Rizal’s multiple tongues

Jose RizalNow that Christmas is over and we’re now looking forward to the coming New Year, I’d like to be amongst the first who will write about another upcoming holiday for us Filipinos besides the two already mentioned. It’s Jose Rizal Day. Yes it’s that holiday in which we venerate Jose Rizal’s martyrdom once in a year. It is also that day that the current occupier – squatter – in Malacañang has taken the liberty of opening her mouth and spewed out nothing but lies and deceit that has not only defiled the grave of our national hero but has caused much suffering in our nation today. But that is another story.

I remember reading this entry by barenaked in which she expressed her desire for being fluent in other languages. She has given some valid points on the merits of being fluent in other ‘tongues’ to which I agree completely. Though they were not academic or highly intellectual points, they certainly hit the mark in the sense that it’s a no frills expression of a simple person who is in awe of others who can understand, read and write the language of other nations.

Just throw in a Chinese, American or any foreigner in our Philippine classrooms, let them speak out in front using their native language and you’ll know what I mean.

Korean is favored by barenaked, for obvious reasons according to her entry. Her Korean is, as she said “pabara-bara” or barely managing, but she’s planning on taking up formal studies about it.

I myself have similar plans, also for the same reasons as barenaked’s plus some reasons of my own. I plan on studying Japanese and Chinese because I have relatives who are citizens of the same and also that my cousins would no longer be able to make fun or take advantage of me whenever we spend some time together. They are fluent in Filipino and we are all closely knit but once they start speaking Nihongo or Mandarin, it’s the end of the day for me…sort of.
Another reason why I would like to study the Japanese language is so that I would no longer have to wait for English translations of my favorite Japanese anime and manga series, particularly Naruto, for me to enjoy them. Once I have learned the language of the Land of the Rising Sun, I would enjoy their great animes and mangas once they are released, and before others could enjoy them once the translations come out. Japanese anime and manga are just the beginnings, there are plenty more to enjoy and appreciate in Japan; it’s history, legends, people, culture and food!

I know my friends would detest me once they read this because they have come to know me not only as an anime fanatic, but first and foremost, as a Pilipino patriot, makabayan in Filipino. I have spoken against the primacy of English in the Philippine education system in class room debates and similar foras. I have said my piece on bilingualism in an entry of mine long ago, a few lines from it goes;

Bilingualism, Tagalog-English adds more burden to those who are not speaking Tagalog, or atleast familiar with it.

This method of instruction neglects the fact that although we are in Luzon, Manila (where premiere Universities are located and is a Tagalog speaking area) there are still quite a number of students who are not familiar with Tagalog because they did not come from Luzon(Tagalog areas), they came from other regions of the country.

I just think that it is not good to be fluent in other foreign languages when we Filipinos ourselves cannot understand our neighbor from Bicol, our classmate from Samar or even our teacher from Cebu. I cannot understand how we are fascinated with the French, Chinese, Italian or Korean languages when we are uncomfortable, even disgusted with Waray, Tausug, Cebuano among others. Our jaws drop in awe whenever we hear our Korean or Japanese classmate speak in their native tongue while laugh our heads off whenever our Bisaya or Ilocano brethren utter even a single word from their dialect or carry over its accent when he speaks Tagalog or English in and outside of the classroom.

To further illustrate what I am driving at, let me share you a story told by Conrado de Quiros in a speech* of his about our national hero, Dr. Joe Rizal, a famous linguist, who had quite an experience when he encountered the different dialects his countrymen spoke during a voyage at sea.


A story is told about Jose Rizal who once boarded a boat bound for the south. Sauntering on the upper deck, where the more well-off passengers were trying as best they could to survive the ride, he met a Spaniard and after begging to leave to sit a his table soon struck up a conversation with him.

The Spaniard was amazed that he spoke Spanish very well. Rizal replied that he had studied at the university and indeed lived in Madrid and Barcelona for some time. The Spaniard was impressed.

Not long afterwards a German joined them, and was soon in the thick of the conversation with them. Occassionally, for the benefit of the newcomer, Rizal would speak in German to make a point. The German was impressed that he spole German very well. Rizal replied that he had toured Germany, and had lived in Heidelberg for some time. He did not say that he finished writing a subversive novel there-there were limits to conviniality. The German was impressed.
And still not long afterward, a Frenchman and Englishman joined them, and were also soon drawn to their conversation. Again, for the benefit of the newcomers, Rizal used a smattering of French and English to drive home his point. The Frenchman and Englishman were amazed that he at least knew French and English, even of he didn’t speak it well. Rizal replied that French was not entirely unlike Spanish though it posed enormous problems in pronounciation.
As for English, he said, he had begun to study it seriously. He did not say that he was doing so because he was seriously trying to win the love of an Englishwoman. He might have gotten the advice that the Frecnch language was better for that purpose. But the Frenchman and Englishman were impressed.

When they all stood up, Rizal went sauntering once more and soon found himself in the lower deck. It smelled of sweat, men, women, and children huddled in cramped quarters along with their frayed belongings. Wishing to learn more about them, Rizal spoke to an elderly man in Tagalog, asking him where he came from. The man answered in Cebuano, saying he could not understand Rizal. Not knowing Cebuano, Rizal couldn’t understand him either. He turned to a woman beside the eldery man and asked her the same question. The woman spoke in Bol-anon, saying she could not understand Rizal. Not knowing Bol-anon, Rizal couldn’t understand her neither. Finally, Rizal turned to a young man nearby and him the same question.
The man shrugged and spoke in Tausug, saying he could not understand Rizal. Not knowing Tausug, Rizal couldn’t understand him too.

Rizal left the lower deck none the wiser about the people there.


*Tongues on Fire (speech delivered before the French Business Association of the Philippines, Alliance Francaise, Bel-Air Village, Makati City, April 24, 2001) source: 20 Speeches that Moved a Nation by Manuel Quezon III

5 Replies to “Rizal’s multiple tongues”

  1. I was astounded to have discovered that Ilocano is not much spoken in my father’s province of Zambales these days.

    With so many local dialects, anyone would be hard pressed to learn them all. What to do?

  2. Study them at such a young age, not just English at Filipino The Chinese have more dialects than us, how come they their language has become a force of national unity for hundreds of years?

    It’s the same with the Japanese, they even have different writing systems, but they know which one to use according to the context or situation.

    I just think we’ve been looking at the West for so long, we’ve neglected to learn from our East-Asian neighbors whom we share more closer similarities.

  3. I disagree with you on your saying that it's not good for us to learn foreign languages when we can't appreciate our own local dialects, in fact it is one of the most ignorant statements I have heard. Learning a foreign language, especially Mandarin, Korean and Japanese is extremely vital for investment, tourism, and development assistance, since it's these three countries in East Asia that are the biggest investors in SE Asia. English is not enough. This is the Asian century, not the Spanish or American century no more.

    Mind you I have studied the Vietnamese language for over a year and can speak it fluently everyday, since my own wife is Vietnamese. Even among the Vietnamese, the different dialects and accents are made fun of. Mind you I speak Vietnamese with the heavy Northern accent which is the standard in teaching foreigners the Vietnamese language. Most Vietnamese I meet are from the south and they always laugh at my Hanoi accent. I learned it because my friends are Vietnamese, my wife is Viet and I will use it someday for cultural education and to teach it in the Philippines to fellow Filipinos, since Vietnam and the Phil. have strong economic and educational ties. And I'm proud to be one of the very few Pinoys to speak, read and write it fluently! Yet for Vietnams attractiveness for investors, they are clamoring for English, Korean, Mandarin and Chinese language learning as well. We have fallen behind them. At least they have their common sense intact.

    Don't forget about China with it's dozens of dialects. Now, who wouldn't get made fun of in Beijing or Shanghai when speaking their province's dialect in public? It's a natural occurance in every country.

    The reason so many students use un-academic reasons why they want to study, example Korean is because they are first immersed in pop culture of that country. They have not been encouraged to study the language for business, education, and cultural relations sake. In the Philippines, pop culture is big business, be it the local teleserye or the Koreanovela. It's up to the teachers who teach the foreign language to emphasize the economic and cultural importance of learning that language.

    Jose Rizal is our role model and we can beat other nations in becoming the next investment and tourist hub in Asia with our multilingual abilities. Next time do your research. 🙄

  4. @ Ken:

    Uhm, first of all, I'm a bit confused. You disagree with me on what point? You stressed in your comment that we should learn the languages of our neighboring Asian countries, to which I agree wholeheartedly. Mandarin, Korean, Japanese, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, Thai, Malaysian the whole SE Asia. I clearly pointed this out on my previous comment.

    To wit,

    I just think we've been looking at the West for so long, we've neglected to learn from our East-Asian neighbors whom we share more closer similarities.

    I also agree that making fun of someone who speaks their provincial dialect also occur in other countries, but it should not be an excuse to tolerate and do nothing about this negative culture of hating our own kind . It perpetuates divisiveness among us Pilipinos. This is the point of the story about Rizal's boat trip I quoted in my article.

    I believe you'll agree with me that it is also Rizal who said that, "ang hindi magmahal sa sariling wika ay higit pa sa hayop at malansang isda."

    That my good friend, is my point.

  5. I reflected on what the story about Rizal in a sailing transportation. Truly, Rizal got busy to know a lot about foreign languages that even his country's tongues, he did not study. What a pity for a national hero not to know his own native tongues. And I do get the point that those on the lower deck are the opressed during Spanish era while those on the upper deck are the socialites and generally have higher chin than those of the lower.

    BUT! eventhough he was not able to learn all of that, his information bank led him to what we have now. FREEDOM.

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