Thursday, January 15, 2004

Learning Pilipino languages

During dinner at Boston Market, the SO and I ended up having one of those deep and illuminating" conversations. This is one reason I am in love with the SO. I am able to expand my horizon and learn from her all the time. If only people trying to get married would keep this thought in mind, there would be more thought into jumping into marriages and a lesser number of divorces happening.

The SO is part of Maina Minahal's current project at the Jon Sims Center. In the piece Sandayo, the woman Sandayo battles the wind goddess for the life of her husband. As a side, I would like to thank Maiana for her quest in telling the narratives and the myths and legends of the Philippines. This is one aspect of Filipino culture which has been grossly overlooked. By using legends and myths, Maiana is continuing the oral tradition of the Philippines.

In one part of Maiana's piece, she speaks the words "Mahal ko." When watching the piece, I heard the words mispronounced and immediately, I reacted negatively. In my thought process, I reasoned that if one is going to use Pilipino words in a theatre or poetry piece, one should pronounce them correctly. So I asked the SO about my reaction.

(Sidenote: I should preface it by saying that I did not immediately tell Maiana about my thoughts because I know that in theatre, sometimes there are many layers. For example, the artist is trying to make a point with language itself. Two, the mispronounciations could be caused with Maiana trying to follow the beat of the piece that is dictated by a guitar playing in the background. Three, artists should be allowed to create pieces according to their whims and fancy. After all, they worked for it.)

The SO has been trying to learn Tagalog for a while now and can explicate the difficulties which non-native Pilipinos endure in the process of learning. One of the deeper statements that the SO said is: Filipino-Americans are not allowed to make mistakes when learning about the language. The way in which they are corrected by the parents and teachers are so jarring that they lose interest. After all, if one can not be very good or be perfect in learning Pilipino, why do it at all? This is the truth. Do children need another reason for their parents to shout at them? The child can do that just by being a child. Why learn something that guarantees that their father or mother will end up screaming?

Fortunately or unfortunately, I know someone who had some tapes of her childhood in which one can see how much pressure is placed upon children by Filipino parents. The eldest child is trying to learn the pledge of allegiance with her father in the background. Every time the child made a mistake, the parent would shout "Incorrect! Repeat!" The child would then start from the beginning. At first the tape was funny to me because it was true. That was how they taught children in the Philippines. Thinking about it more though, I realized just how painful it was for a child to learn under such pressure for perfection.

Another aspect of learning Pilipino which the SO pointed out is that one Pilipino speaker will often argue with another speaker about the proper way of saying things. She cited an example in which a friend of hers had two native speakers argue for thirty minutes about the way in which a particular word was used. I myself have often felt the urge to correct people when they mispronounce things. I have since learned that sometimes, silence is the greatest gift one can give a person. If one is just trying to correct someone for the sake of looking intelligent or looking smug, then think about how the other person feels.

I blame this particular behavior of correcting other Pin@ys to the perfection ideal that most Filipinos have about the world. Things should be black and white. There is no gray. Grayness is just imperfection masquerading as reason. Perhaps, it's a the grayness of the world is one of the things that Pin@ys must learn in the process of becoming part of the world. For the life of me, I don't know how to teach that to them.

The one part in which the SO pointed out that pronounciation must be accurate is that for names. She mentions how Aglipay must be pronounced ahg-lih-pie and not ahg-lih-pay. I had a nightmare story on this involving Lloyd La Cuesta who is a news reporter for KTVU-2 in the San Francisco area. Lay-cue-stay was the host for the Filipinas magazine awards in 2002. But, unfortunately, laycuestay did not do his homework about the pronounciations of the names of the participants. Have you ever seen someone make an ass out of himself? Well, lacuestay did it and he did it well. One of the honorees that evening was Master Danongan Kalanduyan of Palabuniyan Kulintang Ensemble. Laycuestay mispronounced the name of Danongan Kalanduyan over and over and over again. If that were not enough insult, each time lacuestay pronounced Kalanduyan or Danongan, he had a different pronounciation! It got so bad that the wife of Master Kalanduyan screamed at layquestay how to pronounce the name.

I understand that sometimes, Pin@ys just accept the way in which their names are mispronounced in everyday life to avoid trouble. But, people have very few things in life. One's name is one of those that one holds. Why not say it proudly?

So for those of you out there who will have children, go easy in the way you teach them. They will learn better and you will have given them a great gift. Remember, your kids will love to speak Pilipino languages if they know that you will not scream at them when they learn it.

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