can’t-miss markers of our pinoy accent


[ Note : just another blog on Pinoy accents; thanks and acknowledgment for the awesome video above to Mikey Bustos of YouTube ! Congrats Pao dela Costa Montenegro on your graduation, everyone’s proud of you! it doesn’t take a Nobel  laureate, but there is obviously a direct relationship between the senseless killings in America and the said nation’s (duh) gun control policy.  Absolutely incomprehensible. ]

versatilebloggeraward11I KNOW of at least two Pinoys here in New Zealand who will never lose their Filipino accent, and I can identify only one of them (later below) with consent.  The first, who I think I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, has been in New Zealand for the better part of two decades, isn’t all that pronounced with his Pinoy speech, but talk with him an instant and you know where he’s from.

Certain vowels, intonation, nasalness and our fondness for certain consonants are not unique among languages; it comes from phonetic favorites in our words and phrases and the same goes with other tongues.  Sometimes we sound like Malaysians and Indonesians, not surprising because we share the same root language (Sanskrit), other times we sound like Vietnamese, Thai and even Cambodians, most probably because of the shared Chinese influence on our language/speech.  But ultimately we distinguish ourselves with friends and speakers all over the world because we love to speak English with so-called native English speakers, sometimes pretend to be better than English than they are (and actually convince them a good part of the time), and in the process stamp our personal signature on the King’s English.

Below are some markers that indicate that a Pinoy speaker is within two to three meters from Ground Zero, there are many others, but time and space today are limited to :

the short a’s, short e’s and short o’s.  When we were in primary school, we were taught that sounds for every vowel were distinctly divided into two : short and long.  We took this literally, as in apple was AH-pple, dad would always be dAHd, and fat from a Pinoy sounds regularly like fAHt.  It didn’t matter to us that English speakers all over world say something between the short and long version; and that sip, lip, tin and sin for us are like saying IP, IP, IN, and IN;  and that fog, log, mop, top are OG, OG, OP and OP with the consonants before and after just incidental.  It’s just the way we are, we seem to be in love with the short vowel sound, nothing wrong with that, but to people who aren’t used to it, it can be a bit startling and disconcerting.  Otherwise, especially because we use it ourselves, it becomes endearing (?) .

avoidance of schwa.  This is the converse of the first observation above.  Because media is heavily peppered by US references, it would be a reasonable presumption that a good part of our pronunciation is filled with the schwa sound.  I venture to say that the schwa sound has taken over about a third of all vowel sounds in the American English speech pattern, but when you listen to me and my countrymen speak, it turns out that the schwa is not that popular.  Reason?  As mentioned earlier, we are enamored with our short and long vowel sounds, and we like to stick to them.  It is almost like the way continental Europeans speak English; they have retained the original commands of vowels (think of any German, Italian or Scandinavian speaking English).  I know we’re not Europeans by any means, but unless we are call center specialists or diplomats, we won’t be picking up the schwa sound anytime soon.

Infatuation with the “r” sound.  This sound might initially be identified with Northern speakers like the Ilocanos, Panggalatoks and our kabayan from the mountainous regions, but when you really really think about it, we Filipinos as a group all like our “r” sounds like we like patis in our sinigang, bagoong in our kare-kare and puto with our dinuguan.  We don’t care that the British and other former Commonwealth nations have all but dropped the “r” at the end of words (butter, waiter, winter), or that a lot of American speakers soften the “r” sound, for us the “r” sound, particularly at the end of words is similar to a small motor or lawn mower, the more our “r”s vibrates, the better.

Unaspirated “t”, absent “f”s.  Like the video says above, we aren’t very vocal about our “f”s and “v”s, probably an influence of Spanish colony years (almost three centuries), but have you paused and tried to find out why those “t”s sound so understated when we talk?  We hardly aspirate them, even with short t words like talk, tender and tomato, sometimes causing our listeners to mishear us.  And about “f”s, well I suppose the video says it all.

That’s all I have for today, and as I promised, I can only tell you about the second of two ever-faithful Pinoy accent users, and that is none other than esposa hermosa, who wears it like a terno wherever she goes.  Whether it’s intentional or not it’s probably too early to tell, as she has only been overseas two-plus years, but to many of the people she meets, I guess it’s fair to say that it charms the pants off them (figuratively) 🙂

Thanks for reading!

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learn the natives’ language & you can do no wrong


IF MY eyes and ears could do a double-take, they would.  But you can only be totally surprised once, and everything else that follows is just confirmation.

Pasensya na sa punto ng Tagalog ko, Pilipina kasi ang asawa ko.  Matagal kami sa Pilipinas, pero hindi ko maalis ang punto ng Kiwi, said the Kiwi volunteer who delivered the aparador (closet) that we bought over the weekend from the Salvation Army store.

[ Sorry for the belated translation of the above : excuse my faux Tagalog accent, (I can speak Tagalog because) my wife is Filipina.  We stayed a while in your country, but I couldn’t do anything about the Kiwi accent, pretty good if you ask me. 🙂 ]

He didn’t stop there.  Not waiting for my reply, he said nung nabasa ko yung family name mo sa delivery list, alam ko nang Pinoy ka, pero di ako sigurado.  Pero ngayon sigurado na ako he grinned, and I just had to call my flatmate’s wife.

[ spontaneous translation again : when I came across your surname on the delivery list, I knew you were a Pinoy, but I wasn’t sure.  Now I am. How can you not be flattered by that? ]

Malou, kausapin mo sya, talo pa nya tayo sa Tagalog, and of course Mr Kiwi Volunteer proudly continued with his conversational Tagalog, which reminded us of back home as much as fishballs, kikiam and the slivers of meat we like to call tuhog-tuhog.

His facility in our mother tongue was brought about as much by an intention to settle long-term back home as his love for his wife, and everything about her, including culture, cuisine, and of course, language.

It certainly warms the heart to know that even as we Pinoys love to learn other languages, other races take the time to learn our own.

Then there are people who’ve taken a liking to singing Tagalog songs, like the one above.  It seems cute and entertaining, until you realize the time and effort spent by the artist to just learn the words, and then actually interpret the song in a way that is familiar and heart-warming.

The last example I have of connecting with people through their language is from our adopted country’s very own Hayley Westenra, a popular singer.  She took the time to learn just one song (there could be more) in her Taiwanese hosts’ Mandarin, and naturally brought the house down :

If you want to build instant rapport with the natives whenever you visit overseas, just try speaking, or even better, singing in their language.  You may stutter at first, but you’ll soon realize that, as long as you try, it doesn’t really matter to them.  I can almost hear them say : You had me at hello.

Me No Speak Americano (anles da accent Pilipino)


Manny Pacquiao gracing the TIME Asia Magazine ...

Image via Wikipedia

 
[ Note from NOel : Rants and raves below are limited to personal NZ experience, so we sneakily absolve ourselves from liability on hearsay and 2nd hand info, pls be advised … concern and sympathy to all those affected by the bomb throwing right after the last Bar exam at DLSU Sunday back home. ]
 
Dear batchmates, kabayan, officemates and friends :
 
ON THE SURFACE, there’s not much that connects Lea Salonga‘s star turn in Miss Saigon, Manny Pacquiao‘s Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love For You on the American Jimmy Kimmel talk show, and lately, the goose-pimply rendition of Listen by Charice Pempengco on Glee and other YouTube virals.
 
Not much, except their canny and strategic use of English, to varying degrees of gigil, whenever displaying and/or talking about their considerable (artistic and athletic) talent to the rest of the world. 
 
Each has done it in his/her own way.  Where Lea and Charice have wowed audiences with the perfect pronunciation and accent, matching anything their predecessors and peers have done, Manny has used a Pinoy accent that is unique and something only he can pull off.  His accent is his own, and the media loves every minute hearing it.
 
The fact is, Pinoys are able to show off their talents on a worldwide stage, using English with charm and class. 
 
But on balance, and basing on our own experience picked up in White Man’s Land, we daresay : don’t lose the Pinoy accent.
 
Meaning, for all the migrant wannabes, Pinoy expats and student visa holders out there, our accent is every bit as palatable as the American, British or Australian versions.
 
It’s a simplistic comparison, but just listen to Charice P or the Pacman,or even the various beauty queens who reached the money stage in their respective competitions: What is the common theme in their speech?
 
Well, besides the fact that they exude confidence and humility at the same time, display an endearingly naive, aw-shucks and unassuming attitude, very few try to use or affect an American twang or BBC brogue.
 

Charice P entertaining Pinoys in the US

[No knock on Lea’s acquired accent, but if the British accent was what she felt comfortable using, kudos to her and her talent to do as the Romans do.  ]
 
It’s hard to describe, but our accent is a combination of literal pronounciation, Filipinisms, and a particular way of placing accents on syllables, phrases and sentences that can be alternately described as charming and maddening, disorienting and enlightening.
 
Anglophiles all over the world, in their respective forms of English, like to glide over words and phrases as part of everyday usage, and listeners who hear the first parts of such figures of speech perceive the rest without waiting to hear the same.
 
What’s up with you is shortened to Wazzup, and finally to zup, in some places, and this is accepted as normal speech.  Filipinos like me are still comfortable with Hello, how are you, and though reminiscent of the previous century, still remains pleasing to the ear of our workmates.  Or at least, that’s what they tell us.
 
Another example is common expressions of a local populace like Cheers, ta, g’day, no worries which on the whole are used awkwardly by newcomers like us, and this awkwardness is immediately picked up by the locals.
 
Our end :  Let’s face it, initially we feel stupid and at worst, “trying hard” by mirroring their favorite and well-loved phrases.  We also never get used to the feeling that we’re using such phrases in the wrong way or situation.  The only consolation is with time and practice, the effect becomes less hilarious and more normal sounding, paving the way for us sounding like ordinary Kiwi blokes.
 
Their end : Take your pick, depending on their media orientation ( TV, movies or sports ) we either sound like Manny P, Jacky Chan or some Asian contestant on a copycat talent show, but at the same time they get the idea that we’re trying to be like them, or at least being agreeable and getting along with them.  The net result is hopefully half the time we understand each other, and we don’t need to (1)  rely on sign language, (2) create a new meaning altogether, or (3) lead us to acceptance by our hosts although this last outcome is the unlikeliest.
 
Specifically, phrases like pickupapiefo’ya?, watchsomefootyondatelly are just two examples of some tricky phrases that might be worthwhile to learn, and there are plenty more, believe you me.
 
Our end : Jibberish and gobbledygook, at the outset, because although we know what we are saying, we don’t know if they pick it up; in fact we don’t even know if fellow Pinoys get what we are saying, and worse, will even misinterpret us and tell our foreign masters we are suffering from a rare form of tropical disease.
 
Their end : Seriously, our workmates will hear snatches and portions of ideas that seem to make sense and for the meantime try to make sense of what they think is intelligent speech.  They might even realize that their oral contractions and abbreviations have been confusing us for some time now (Macca’s for McDonalds, rejo for registration, or telly for television, among many others), and in a benevolent form of reverse psychology, convince us that No, mate, if ya hear us talkin that way, it’s not proper English, forget it, OK?
 
VOWELS & CONSONANTS, PLOSIVES & SIBILANTS.  On the whole, Pinoys are a textual, literal bunch.  We read out through our mouths (and nostrils) what the latter are told by the eyes, with the brain intervening only incidentally.  Based on what we are told from early childhood, vowels are either short or long, consonants are either in-your-face or invisible, and combinations of sounds are only there for spelling purposes, or some long-forgotten rule.  On the other hand, almost every American vowel sound is a schwa, each consonant has at least two or three variants, and plosives and sibilants have an infinite variety.
 
We like to make fun of Manny P (and for the previous generation), Elizabeth Ramsey and Yoyoy Villame when they consciously or otherwise exaggerate their Visayan accent, but in truth we don’t sound much different to our foreign listeners.  Reason : we don’t make such a great distinction betwen our short and long a’s, e’s and i’s. 
 
The irony is Kiwis do the same with their own vowels (pin/pen, lift/left, dintist/dentist), often confusing their Aussie counterparts as well.  So it’s not like they can’t relate to our linguistic quirks and phenomena.
 
               **               **               **               **                **
 
It’s surprisingly overlooked, but we are probably the 2nd most Westernized nation (after Japan) in the Far East, and this is borne out by our affinity with and ease with English.  Whether or not we speak it with a quaint accent is largely superficial, as long as it gets the job done. 
 
However, the way we adjust to our foreign hosts, our adaptability and our social skills are what’s equally crucial to our lives overseas.  Endearing ourselves to our newfound friends via a combination of our accent and all others will go a long way towards becoming citizens of the world.
 
Thanks for reading !
 
NOel
YLBnoel.wordpress.com
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Countdown to 15 Mins / Two More Bad Habits


[ Notes from YLB : You’re very welcome recent celebrants SuperBro Ricky C., Rufino O., AteMel & Rolly Y; and because of the batch association and its illustrious members (led by the officers), an aspiring nurse has now reached her dreams, and the less privileged of the St Jude Parish have happier Christmases. Beyond all these, Batch 82 gains better karma, & pogi / ganda points for the soul as well. What could be better? btw, thanks to Ms Virginia Russell for reading our letter on her radio show on http://planetaudio.org.nz-languages.php, and lastly : many thanks and loads of gratitude to cousin Ineng Montenegro – Agustin for bringing us around, and whose smile is as big as her heart.  Kudos pinsan ! ]

Dear batchmates, kabayan and friends :

PUT TWO, actually three highly emotionally charged issues in one situation, and you get a “viral” newsbit that can’t escape comment from us. Actually, hundreds of newsbits, mostly from Yahoo! Buzz, CNN, the morning paper and the daily TV newscasts pass through our eyes and ears weekly, but for lack of time and memory retrieval we can’t make a cringe-worthy rejoinder.

This time, though, we remember enough to respond with memory and emotions of our own. First, a lesbian senior declares that she’s bringing a same-sex partner (presumably her loved one) to the junior-senior prom. Then, in a moralist – interventionist overkill, school board / management decides to cancel said prom to forestall a “scandalous” event, the homosexual couple attending.

Finally, media / public pressure / a negative court decision (but not an injunction) convince the school to reconsider canceling, and go ahead with the school – sanctioned prom anyway, but almost everyone else ( except the lesbian senior and a few un-hip members of the “out of it” crowd ) boycott the event and attend a different, “exclusive” replacement prom, leaving the former out in the cold.

Life-imitating-art issues aside, the drama doesn’t get much higher than that.

First off, we’re not that PC to say that she should’ve been accepted for what she is and just been allowed to attend the prom like any other student, forestalling all that media & political brouhaha, but in the same breath, neither do we deem ourselves that intolerant & say she had it coming, or buti nga sa kanya. ( Maybe it’s somewhere in the middle. )

But that would be getting ahead of ourselves.

No sorting out any of our thoughts here, aesthetically or logically. WYSIWYG.

Every student, no exception, should be given the choice to attend and not be deprived of his/her JS prom. It’s practically a rite of passage, right up there with the senior CAT bivouac, college entrance exams, yearbook pics, graduation ball and of course, commencement exercises. (While these are terms used in the Philippine setting, we believe there are counterpart events everywhere else.)

We spontaneously looked back, trying to imagine our album of memories without any of the above events, and summarily surmised that that wonderful slice called high school life (acknowledgment to Tita Shawi & George Canseco) just wouldn’t have been the same, especially pre-internet, pre-connectivity and pre-interconnectedness, when face-to-face interaction and physical socialization were infinitely more important than they are today.

Whatever our moral, social and sexual leanings, fact of the matter is that homosexuality is a reality of life that, regardless of whether or not we accept it, simply exists and life is made easier when we acknowledge and integrate such fact in our particular reality.

Sure, it sometimes makes people uncomfortable and it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but the alternative, which is to deny someone the right to express themselves, their sexuality and their way of life, is in the long run more problematic for everyone else.

Having said that, our sympathies go from hereon to the principals and school district boards all across the great United Strands of the AmeriMatrix, where the titans of moral / sexual sensitivities, political correctness and raging hormones all clash on the arena of 15 minutes of fame. To the victors belong the fleeting spoils.

** ** ** ** **

We promised a few more items on our incipient bill of particulars, re things that rub overseas hosts the wrong way, that get their goat, and put them on the wrong side of the morning (or afternoon) whenever we do the following, and with thanks to commentary by QueenHedy, EngrSonny, PeggyPatches1, RaulDLS, ChichiA and GirlieS:

Bad Habit # 4 : Speaking in your own tongue in their presence, and probably nothing raises their hackles more than this. Worse, the only peoples guiltier of this (in fairness, their migrant numbers are vastly greater than ours) are the (mainland) Chinese and the Indians, no offense meant. We make the immediate impression that we’re talking about whoever doesn’t speak the language, in fact Pinoys coined a term for the clueless, binebenta na sya di pa nya alam.

We once thought that frowning upon this indiscretion was limited to actual eyeball dialog, until one of our bisors ahemed while we were on the phone talking to a kababayan. Even the one-sided repartee bothered him in the sense that he had not the slightest idea what was being discussed and that, it being an English language dominated workplace in an English dominated country, a strange speech was being spoken in his presence.

We won’t even begin to pass judgment on that, just that as long as we are visitors in a foreign land, we respect the quirks of their rules and their sentiments regarding alien cultures brought to their shores.

Bad Habit # 5 : Be overwhelmed by the non-Asianness of our hosts. This is literally a loss-of-face issue for us, as our bisor reminds us of the lead character in The Mentalist, one of the guys in the packing department looks like a cross between one of the baddies in Blade Runner and U2’s The Edge, and finally the mill engineer is a dead ringer for Hugh Laurie / Dr House, one of our all-time favorite TV medics.

Otherwise, they’re just regular blokes. We can’t take them seriously on the one hand, and avoid being overwhelmed, on the other. As we have been exposed to Hollywood and American showbiz almost all of our lives, the actors mentioned are almost mythic figures for us. Can you blame us therefore if we often feel like we’re in a movie ourselves?

The sooner we get used to the fact that Caucasians are people just like us, the better.

Thanks for your time!

NOel

Salute to Bro / Bad Habits of a Temporary Migrant


Dear batchmates, kabayan and friends :

THIS BLACK SATURDAY, we pause from our migrant tales, memory-scouring and daddy anecdotes to salute a giant on our personal landscape, a model to emulate ( a left-handed compliment considering how weird we turned out , but nevertheless ), someone who has always loomed large in the standard and alternate realities of our universe.

He’s no math wizard but crunches numbers like a strongman; doesn’t own a glib tongue but always ends a negotiation leaving everybody happy; never butters up his criticism but was / is a consummate motivator of every sort of worker under his wing.

In short, he possesses the qualities of a captain of industry, someone who you would want to navigate your business toward the black bottom line, or man your frontline whenever dealing with client, supplier, employee or even competitor.

Our brother Tim has filled every role, and has handled almost every kind of situation there is.

But the undiluted wonder of it all is that he does everything under the radar, as an understatement, effortlessly, and with as little attention to himself as possible. He seems to live by the philosophies of management by remote, and management by invisibility.

In childhood, adolescence and early adulthood, he left us lasting impressions that he would succeed in whatever he tried doing, whether it was playing tournament-level chess, writing for the school paper, starting up his own mobile party logistics business, or just anything else his entrepreneurial mind could fancy.

His finishing school a term early, with double degrees and dean’s list kudos almost throughout his stint at campus belied a healthy aptitude for fun and partying, but this never stopped him from hitting the ground running, reaching senior management within 18 months from joining his first employer.

He has never failed to share both his blessings and knowledge gained with his family and friends, and this has returned to him tenfold. In our parents’ management committee of two, he is always consulted as the unofficial third member, and his counsel is valued by brother, nephew, niece and cousin, actually every member of the clan.

SJCS 76er, DLSU diehard, media industry whiz, management guru, KTV champ, and marketing genius. Among your many titles, we are proud to call you Kuya Tim.

Belated happy birthday, Bro !

** ** ** **

There are bad habits, and there are bad habits. We’ve come up with a short list of faux pas we’re guilty of during a bad day, and sometimes even a good day, that we’re almost sure makes the hosts here in our temporary adopted land uneasy and quite unsure of whether or not we’re grateful that we’re their guests.

Of course, we are, grateful we mean, but the bad habits are there by force of habit, our rush to do the practical instead of the correct, and probably most important, our insistence that unconsciously or not, there are Asian / Pinoy ways of doing things that die hard.

This is by no means a final list, there will continue to be additions, the sad thing is that everytime we update this list, we will have to include the original items :

 Bad Habit Number 1 : Saying yes before we completely understand the speaker . By far ( and so far ), this is the worst bad habit we can think of, and the potential for complications hitting the fan ( just substitute your favorite @#$% ) is doubled if this happens at work. Admittedly Pinoys, whenever choosing between I beg your pardon and nodding assent to words spoken a gear too fast, with accent a little too thick and idioms a tad too quaint, just wing it: umoo ka na lang.

Not only does this lead to misunderstandings and impressions that we are dull beyond comprehension, it sometimes leads to unintended and unfortunate consequences.

Our earliest days at work many months ago, we were told by bisor : open all the windows if you want, but NIVAH leave that door open. Naturally, we didn’t have a clue who or what the heck nivah was, but the first thing we did was to open the door. How could we know that nivah was locally how u say NEVER and we did the opposite of what he told us. Automatic Yup? Never, or Nivah again.

 Bad Habit Number 2 : Making brainless and impromptu comments on some of our hosts’ hygiene or lack of same. Let’s face it, our cultural differences preclude us from thinking our hosts’ hygienic practices are normal or a natural way of adapting to the climate. No matter where we are, in whatever clime, we will always do the same things we did back home.

This however doesn’t give us the right to make comments on how they are. So what if they shower 2 to 3 times a week? So what if they don’t change clothes everyday? And what of it, if they use deodorant only when the mood strikes? (Note: No sarcasm intended.)

We’re not generalizing, but odds are about even, especially the more south your latitude is. It just isn’t a priority to keep yourself smelling good all the time, and we’re just being frank here. With this realization, all the more probably should we be sensitive to the cultural divide and live and let live, but certainly not do as the Romans do, we’re sure you get our drift.

Bad Habit Number 3 : Not laughing automatically and heartily at whatever jokes made by the host/s. The situation is similar to those contemplated in BH #1 but the outcome or expected behavior is markedly different. We’re NOT expected to ask why the punchline is so, and anyway if you bother to find out the humor / irony in the joke, you most likely will laugh ( kahit mababaw ), so it’s usually advisable to just go ahead a have a loud bwahaha. Even if you’re not exactly sure why.

The alternative, as if you didn’t know, is to sit around bewildered while everyone else is making hee-hee-hee and enjoying a good laugh. Soon enough, someone will notice that you’re not getting it, and while a kind soul will try to explain the humor behind the gag, the rest of the room will be thinking, boy these Asians really don’t have a sense of humor. When we actually just think they’re corny. So, tumawa ka na lang kabayan.

** ** ** **

What if the shoe was on the other foot ? (1) Threaten to nuke Puerto Rico whenever it attempts to secede, (2) pulverize the sovereign rights of a former colony like the Philippines, just for kicks ; (3) play with the Euro and expect that the dollar be treated as a sacred commodity; (4) sit on the UN Security Council despite trading with rogue states, and (5) speeding up the execution of thousands of condemned criminals in Texas, California and other states where execution is still legal.

Of course, the Evil Empire ( Note: sarcasm intended ) wouldn’t do these unthinkables. And if they did, like maybe Number 4 above, there would be hell to pay, before the international media and community of nations.

So why does everyone look the other way and ignore the elephant in the room when China does the exact same things?

Every now and then, it makes it clear that “dire consequences” will be met by Taiwan should it pursue anything other than the One China policy. Its Tibet policy has worsened, rather than improved, despite the mediation by third parties. It openly dumps gazillions of greenbacks on the money market daily to suit whatever its policy objective happens to be on any particular day, and doesn’t even bother to hide such fact.

And the PROC has forever sat on the fence while both Iran and North Korea play nuclear brinksmanship with the rest of the world. Beijing won’t even deny that first, billions of barrels of oil are sent from Iran to China every year, and, contrary to Chinese interests, chaos in a beaten North Korea will mean mass migration across the border to guess where? Just a few kilometers from the Forbidden City. And let’s not forget the nameless thousands executed yearly in China, more than the rest of the world combined.

Despite the inexorable march towards a Chinese Century, it’s not a great time for those with Chinese blood and heritage to hold their heads high.

It’s not a perfect world, but let’s thank Providence for the gift of democracy, and the free air we breathe.

Was it Dr Jose Rizal who said there are no tyrants where there are no slaves ?

Happy Easter everyone!

NOel

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Bonding Beyond the Babel of Language


This is our maiden orig blog on wordpress, so please bear with us. Thanks for your time !

CIRCA 70s.  Dad’s relatives always got a kick whenever we tripped over ourselves in Mandarin.  Though their first tongue was Cantonese, Mandarin was close enough, and we got extra pogi points if we didn’t just say those phrases we learned in school, but those that we heard on Chinese movies, like yi lu shun feng (a blessed journey) and starting every greeting with jixiang (good fortune), phrases you don’t even hear in modern conversational Chinese anymore 🙂

With Mom’s relatives, it wasn’t much different.  On visits to Legaspi, Naga and Masbate, aunts, uncles and cousins always smiled wider grins whenever we could greet them in Bicol (maray na aga) and appreciate the fresh coconut milk (tipong) that they never ran out of and other fresh fruit and fish that seemed to sprout and jump out of nowhere.

Strangers and acquaintances never fail to become instant friends and intimate bedfellows as soon as familiar words are spoken, sifted from the babel of chatterings and into the dialect of one’s childhood. 

It becomes even more personal when the well-worn idioms, sayings and colloquialisms of the same language are spouted, used and re-used, reliving fond memories and recalling a swell of pride for country and village.

JFK did it in Berlin, with one sentence and bonded instantly with his freedom loving West Germans (ich bin Berliner), the vanquished Arantxa Sanchez Vicario forever won the hearts of French Open faithfuls despite losing to Stefi Graf in 1996, when she gave her concession speech in flawless French, and opera babe Hayley Westenra solidified her icon status in China (yes, they love her there) when she sang Yueliang Daibiao Wodi Xin (The Moon Represents My Heart) to millions of adoring Chinese fans.  She had an excellent repertoire of arias, but all it took was one simple local song to win them over.

Perhaps it’s overrated, the kinship and affinity that almost instantly attaches when the accents, syllables, sibilants and plosives roll over the teeth and tongue in ways one is used to.  But you can’t tinker with human nature.

We once upon a campaign worked for a presidentiable who was a cinch for Malacanang, if hadn’t been for the five-cornered race (all serious contenders) but the fact was, our boss was prepared not just to preach to the choir (his bailiwicks) but to reach out EVERYWHERE.  He was equipped to do this, being conversant in Tagalog, Ilocano, Kapampangan and his wife’s first tongue, Ilonggo (you probably guessed who ).

To consolidate his linguistic advantage, he had an Ilokano speechwriter, consultants for Pampango, and his wife’s handlers did his speeches in the Visayas. And he spoke all of them brilliantly. Too bad the fans didn’t translate into votes.

And it’s no secret that bilingual, trilingual and even quadrilingual children are those who become more adept at lateral thinking, and develop sharper skills in cognitive and intuitive learning.  Something to do with learning to think and perceive the same concepts in different ways.

Never will we forget our Chinese history teacher who, for all her stiffness and formal airs, gave us the tip of a lifetime : never forget your Chinese, and doors will always open for you everwhere.  Keep flexing your Mandarin, and the muscle memory will take care of everything else, be it career, business or your social life. 

Well, she hasn’t been proven wrong yet.

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We have been blessed to be able to communicate and think in three languages, but it’s a blessing that needs to be used, developed and sharpened constantly.  For after all, language is ultimately a medium with which to deliver the message.

Thanks for your time, maraming salamat and xie xie nin !

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