in the vernacular

while on a boat from apo island back to the dark shores of negros island, oscar and i were quietly listening to janice as she animatedly told this story about scubadiving. she told the story in filipino, so oscar, who is spanish, didn't understand a word. until janice mentioned "jellyfish". oscar turned to me and asked: "what is filipino for jellyfish?" i paused a moment, and said, "dikya." the response was obviously not immediate, nor automatic, and in many cases, i would have said i didn't know. but oscar asked more questions, some provoking, such as "why don't you want to enrich the language?" "why are there so many english words in a conversation spoken in filipino?" "is it cool to always mix english and filipino?"

of course this prodded me to go on a lecture about dialects in a country divided by a hundred seas and straits, imperial colonizers of the historical and cultural kind, how language evolves, how not all english words have an equivalent in filipino, how translation, and transliteration for that matter, has come up with either impossible, or completely absurd words, which i suppose ultimately led to its failure. in some ways, i got oscar to agree with me: that our use of english words is not in any way an indication of our weakness as filipinos, or that we are less nationalistic because we say jellyfish instead of dikya.

but that is just an introduction to my topic: which is the use of filipino. as much as i can, and even in this blog, i use filipino: the rich, flowery kind. just this lunch, i used the word "bungkos", and my officemates surprisingly noticed (i was referring to organic vegetables). i must confess that my filipino isn't as good as i would want it to be. and that is the reason i write in english more often than i do in filipino. i cannot say that the few entries i have written in filipino are excellent. i think they aren't in the caliber of those written by my peers including eugene evasco and anthony dela cruz. but i am proud of them nevertheless. recently, i was made aware of an essay i wrote on mt. san cristobal, which was in filipino, and i was impressed. i almost did not realize i was its author. i don't think i was too happy when i finished writing it. but reading it again, after over a year, is truly refreshing. i think i have to find someone to write about mountaineering in a filipino that is worth publication. either that, or i have to improve my own.

last night, iton's "hindi lahat ng magaling mag-english matalino" statement reared itself again. i do not argue with that. but i have always maintained: you have to be good in at least one language. i am highly competent in two. fluent in another one, and learning two more. i wonder whether that makes me smart. and i wonder whether someone who has no substantial grasp of any language can be considered sapient at all.