Monday, October 5, 2009

Sandara and her Tagalog, Pinoy celebrities and their English

Sandara Park, now Dara of the internationally rising Korean girl group 2NE1, had visited the Philippines twice to take a short vacation and to guest in certain talk shows such as SNN and Entertainment Live.

I've only seen her interview clips on YouTube, and like what all other people are saying, Sandara still speaks Tagalog fluently (although her accent is East Asian), making viewers think: why is Sandara, who does not hold any Filipino blood in her veins, prefer to speak a native Philippine language when in front of Filipino TV cameras, while our own Filipino-blooded celebrities endlessly speak and speak English endlessly on national television?

I have my own hypothesis regarding this inquiry. For Filipinos, a good command of the English language, especially in spoken form, is a display of erudition. Being an important subject in school and as a language spoken by the world, along with our favorite Hollywood stars and foreign musicians, the English language is comparable with a kick-ass car, an exquisite pair of shoes, or chic clothes. Displaying to the public, especially on national media, one's ability to speak English is indeed an attempt—intentional or subtle—to promote one's superiority over the rest of the Filipino masses who have a poor grasp of the international language that is English.

The audience, on the other hand, continuously praise icons who have good English, because they too hold the belief that the better English a person has, especially in the entertainment business, the more valuable he/she becomes.

They want Tagalog

Years ago, I had my first-hand experience of being in a movie set. I was the Script Continuity Supervisor for Star Cinema's 'A Love Story,' directed by Maryo Delos Reyes, starring Aga Muhlach, Maricel Soriano, and Angelica Panganiban. Also part of the film was TJ Trinidad, who played as one of Ian's (Muhlach) brothers.

Coming from a rich family, TJ's character, along with his brothers and sisters in the story, had lots of English and Taglish lines. Whenever I would approach TJ for us to rehearse his lines, he would always tell me to translate into straight Tagalog the Taglish lines written by the scriptwriter because according to him, he doesn't like speaking too much Taglish. This I appreciated.

TJ is, of course, a Filipino, albeit with a Spanish descent. Raised in an uppity environment and having gone to a school for the wealthy, I can imagine him hearing more English than Tagalog throughout his childhood and teenage years. So why does he want straight Tagalog, when this country puts high premium on English speakers? I again offer my hypothesis.

Speaking fluent Tagalog, on the other hand—especially for foreigners and Filipinos who do not have huge mass appeal due to their elitist cosmopolitan image—is a symbol of wanting to be patronized by the middle and lower classes, whose dominant medium of communication is the local language. This mentality is evident in such cases when Filipinos are amused upon hearing foreigners, say Thalia or Brian McKnight, speak Tagalog. And foreign stars wanting to break into Philippine showbiz acknowledge this as well, evident through the likes of Akihiro Sato, who is taking up Filipino courses in the University of the Philippines.

Going back to Sandara Park, I think that is the reason she uses Tagalog as much as possible whenever in front of Philippine cameras. As a Philippine icon who has got no Filipino blood, she makes it a point to build a connection with the Filipinos, and what tool can be more effective than using their language?

Now that she is famous in Korea, and knowing the Filipinos' penchant for people who have gained recognition in other countries, her ability to speak Tagalog in spite of her Korean blood is indeed an asset for Sandara. In fact, in one of the tracks in 2NE1's mini-album, Sandara said a Tagalog line in the intro: “Punta tayo sa fiesta.” She wanted to mean “let's go party” though, and it's funny because we never refer to fiestas here as parties.

Same with Kapampangan

On a provincial level, this is also evident. When famous and rich people from Manila, or other parts of the country or the world, come to Pampanga, and they mention a few, tongue-twisted greetings in the Kapampangan language in public gatherings such as concerts, press conferences, or mass media, it's as if we feel more hospitable toward them compared to those who don't make efforts (superficial or not) to connect with us.

A popular case here in the province is that of Jean Christopher Gaillard, a French geographer who has made several geographical researches in Pampanga. He has been staying in the province for more than a decade now. What amuses people whenever they encounter him is his excellent and natural command of the Kapampangan language. Not only that, he seems to have considered Pampanga and the Philippines as his home instead of his country of birth, France.

Without cautiousness though, attempting to connect with the audience through their local language may backfire. I remember reading from Albina Peczon Fernandez' book 'Ten' a funny case when a political candidate of Pangasinense descent was trying to run as a public official in one town in Pampanga. In an attempt to establish ethnic connection with the voters, the majority of which were Kapampangan, the political candidate made some Kapampangan slogans, one of which was: “Ibiye yo kaku ring botu yu, patalakad ko ring tete yu (Give me your votes, and I will have your bridges erected.” However, due to his Pangasinan tongue, what came out from his mouth sounded like this: “Ibiye yo kaku ring butu yu, patalakad ko ring titi yu (Give your your penises, and I will have your penises erected.” Laughter followed.

Birth of Taglish

Of all the pidgins spoken in the Philippines, nothing could be more popular (and irritating to listen to) than Taglish. Taglish is becoming a lingua franca in Metro Manila, especially in the media institution, where instead of saying “Ipaliwanag mo sa akin para maintindihan ko,” more and more youth prefer to say “I-explain mo sa akin so I'd understand.”

In Sandara Park's interview with Bianca Gonzales in Korea and with Luis Manzano and Toni Gonzaga in the Philippines, the Korean lady seems to speak more straight Tagalog lines than the Filipino hosts, much to the wonder of viewers.

Taglish I believe is a result of a desire to win audiences from both the upper and lower echelons of society. One displays his knowledge of English through the frequent use of grammatical English clauses and words, while reminding the people that they are equally knowledgeable in Tagalog by fusing English with Tagalog clauses and phrases.

This is becoming the trend na kasi kaya dumarami yung mga nag-i-imitate nito. All thanks to television.


In a linguistic point of view, all that is happening in the realm of language in the Philippines is natural. Creoles like Taglish really form when a local language encounters a stronger or much more prestigious language in its own territory, much like how mestizo generations are created, i.e., through the union of foreign and native people.

But even though there is nothing really “wrong” with what we've discussed so far as far as linguistics is concerned, we can still make recommendations that would better our cultural condition. It's analogous to the case of a healthy person, who may choose not to jog every morning, but if he does, there would be additional benefits.

We need to have more local celebrities that we see on national free television (and cable channels, if possible) who can manage to appear cosmopolitan, classy, and intelligent without having to resort to English-speaking and Taglish. Fluent Filipino must not be limited to radio reporters, newscasters, and Pinoy folk rockers; it should penetrate the mainstream, the chic, and the glamorous.

Nakakairita na kasi hearing Taglish all the time sa TV.

1 comment: