Posted by: nastypen | August 17, 2008

Rizal Said I Stink Worse than Fish

August is halfway done. This is supposed to be the Buwan ng Wika or the month celebrating the Filipino language. In my day it was called Linggo ng Wika; it was just celebrated for a week. I remember my teachers back in Cebu sweeping towards me and the other students who speak Tagalog at home to represent the batch for a stupid declamation contest. I lost because I wanted to do stand-up comedy more than pretending to be an incarcerated prisoner.

Recently, I was doing some research of old spot illustrations from the early 20th Century and I saw great ones depicting the call for Filipino to be the national language. One had a young lady whose torso was in a shape of a heart with a keyhole at the center. A young gentleman was holding a key with the word “English” emblazoned on it. Then atop the cartoon, the heavens opened up to show Francisco Balagtas holding a key with the words “Filipino” offering to the gentleman that this was the key to the young Filipina’s heart. That illustration was drawn by Fernando Amorsolo.


What would Balagtas do if he found out a vast number of young Filipinas these days have their hearts opened for a vampire that glistens in the sunlight courtesy of the Twilight series?


I remember being grilled by our Filipino teacher back in elementary whose name means “Gutter” in Filipino and I bet he didn’t know that. Anyway, he told us that Filipino National Hero Jose Rizal said that those people who do not love/appreciate their own language stink worse than fish. I wanted to ask then why would Rizal write his novels in Spanish. But I didn’t and drew dinosaurs instead.


I may be more comfortable writing in English but I am ashamed that I have a hard time writing in Filipino. Then my friend reminds me that poems of mine were published by the Philippine Collegian. Those poems were in Filipino. I don’t know. Probably I was having a significant moment with the language when I wrote those. I truly feel inadequate when it comes to our own language which is a shame.


Most shameful episodes of my ignorance to the national language: I was a freshman poring over my readings. I had to ask my seat mate at the bus what “Tutubi” (dragonfly) means. The guy stared at me as if I had leprosy. At work, an officemate and I were discussing and he mentioned a word. I asked loudly and with bimbo inflections, “What’s nakadungaw? (waiting wistfully by the window sill)” He laughed out so loud that everyone stared. I told this to my mom and for the first time in my life, I saw shame and pity in my mother’s eyes. She is Batanguena and is perfectly adept to the Filipino language.


The best essays I read about the language and post-colonialism in the Filipino context are Renato Constantino‘s The Miseducation of the Filipino (Which I feel every Filipino student should read) and Eric Gamalinda‘s English is your Mother Tongue (Translation: English ay Tongue ng Ina Mo). The title itself is indicative of its searing thoughts.


I came from the batch of UP students wherein they experimented in teaching the Sciences and Math in Filipino. I asked the professor what the Filipino word for “Ellipse” is. He reverted to English the rest of the semester. I believe if you contrive, you deprive.


However, it does not mean if the word is absent from our language, that immediately render our language incapable and insufficient. On the contrary, a professor mentioned to me that he met a Japanese scholar who is an expert in Indonesian art. That Japanese said that he used to pursue Philippine Studies, until he encountered our language. The Japanese gave up because of the sheer difficulty.


I do instill in my students the respect we should give to our identity; which language stems from. Cebuano is not a dialect. It is a regional language. I insert in my lectures that Filipino is a very difficult language with all its affixations. Blas mentioned to me about linguistics anthropology on how linguists all over the earth credit Filipino as one very complex language.


My sister mentioned that her Professor Randy David (sexiest beast in UP Diliman’s College of Social Sciences and Philosophy) had an awkward start with the Filipino language. What he did was to read the Bible in Filipino. Years later, he effortlessly discussing important issues of our society in Filipino. Me and a Bible. Hmmm. Maybe I should start small….the tabloids. Hey I learned the Filipino word “Nabantilawan” from an op-ed column at a tabloid. What it means is for a person to lose vigor or appetite. Whoa. See how complex and beautiful the language of Filipino is?


I heard that some schools are having pageants to celebrate the Filipino language. What are the awards? Best in diptonggo (diphthongs)? Binibining Hulapi? Ginoong Talasalitaan? If you want to celebrate the language, might as well focus on its significance to our culture and identity and not parade it like some cheap beauty pageant. Although, it IS fun, these beauty pageants; but, please, let it not be the focus of a month celebrating our language. A complex language deserves more than pomp and pageantry. I, for one, believe Filipino deserves equal focus and appreciation to that of the English language.


Nemcy said I am capable of writing blogs in Filipino. But blogging for me should require minimal brain function (ergo misspellings and such I don’t bother checking) unlike serious literary pursuits (which I include writing and reading in Filipino, tabloids included.) Let me learn and hone more first before I do write in Filipino. I want to be credible and deserve the florid language of Filipino.



  1. Why is it that you seem to keep asking for forgiveness for the inability to do well in the national language? It’s not the only gauge of nationalism. But what bothers me is that for a nation that has such a complex language, with over 100 main languages and another hundred more varieties and variations within it — it doesn’t seem to reflect the complexity or advancement of our society which according to some linguists is an indication of an advanced culture.

  2. I know nationalism is not exclusive to language, but it would be better if I can articulate in Filipino and Cebuano in the same manner as I command English. And, of course, most Filipinos downgrade their own language(s) because we are made to feel inadequate if we use them. Remember most people here look up to those with impeccable American accent as an asset? As if sounding like a Southern Californian mall rat makes one intelligent!

  3. totoo ang iyong mga kuro-kuro…minamaliit ang paggamit ng pilipino dahil masy sosyal daw ang inggles. pero magaling ka mag-kwento sa yahoogroup natin sa tagalog! pero hanga ako na marunong ka ng bisaya at iba pang wika. dahil nakilala kita, nainiwala na rin ako na ang bisaya ay language , hindi dialect. 🙂
    buwan ng wika na pala. ako rin ay may sinulat tungkol sa linggo ng wika sa aking blag. o blog. kablag.

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