Wednesday, November 24, 2010

On Tagalog vs. English


Our discussions of language in the Philippines reminded me of some related observations by another Filipino writer that have always intrigued me. They're from the writer and critic Bienvenido Lumbera, but I came to them second-hand, in the essay Expression in the Philippines by my own favourite local writer, Nick Joaquin.

. . . Lumbera stimulates as he explains the absence of irony in Tagalog writing (writers in the vernacular have for sole tradition writing as naive as Florante at Laura, and for outlets commercial pulps with iron taboos) and the pronounced irony of Filipino writers in English (though generally of the middle class, they're alienated from it and moreover are spared the temptation to write for profit because they have no commercial outlets).

Lumbera's thesis was published in 1967, five years after F. Sionil Jose's first Rosales novel was published, and seventeen years before Po-on. All these books were written in English--but you can buy Tagalog translations, I think. (LOL!!!)

Later in the essay, Joaquin continues:

A related mystery is the continuing "naivete" of writing in the vernacular, including Tagalog. The language problem of the Filipino writer is usually posed as a choice between the native tongue and a foreign medium. But Bienvenido Lumbera has made a most perceptive redefinition of the problem: the choice is really between a written literature and an oral one. The modern writer writes to be read; it's not so much his training in English as the readership he would reach that obliges the 20th-century Filipino to write in English. However well he may know Tagalog, he cannot write in it because, in a sense, Tagalog is not yet a written language. What Tagalog literally has is an audience that does not so much read print as listen to it, the way it listened to bard or storyteller in pre-Hispanic times. It's still in the age of the ballad, not yet in the age of prose.


Mad Scientist said...

Pleasant day to you ladies :)

I hope you have an extremely wonderful and thankful day no matter how you spend it.

Please do stop by anything for a spot of tea.

Happy Turkey Day,
Mad Scientist

Enbrethiliel said...


I take full responsibility for the above comment. =P It's not really spam. I recently became a follower of the Mad Scientist's blog, leaving a comment there, and this comment is a courtesy return call. =)