Hey, I'm Cebuano-speaking (a.k.a. "bisdak" or "bisayang dako"), so that already gives you an idea why I cannot relate with the sentiments. Cebuano and Tagalog may have common words, but hey, they're different. An untrained Cebuano will not understand, much less speak, Tagalog and vice-versa.
My wife is Tagalog and my children will grow up speaking Tagalog and English because we live in Metro Manila. I don't mind that at all. I'll be teaching them Cebuano in due time. This post is not about people speaking the languages, but about how people from different parts of the Philippines perceive the languages .
The non-speaking of the "native tongue" in the foreign land was misconstrued as something akin to lack of identity, inferiority complex, or worse, embracing a foreign culture. In short, those who did not speak the "native tongue" was perceived as "plastic" or hypocrite. That at least was my impression of what the blogs were saying. Clearly, that was not my thinking and belief.
It may hurt to say that such impression is born out of lack of understanding, a.k.a. ignorance, of the diversity among Filipinos but sorry I must say so. Being "plastic" is a guilt we can accuse Filipinos of (and the rest of humanity to put this into proper perspective), but I do not see it among the primary reasons why "Filipinos speak English."
In fairness though, Filipinos from all over the country have learned to adapt to each other and appreciate the differences as well as commonalities. Out of the many, many, many blogs I browsed yesterday and early today, I saw this issue in only around two or three. So, this is not a major issue, really. But it's worth getting into if only to dispel once and for all this "myth" that Filipinos are somehow ashamed of their "native tongue."
The issue touched on something beautiful about Filipinos, only misunderstood. There is more to the question than meets the eye, and proper understanding of the reasons I am about to cite deepens our understanding of the diversity among Filipinos, wrapped in a common culture and spirit. That, I say, is what's beautiful, almost in a romantic sense, about our country.
Reason #1. The USA established our educational system in 1901 and English became the medium of instruction. It's 2008 and this has not changed. I believe it never will.
That's right. A little of history here. We have been a colony of the United States of America for almost half a century, from 1898, the year they conned Aguinaldo, until 1946 the year the USA granted independence to the Philippines. (Of course there was a 5-year Japanese occupation from 1941-1945 during World War II, during which Filipinos fought valiantly as guerillas.) During the US occupation, they sent to the Philippines what we refer to now as the Thomasites (after the transport vessel USS Thomas), who "expanded and improved the public school system, and switched to English as the medium of instruction."
So, what that meant was, our grandfathers and great-grandfathers were educated by the American system, and they were very good English speakers, which most of us inherit if not consciously, then subconsciously. My mother (now 81 years old) used to tell me that at Grade VI, she was already so good in English that she taught younger grades the language. That's unimaginable these days, I know. But the use of English as medium of instruction, to me, is there to stay, regardless of what our nationalist friends say.
Why is that? You'll find out in Reason #5, but please don't skip. Reasons #2 to #4 are even more important in the present day context.
Reason #2. English is the language of governance. It has not changed too since 1901.
That's right. Go to Malacanang, the Senate, Congress, any government department or bureau, even the police and the military. Everybody there uses English as medium of communication. Look at the letter heads of their communications and you will see "Office of the President of the Philippines," "Senate of the Republic of the Philippines," "House of Representatives," etc. etc. Look at your SSS card or Driver's License and what's on top? Does it say "Republika ng Pilipinas"? No, sir. It says, "Republic of the Philippines."
Look at our constitution and laws. They're in English for goodness sake. You can look for the Tagalog versions, if you want. I wish you luck.
Look at our streets, street signs, public notices. They're all in English! The major streets are called Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, Roxas Boulevard, South Expressway, North Luzon Expressway, etc.
What this means is, anyone who deals with the government --- and that's everybody --- must somehow learn to at least read in English! Thanks to our educational system, that's possible.
Reason #3. English is the language of business. This is the ONE THING that I don't think will ever change.
Business in the Philippines is English. No English? No business. All you have to do is go around the streets and you'll see that even the smallest store has some English in it: "Marvin's Store," "Eloy's Barber Shop," etc. I didn't make up these names. These are stores in my neighborhood and "Marvin's Store" isn't my store, it a namesake's store.
Go to any bank and you see English splashed all over. The largest banks here are called "Metropolitan Bank and Trust Company," "Bank of the Philippine Islands," "Equitable-PCI Bank," and so on.
All communications in business are in, guess what? English! I still have to see a business letter between two companies written in Tagalog. I'm 39 years old. Maybe I haven't looked very meticulously the past 19 years I've been working.
What that means is each Filipino must learn English not just to move around but to also to eat three times a day!
Reason #4. English is the language of mass media.
The major broadsheets are in English. There are three major broadsheets in the Philippines that I can think of and they're Philippine Daily Inquirer, Manila Bulletin and Philippine Star (not necessarily in that order). Of course there are Tagalog tabloids, but none that I know that is of national circulation as big as any of these three.
Most of the magazines are in English. Just go to any magazine stand and do a count. How many are in English? How many are in Tagalog? It will be fun. Chances are, if you close your eyes and pick up any magazine, chances are it's in English.
Radio stations are bilingual. Well, you'll hear English in almost all FM stations that broadcast music. You'll hear Tagalog and other local dialects usually in AM stations. You don't want English, stick to AM stations, which many Filipinos do, by the way.
TV stations are bilingual. TV stations now broadcast news in Tagalog, I concede to that. We are a bilingual country, that's why. Thanks to mass media, non-Tagalogs now have a greater exposure to the "Filipino" language, which is in fact Tagalog. But English is not completely out. The newscaster may be speaking in Tagalog, but the one in the news can be speaking in English, especially if it's a government official or corporate executive; and you don't get any Tagalog translation for the English you get.
What this means is, one must learn English to better understand what's going on in the country!
Reason #5. English is the Great Unifier among Filipinos. Without it, I could not see how Filipinos would understand each other when Spain left.
Be ready for this: English is the second language of most non-Tagalog Filipinos. Would you believe that? They count a total of 172 "native languages and dialects spoken" in the Philippines, "all belonging to the Austronesian linguistic family. " The major branches are Cebuano, Tagalog, Ilocano and Hiligaynon. Cebuano is the largest homogenous group, which includes not just Cebu but also most of Central Visayas (Negros Occidental, Cebu, Siquijor, Bohol, Leyte provinces, parts of Masbate); as well as practically most of Mindanao with the exception of provinces with Muslim majority.
I was handed a set of data in November 2007 (the month the Excel file was created). While the population figures may no longer be valid, I do not see why the percentages would significantly change.
Here it is:
Do we now see why the USA imposed English in 1901? Clearly, there was no alternative. Had Spain taught us Spanish, then that would have been an alternative. Tagalog may be spoken in Manila in 1901, but 81% of Filipinos did not share that language. Only 19% of Filipinos speak Tagalog (or "Filipino") as the "native tongue." It was only much later when Manuel Quezon moved for the adoption of "Tagalog" as the national language, which proud Cebuanos resisted, even to the point of telling "imperial Manila" that they would reword Lupang Hinirang into Cebuano and sing the Cebuano version instead of the official version (I just heard this over the radio).
Now, do we still accuse Filipinos of not speaking the "native tongue"? In the light of the Reasons #1 to #5, clearly that's not fair.
Reasons why Cebuanos prefer English over Tagalog
There are only three vowels in Cebuano, and Tagalogs think that's very funny. It is a typical experience for a Cebuano to be an object of amusement by Tagalogs the moment they open their mouths and speak Tagalog. But the moment they speak English, which is the second language, they are able to express themselves better. For some Cebuanos, every experience like that is just a day in a life. Unfortunately for some Cebuanos, it drives some pain in their hearts such that they resist Tagalog all the more.I believe other linguistic groups in the Philippines can relate with this, or at least have their own versions of this.
English is an option for Cebuanos to express themselves. While I felt that Tagalogs were not comfortable with my Tagalog, I found that they were able to relate with me better when I spoke English. They would speak back to me in English or at least Taglish. Things went very well that way with me.
But when I decided to shift course and transfer campus from UP Diliman to UP Los Banos, things were different. The second campus was (and is) in the heart of "Southern Tagalog" where the die hard Tagalogs were (and are). When I spoke to them in English, they would talk back to me in Tagalog just the same. That really put a lot of pressure on me to speak Tagalog.
I had to practice Tagalog's two extra vowels. For instance, I had to practice pronouncing the word "bola" differently. Tagalog's pronounce it as "ball-a" while Cebuanos pronounce it as "bull-a." For Cebuanos, "e" and "i" are the same, while "o" and "u" are the same as well. Tagalogs say, "ba-be-bi-bo-bu" and Cebuanos would tend to pronounce it as "ba-bi-bi-bu-bu." No kidding there. It's just the way it is.
Here's more: there are similar words in Tagalog and Cebuano, but the meanings are completely, and even outrageously, different. The Tagalog word for cotton is "bulak," which is the Cebuano word for "flower." So Cebuanos must never buy "bulak" in the flower shop in Cubao. The Tagalog word for ants is "langgam," which is the Cebuano word for bird. When someone yells "langgam" in a crowd, you'd know who the Tagalogs and Cebuanos are. Those who look at the ground are Tagalogs. Those who look up are Cebuanos.
On weekends, the "probinsyanos" (from the province) were usually the ones left in the dormitory. Tagalogs were in their respective homes. But on one Sunday morning, a Tagalog was around. As me and my Cebuano friends were rushing to go to mass, one impatient guy yelled from the lobby, "agpas mo diha bay!" (Hurry up, friend!). Then almost in unison, one replied, "Kadyot na lang bay! Kadyot na lang!" (Just a few more moments, friend! Just a few more moments).
But the word "kadyot" did not go in well to that unfortunate Tagalog around; so he yelled at all of us, "magsisimba na lang kayo, ang babastos nyo pa rin!" (see you're about to go to Mass and you still have the gall for foul language!).
So, don't ever wonder again why Cebuanos would rather speak in English, rather than Tagalog. Trust me, they mean well.
What about Cebuanos to a Cebuano in a foreign land? Do they speak Cebuano to each other?
In my experience, it depends. If they just met each other, they would tend to be cordial and speak the language by which they started the conversation with. But as the conversation progresses, they would end up switching to Cebuano. That can happen very fast, or gradually. That's my experience here in Manila. It happened to me in Hong Kong. My wife befriended a Filipina with an Australian husband during a tour, and the Filipina happened to be Cebuano-speaking. So when it was my turn to speak to this Filipina, we spoke in Cebuano immediately.
My brother has a prank of speaking Cebuano wherever he goes, just for fun, whether in Manila, Vietnam or Australia. In Melbourne, he bought something from an Asian-looking guy and spoke to him in Cebuano. The guy looked intently at him for about a few moments, then replied, "taga dis-a man diay mo?" (oh, where are you from?) My brother said, "butangi!" (no English translation for that, but, "what the heck!" would be close.)
In fact, Cebuanos, in my experience, have the collective guilt of speaking Cebuano even in a crowd to the exclusion of others. Then we tend to giggle about the others who wonder what we're laughing about. That can be fun. Cebuanos refer to anyone who understand a bit of Cebuano as someone "dili mabaligya" (cannot be sold). That can be fun indeed, but that can also be rude. So, when a non-Cebuano is in a group, Cebuanos MUST speak the language of the land, as a matter of courtesy.
Outside of linguistic differences, Filipinos share a whole lot of warmth, hospitality, sense of humor, sense of adventure, adaptability, and many other good things about our culture that clearly defines us distinctly as a people. Language has never been a barrier among us, and language has never been a barrier in our relationships with other nationalities. That's the way we are.
Fortunately for the world, that's the way we are.