Language, Learning, Identity, Privilege by James Soriano

Language, Learning, Identity, Privilege by James Soriano is a column written and uploaded into the Manila Bulletin on August 24 has already been removed from the newspaper’s website. The title of the article is Language, learning, identity, privilege which seems to sound/feel good or titles can also be misleading. This drew criticisms from netizens on social networking sites Twitter and Facebook and even became a trending topic nationwide on August 26, 2011, which perhaps led to the removal on the publication's website.

Quick Introduction: this piece has already been spread around online by bloggers, reactors and the like to show their "2 cents" on it. It has become a controversial piece, wherein Soriano branded the Filipino language as the “language of the streets,” "not a language of learning," and some other things below.

Filipino, he insists, was “the language we used to speak to the people who washed our dishes,” “the language of the world outside the classroom,” “language of the streets,” used when “you spoke to the tindera when you went to the tindahan,” “tell your katulong that you had an utos,” and “how you texted manong when you needed ‘sundo na’.” He concludes by saying that Filipino “might have the capacity to be the language of learning, but it is not the language of the learned.”

Below is a reprint of the column as posted on that site.
Language, learning, identity, privilege

August 24, 2011, 4:06am

MANILA, Philippines — English is the language of learning. I’ve known this since before I could go to school. As a toddler, my first study materials were a set of flash cards that my mother used to teach me the English alphabet.

My mother made home conducive to learning English: all my storybooks and coloring books were in English, and so were the cartoons I watched and the music I listened to. She required me to speak English at home. She even hired tutors to help me learn to read and write in English.

In school I learned to think in English. We used English to learn about numbers, equations and variables. With it we learned about observation and inference, the moon and the stars, monsoons and photosynthesis. With it we learned about shapes and colors, about meter and rhythm. I learned about God in English, and I prayed to Him in English.

Filipino, on the other hand, was always the ‘other’ subject — almost a special subject like PE or Home Economics, except that it was graded the same way as Science, Math, Religion, and English. My classmates and I used to complain about Filipino all the time. Filipino was a chore, like washing the dishes; it was not the language of learning. It was the language we used to speak to the people who washed our dishes.

We used to think learning Filipino was important because it was practical: Filipino was the language of the world outside the classroom. It was the language of the streets: it was how you spoke to the tindera when you went to the tindahan, what you used to tell your katulong that you had an utos, and how you texted manong when you needed “sundo na.”

These skills were required to survive in the outside world, because we are forced to relate with the tinderas and the manongs and the katulongs of this world. If we wanted to communicate to these people — or otherwise avoid being mugged on the jeepney — we needed to learn Filipino.

That being said though, I was proud of my proficiency with the language. Filipino was the language I used to speak with my cousins and uncles and grandparents in the province, so I never had much trouble reciting.

It was the reading and writing that was tedious and difficult. I spoke Filipino, but only when I was in a different world like the streets or the province; it did not come naturally to me. English was more natural; I read, wrote and thought in English. And so, in much of the same way that I learned German later on, I learned Filipino in terms of English. In this way I survived Filipino in high school, albeit with too many sentences that had the preposition ‘ay.’

It was really only in university that I began to grasp Filipino in terms of language and not just dialect. Filipino was not merely a peculiar variety of language, derived and continuously borrowing from the English and Spanish alphabets; it was its own system, with its own grammar, semantics, sounds, even symbols.

But more significantly, it was its own way of reading, writing, and thinking. There are ideas and concepts unique to Filipino that can never be translated into another. Try translating bayanihan, tagay, kilig or diskarte.

Only recently have I begun to grasp Filipino as the language of identity: the language of emotion, experience, and even of learning. And with this comes the realization that I do, in fact, smell worse than a malansang isda. My own language is foreign to me: I speak, think, read and write primarily in English. To borrow the terminology of Fr. Bulatao, I am a split-level Filipino.

But perhaps this is not so bad in a society of rotten beef and stinking fish. For while Filipino may be the language of identity, it is the language of the streets. It might have the capacity to be the language of learning, but it is not the language of the learned.

It is neither the language of the classroom and the laboratory, nor the language of the boardroom, the court room, or the operating room. It is not the language of privilege. I may be disconnected from my being Filipino, but with a tongue of privilege I will always have my connections.

So I have my education to thank for making English my mother language.

It took a while for me to reflect on this, I was planning to let it pass for a week before I write my opinion about it but realizing that it will be too late since Buwan ng Wika is after all celebrated this month of August.In his column, Soriano ranted and described his use of the Filipino language as practical because, according to him, he is “forced” to use this language when dealing with the “tinderas and the manongs and the katulongs of this world.”

The initial reaction I had was amusement and pity and not of anger or rage. This is probably because I live in Cebu, Visayas region wherein we do not necessarily speak FILIPINO all the time. You see, I'm the type of person who has access, and is exposed to the many different 'Worlds' or sub cultures, cliques or circles where Filipinos live in.

I once thought like this dude, once upon a time. Coming from a Middleclass family entering and acquiring one's education in a Jesuit School taught me lots of things, including the not-so-good stuff as well. Of course I learned my values there and damn proud of it, but at the same time I was also immersed in the culture of the ELITE students who were my classmates. Though not all of them are bad, but it's just an irony that some bad fruits thought almost exactly like Soriano.

I got out of this mindset around 2-1/2 years into college where I got my degree and was immersed in a non-sectarian school, add to that 360 culture change, so that shocked me quite a bit. But I got stinky, dirty, but see, I learned. The tipping point was during a Brown Raise Movement Seminar in 2009 wherein I was shaken down into my spirit, wherein my journey of identity truly began.

Now, to eliminate some misconceptions let me 'School You' just a bit, real quick (not directed to the author but to my readers..:D):
  • The Cebuano tongue is simply not programmed to immediately switch to 'Tagalog' or Filipino (this is why we somewhat switch to english before transitioning to tagalog); I learned this in Call Center Training :P [We were lucky enough to have a highly qualified trainer of not just of English but also of Filipino]
  • You see, we were taught the history of the English language and that was also compared to the very diverse Philippines Languages. Take note, as a nation, we have 160+/- spoken language across the 7,107 Islands.
  • We can't really blame Soriano as an individual or his environment or his parents or the culture he was exposed to. It's an irony but our education system has a major hand on this kind of mindset, starting from elementary.
  • Though it is agreeable or debatable that English is the Language of the world, but it's just a shame that we don't know our own language.--I too am guilty in this aspect, technically I can speak Filipino, Bisaya and English, add to that some broken Chinese and Japanese, so if I know 2 Philippine laguanges, that just leaves 158 more to learn, right?
  • Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinanggalingan ay hindi makakarating sa paroroonan? - Jose Rizal; if you think about it, most of rizal's notes and quotes are still applicable today, that just goes to show how advanced he was.
There’s nothing wrong with learning a foreign language but to actually downgrade and avoid the use of our own native language — here in the Philippines by Filipinos themselves — is just sad and alarming! Hindi ka sosyal, Cheap ka ‘pag mali-mali ang grammar mo sa English.

What’s sadder and more alarming is that millions more Filipinos are starting to change: some want to change there language, change the skin color, change their values and sometimes to the point of their whole being. Will the Filipino always be ashamed of his/her brown skin, short height and snot-nose? Will the Filipino always look to a foreign country, for work, for a husband/wife, for a foreign citizenship for hope and salvation? Is it really that hard, to help out, and be part of the solution?

Here are some few powerful quotes to wake you up:
"All Filipinos want to be something else. The poor Filipino wants to be American. The Rich Filipinos want to be Spaniards. No Filipino wants to be simply FILIPINO." 
- Barth Suretsky, American-Filipino Expat
Kadtong dili molingi sa gigikanan, dili makaabot sa gipadulongan - Jose Rizal's Quote (Translated to Cebuano-Bisaya)
A people without a sense of history is a people doomed to be unaware of their own identity. Without a sense of who you are, how can you possibly take any pride in who you are? We are our own enemy. And we must have the courage, the will, to change ourselves.
Language, Learning, Identity, Privilege by James Soriano Language, Learning, Identity, Privilege by James Soriano Reviewed by Vernon Joseph Go on Sunday, August 28, 2011 Rating: 5


  1. Too bad for him though. But i think its the years of colonization that has led to this.

  2. How the hell did his article get through editors? Ang content palang offensive na kau...

  3. sak2, culture+education+a little bit of media hehehe this needs to be addressed na jud and eventually changed!

  4. gi tang2 na bitaw...pero I don't really know there processes and this was on the Opinion section I believe

  5. It is still an indication of the colonial mindset - a paradigm that something foreign is good. We can obviously see that English is considered the 'language of the learned' because we always credit our education to the Americans. To put our local language back to the pedestal requires a major paradigm shift because the greater problem goes beyond the words we say.