

The main language used in the CDs of language is always an intellectualized language. An intellectualized language is that language that can be used for giving and obtaining a complete education in any field of knowledge from kindergarten to the university and beyond. An intellectualized language is written, thus making reading and writing necessary skills. Knowledge and information on any subject are stored in and retrieved from various written sources and information storage such as books and CD-ROMs and most recently, with some languages, the internet. New knowledge and information as a result of research are reported in an intellectualized language. By this definition, English, Russian, German, French, Japanese, to name just five, are intellectualized languages. By the same definition, Filipino is not (yet) an intellectualized language. The only CD of language where Filipino is intellectualized is literature. There is a respectable body of literature in Filipino, there are substantial writers in Filipino literature and there are support organizations and publications for the development of Filipino literature. However, one cannot acquire a college or university degree with the use of Filipino only; the needed subjects to fulfill the requirements of a B. S. in Filipino such as math and social science subjects are not available in Filipino.

Process of Intellectualization

The process of intellectualizing a language, say Filipino, so that it may be used as the language in the CDs of language involves, among other processes, the building up of (1) various populations who possess different knowledges and skills in Filipino, who have a good command of the registers needed in the domain and sub-domain, for example, agricultural scientists, medical doctors, lawyers, accountants, etc. The language used in medicine differs from the language of law, that is, the two differ in registers so that even if both use English, the medical doctor may not understand the register of law and vice versa. This is what is crucial in the development of an intellectualized language: each domain, sub-domains and sub-sub-domains (fields of specialization) have specific registers. The registers for practically all areas of knowledge are available in intellectualized languages, but not in Filipino. The task of developing the registers of the various areas of knowledge in Filipino and educating the populations who can command and use these registers are formidable tasks in the intellectualization of Filipino.

A second task is the building of (2) support institutions and various structures such as colleges and universities, hospitals; learned organizations that publish journals in Filipino; service agencies such as publishing houses and other structures. The population of a CD, say the sub-domain of medicine, consists of physicians, nurses, technicians, nurse aids, and others who speak and write the language required in medicine, in the Philippine case, English, an intellectualized language. One cannot learn medicine in the Philippines with the use of Filipino. The principal support institutions in medicine are Colleges of Medicine, hospitals, pharmaceutical labs, etc. The computer programs for CT scans, hospital records are in English. The intellectualization of Filipino as the language of medicine and the medical profession and other CDs of language is a giant undertaking. Medical doctors say that it is impractical and impossible.

Consider the other CDs of language such as the sub- and sub-sub domains of science and technology, e.g. mathematics, physics, chemistry, the agricultural sciences, and other areas of knowledge. The task of building the populations, support institutions and services using Filipino to replace English is a task of the greatest magnitude.

Source Language(s) for Intellectualization

A developing language needs a source language for intellectualization (SLI). The source languages in the intellectualization of English were Greek, Latin, Old French, Arabic, among others (see etymological entries in large dictionaries of English). The SLI of Tagalog during the 16th to the 19th centuries was Spanish (Hispanismos 1972; Gonzalez 1985). The SLI of Filipino in the 20th century and beyond is mainly English. One can’t read modern and intellectualized Filipino (nee Tagalog) without encountering borrowings from English. Those who have a good command of written and spoken English and other intellectualized languages may fully contribute to the intellectualization of Filipino; monolingual speakers of Filipino can hardly do so.

Language Replacement and Language Shift

The replacement of English and the shift to Filipino as the national lingua franca was easy because the variety of language, a mixture of Filipino, English, and the local language, known as Taglish did/does not require schooling nor reading and writing; the rules of acceptability are loose. On the other land, the replacement of English by Filipino in the CDs of language require a high level of education, a mastery of the register or registers in the domains and sub-domains (areas of specialization). The rules of acceptability in reading and writing and mastery of both subject matter and register are strict; there are various “gatekeeping agencies” and requirements for entry into the domains, e.g. College entrance examinations, the Professional Regulation Commission, Civil Service examinations, etc. In addition there is the matter of attitude by the people on the replacement of English with Filipino. At present, English is the perceived language for socio-economic advancement and is the language of aspiration in the CDs of language.

In order that Filipino may be intellectualized it must be used in the CDs of language which means it must replace English. But for Filipino to replace English, it should be intellectualized. Therein lies the dilemma in the intellectualization of Filipino.

Bonifacio P. Sibayan was internationally recognized as one of the world’s pioneer scholars in sociolinguistics. He was a recipient of the Social Science Achievement Award – Sociolinguistics (1986) from the National Research Council of the Philippines and National Social Scientist Award (1990) from the Philippine Social Science Council. He died in 2005.

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