Language and Identity

Languages. I would say it is one of the most successful inventions of humankind. It allows us to connect, to love, and to understand one another. A language means more than just a structure of grammar and of a string of intonation, it is a reflection of one’s heart. If a language has the power to connect, why is that our way of using the same language divides and incriminates us.

When I first went to the province as a child, I knew right away that my grandmother is somewhat different from me, there was something in the way she speaks English. I was not surprised when she introduced herself to me in English, and not in Filipino. I was a city girl, and it is because of my background that made her feel the need to speak in another tongue.

She spoke with a heavy accent, and the way of using English was endearing in its own way. She would often interchange the order of the verbs and the nouns. “Eat you have?”, “Sweet she is, like a fresh ripe mango” and her favorite expression “Grown fat you have”. Translating her words in English makes her sound like Master Yoda, with words filled with metaphors. When Filipinos ask you whether or not have you eaten, it shows that they love you.

Before we are born, our mothers feed us in their wombs, our friends celebrate victories by inviting you to a feast. It is no surprise that lovers devour each other’s bodies and souls. It’s amazing how a simple question may hold a lot of emotions. Filipinos have a habit of using fruits and vegetables on describing another person. Calling someone like a mango means that the person has a golden heart, and of a sweet nature. While calling someone an “ampalaya” means that they have a bitter view of life, and calling someone an onion skin means they are very sensitive. Greeting someone by telling them that they have grown fat is an assurance that you are being fed not just with food, but also with love.

My grandmother is a natural storyteller, not only are her stories particularly interesting, it is her use of the language that makes a story so vivid in your imagination that you actually feel the character’s emotions. I was amazed by my grandmother’s talent that I invited her to stay in the city for a while, to meet my friends. I was too excited for my friends to meet her that I forgot one crucial thing, my friends are “Ingleseros”, people who prefer to speak only in English and have a weak grasp of the Filipino language and its cultural metaphors. She told stories using English words but with Filipino grammar and intonation. My friends did not understand anything that she said and described her use of English as broken. I did not know how to feel when they told me that my grandmother is speaking in a broken language as if her thoughts and feelings need to be repaired.

As I grew older, the more I noticed how some parents prefer their children to speak English. It is regarded as the language of privilege for it is the language used in board rooms, in the court of law, and in medicine. It is in fact the language of education, where all subjects are taught in English.

However, I believe that the abandonment of the Filipino language makes us uneducated. It prevents one from connecting with fellow Filipinos, missing the opportunity to know one’s values, culture, and history. I do not get why we regard English as the language of privilege. Is not knowing one’s identity through the eyes and ideas of the Filipino language a great privilege to have?

Language is the glue of society. It what binds us together with shares beliefs, history, and ways of life. What we fail to realize that the use of language in a different manner and style does not make one person superior to others. It just shows how playful and flexible language can be, where one can represent an idea in different ways. We put too much effort and criticism in the way we say words that we often overlook the meaning of it. What is the use of language if we do not understand what’s in the minds and hearts of others? 


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