English by Filipinos & critic Isagani R Cruz

MANILA: Today, Sunday, 15 November 2015, multi-awarded Filipino writer Isagani R Cruz writes on Facebook this (see image above):

Isang tanong lang: bakit ang China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia, Thailand, Iran, at Saudi Arabia, mga bansang bobo sa Ingles, ay mas mayaman pa kaysa sa bayan nating sawi? (Just one question: Why is it that China, Japan, South Korea..., countries dumb in English, are wealthier than our unfortunate country?)

Mr Cruz is implying that our insistence on English as a major language in the Philippines is a major reason why the country is poor, which is a non siquitur. It does not follow that a country that insists on a language other than its own is a backward nation, or will remain backward. And it does not follow that those countries he enumerates instead used their national language to become more prosperous than the Philippines.

But in fact, Mr Cruz's comment does not follow the line of reasoning of the content of the news item cited in the Facebook blurb below his comment, "State of English in PH: Should we be concerned?" The concern raised is less to make the Philippines richer overall and more to make it more competitive specifically as a destination in the teaching of English as a second language (ESL) (Mike Cabigon, 14 November 2015, opinion.inquirer.net).

If I understand him well enough, ESL is not only what Mr Cruz is driving at; he wants English to be seen as a major driving force in Philippine progress. If he doesn't want that? He should! He cannot ignore the fact that the English-language papers of Manila of which he is a great part have a giant stake here as President of the Manila Times College (of Journalism). So now I ask a question:

What have the major Manila papers done to propagate the English language to the level of international excellence?

My answer is: NONE.

I'm 76; I have been reading the Manila papers for the last 50 years, and even in their online editions, they have hardly changed. None of them inspires me. They bore me to death. (And, I'm sure, same is true with the Tagalog magazines and papers.)

This is what I know: What newspaper editors have been doing to propagate the use of the English language by Filipinos is to sit complacently on the English language prevalent in the Philippines 50 years ago and to recycle old verbs in their headlines such as allot, bare, hit, lone, row, seek, set, tap and top. No such thought-evoking headline verbs as awaken, befuddle, dazzle, even reminisce; if you use any such verb in your headline, I will want to read your story. You're thinking!

99% of the newspaper columns in Manila are dreary, written in the old style, no surprises, as if to say the ever-evolving English language has nothing to contribute in the field of creativity. They don't elevate the art of journalism. (Ladies & gentlemen, try the online editions of The New Yorker, WIRED, Fast Company, or The Atlantic and be enchanted.) Or, which is the same, the editors of Manila papers don't think Philippine journalism should show any creativity at all, just news, news, news – and views.

If you choose ordinariness, the quality of your writing is strained, not like manna from Heaven.

And the article that Mr Cruz refers to, says (Cabigon as cited):

State of English in PH: Should we be concerned?
The Philippines is recognized globally as one of the largest English-speaking nations, with the majority of its population having at least some degree of proficiency in the language. English has always been one of the country's official languages, and is spoken by more than 14 million Filipinos. It is the language of commerce and law, as well as the primary medium of instruction in education.

Proficiency in the language is also one of the Philippines’ strengths, which has helped drive the economy and even made it the top voice outsourcing destination in the world, surpassing India in 2012. The influx of foreign learners of English is also on the rise due to the relatively more affordable but quality English as a Second Language (ESL) programs being offered locally.

English in the Philippines is the language of commerce and law; it has also made the country the #1 outsourcing destination in the world, surpassing India in 2012 yet. So, what's Mr Cruz' beef? I know. What he is trying to say is this:

"If we are so smart, why aren't we so rich?"

Which is another non siquitur: Being smart does not necessarily make you a rich man in time.

My alma mater, the University of the Philippines, has hardly contributed either to the elevation of the art in the use of English as one of the country's official languages. The nationalists insist on Filipino, which is basically Tagalog; so, if the State University speaks Taglish – you should attend one of their classes even in science and English – how can you cultivate this foreign language to excellence, to the distinct advantage of all Filipinos?

The news that Mr Cruz refers to is about the roundtable discussion organized by British Council Philippines on the Philippines' English competency and how much of a competitive advantage it remains, and not about whether English is related to a country's overall economic well-being, or ill-being.

If Mr Cruz is dismayed that our use of the English language has not catapulted us to 1st World status, and as I know that he is a member and in fact the founding Chair of the Manila Critics Circle and writes quality fiction, I want to ask him if he can truly say that our fictionists have contributed much to the nurturing of the English language that it has become second nature in business, social and educational communication as to be noticeable by outsiders, leading them to seek staff or outright open office in the country and, thereby contribute to its wealth? If fictionists write only for themselves, they have no business complaining about the state of their country.

I note of course that the one-sentence diatribe of Mr Cruz is entirely in Filipino (Tagalog). It is as if Mr Cruz wants to tell us, "You can only go so far with the English language. If I were you, I will stick to Tagalog." Or perhaps Mr Cruz thinks our use of the English language is simply "linguistic imperialism" as Eric North puts it in his thesis submitted for a Bachelor of Linguistics at the Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Michgan (academia.edu). I'll take linguistic imperialism anytime, thank you.

Perhaps Mr Cruz is just bored he just wants to say something, and that's it. Which all goes to show that if you're bored, anything you say can and will be taken against you.

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