AdMU student's essay on Filipino language raises online firestorm

By David Dizon,

Posted at Aug 26 2011 03:44 PM | Updated as of Aug 26 2011 11:56 PM

MANILA, Philippines - A student of the Ateneo de Manila University reaped criticism from Filipino netizens after writing a column that described the Filipino language as "not the language of the learned."

The article "Language, learning, identity, privilege" was written by James Soriano for his iThink column and published in the Manila Bulletin website. Curiously, the article was inaccessible Friday afternoon but could still be found via Google cache.

The names James Soriano has also started trending in microblogging site Twitter, while links to his original post circulated on Facebook.

In his column, Soriano described English as the language of learning, having been raised in a home conducive to learning English. He said he learned to think in English and used the language to learn about numbers, equations and variables.

On the other hand, he said Filipino was the language of the streets and what "we used to speak to the people who washed our dishes."

Soriano said learning the Filipino language was practical because "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," he said.

In his column, Soriano said he was proud of his proficiency in speaking Filipino but had trouble reading and writing the language.

He said he had only recently begun to grasp Filipino as the language of identity, the language of emotion, experience and even of learning. He acknowledged that he, in fact, smelled worse than rotting fish because "my own language is foreign to me."

However, he also said: "[Filipino] might have the capacity to be the language of learning, but it is not the language of the learned."

He concluded: "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."

Arrogance, self-expression

Following the publication of the article, many netizens criticized Soriano for his comments on the Filipino language. Others, however, defended him for stating what is already happening in society.

Tonyo Cruz said the essay's publication is timely as the Philippines marks "Buwan ng Wika" or Language Month to celebrate the Philippine national language.

Cruz said he was surprised by the honesty and candor expressed in Soriano's essay.

He noted: "This essay by Soriano betrays the truth about the continuing colonial character of education, and why Soriano could be considered a victim of such a system which breeds graduates who look down on Filipinos and on the Filipino language. Hardly unsurprising really because the educational system enforces and reinforces that belief from preschool to post-graduate school."

Former Muntinlupa congressman Ruffy Biazon said there was a similarity between Soriano's article and Mideo Cruz's allegedly blasphemous art exhibit.

"Similarity between Mideo Cruz & James Soriano: both exercised their right of self-expression," he said in his Twitter page.

Pinoy Reporter said it was ironic that the Manila Bulletin published the column 2 days after it received an award from the Commission on Filipino language. President and deputy editor Niña Terol-Zialcita, meanwhile, noted that before people condemn Soriano, "let's ask our society & culture hard questions. What he did was wake us up & provoke discussion."

Below are some of the other comments on James Soriano in the microblogging site Twitter:

Mistervader  Marcelle Fabie
Dear James Soriano: The language of the learned isn't English, Filipino or whatever. The language of the learned IS CAREFULLY THOUGHT OUT.

BjLingan  Benjamin Lingan
Reading the James Soriano article felt like you were set up for something insightful but was left with a foul taste in your mouth.

Raymondangas  Raymond Ang
So yeah, James Soriano's piece was reckless & kind of dumb. But at the same time, this is what we as a culture have done. Let's not pretend.

Candicequimpo  Candice Lopez Quimpo
Dear James Soriano, pls write a follow-up essay. Put some teeth and some more thinking into this. Worthwhile issue requires deeper thinking.

AnneHotaway  Ann Reyes
May point naman itong si James Soriano, ang masasabi ko lang hindi sya magaling na manunulat.

macoulitsa  maco

I did not find James Soriano's article offensive.Brings out the reality that something is indeed wrong with our educational system.

lickericson  Ericson Ramel

Dear james soriano, I never heard about you until you became the king of arrogance.

pauljamiam  Paul
james soriano i have not even heard of this level of arrogance from the NATIVE English speakers!

gracemirandilla  Grace Mirandilla
James Soriano reminds me of Malu Fernandez, the socialite columnist who called OFWs cheap (in print), & thought she could get away with it.

mufflednoise  Abby Reyes
Sorry, defenders of James Soriano. IMO there is no "understanding where he's coming from" - it's an arrogant, uninformed, careless article.

renierbona Renier Louie B. Bona

While I take offense on James Soriano's cheap perceptn on our natl lang,I also take offense on the stripping of his article by Mnla Bulletin