Monday, December 15, 2003

Words for the Week Special (Part 1)

"What d'you call a person who speaks two languages? A bilingual. A person who speaks more languages? A multi-lingual. So what d'you call a person who speaks only one language? You call him an American."

English as We Know It
English, as we know it, is a funny language. It's funny in that there are always glaring exceptions to the rules that your teachers taught you. Rules that involve spelling, word and sentence construction, idioms, etc.

If "K" is vocalized with a cut-off exhalation of air (like a hard "C" sound), why, for example, is it not vocalized in the words knight or knife; why is it present in the name, Evel Kneivel? Why does "sew" not rhyme with "few", or "done" with "bone?" And while it's grammatically correct to say "Kane, I am. Help you, I will," why is it that only Yoda seems to speak that way? And isn't English the only language where "Hot" and "Cool" mean the same thing?

It's also funny in that while "whole populations" or "sizeable portions of whole populations" can speak it-- from Manila to Singapore to Kuala Lumpur to Mumbai to Tokyo to Seoul-- anyone plucked from these cities will still have difficulty making himself understood to the average American or Briton.

Often when the average non-Cebuano Filipino has to speak English, he makes an ass of himself (Just think of ex Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago). And I don't like it when that happens to a fellow Filipino regardless of his politics: when you make an ass of yourself, people respect you less and you still can't be properly understood. Call me a traitor to "Nationalism" but I am one of those wrongheaded people who believe that life on these islands would be easier if everyone really understood their English textbooks (and their lopsided contracts with America before they sign them!)

I will remind the gentle reader that Jose Rizal himself was an advocate of learning the language of the Colonizer (in his time it was Spanish, but all the history books agree that Rizal learned some form of English). It allowed the Native to confidently battle for his rights on the Colonizer's own turf, as an equal, because the Native can literally read the fine print on the Colonizer's IOUs. Don't believe me? Read your Noli and Fili.

English is a power language (like Latin or Greek in the days before the fall of Rome) because our elite and upper middle-class read, speak and write in it-- It slowly displaced Spanish in the fifties thanks to World War II. English is a power language because America and Britain use it to execute their foreign policies, which inevitably affect us anyway. Knowledge is power; remember that.

What saddens is that the only times the average non-Cebuano Filipinos seem to understand English is when they're watching Baywatch, anything from the Cartoon Network or Smallville. The same way that they can use the computer only if they're on Internet Relay Chat, playing Ragnarok or downloading porn and pirated movies from KaZaA (though that's best reserved for another installment of the Big Bodega).

So in the interest of not having any more of my countrymen look and sound like idiots when they defend their theses, or write their resumes, when they look for work at call centers or even when they're writing comics in English, Dex Words for the Week presents this guide to some of the more common English words and expressions problematic to the average Filipino...

PRONUNCIATION GUIDE (pr'n'nshiyaysh'n gide)

There Are Different Kinds of English
English is not homogenous in America. It's true even in the UK. Depending on where you live, your English can take on a New York twang, a Southern Drawl, a Californian surfer dude's weird lexicon. What keeps English comprehensible to America (aside from their Pop Culture) is the kind of English spoken by their mediapeople. As this English is also comprehensible to other English speakers worldwide, it's wise to invest a little time in getting comfy with it.

Long Vowels
One problem with the Filipino speaking English is that the range of vowel sounds he's used to making is very limited. Limited to the short vowels-- a' i' u' e' o'. (Yes, just like the Japanese). English as spoken by George Dubya demands the use of long vowels for certain words, and by long vowels, I mean vowels with an extended sound. Example? Say "Hi" like you were greeting a dear friend, and try to smile while you're at it.

Ready?

"Hiiii."

Yep. Like that.

Drag is not pronounced the same as drug; Americans and other English speaking foreigners have trouble figuring out which of the above words we're using when we speak.

"Roundness"
Another problem for the Filipino who wishes to speak English properly is that Filipino (or Tagalog, if you prefer) depends on sounds that are "not so rounded." Why is cussing in Filipino more effective than cussing in English, for example. Answer: we tend to use Filipino like it was a weak derivative of Klingon when we're mad. Put me under enough stress and I lose my nice accent so fast that I'm fit to join the lawyers in the Philippine Bar Association (Have you seen two local lawyers argue a case? Yes? My point exactly).

"Slurring"
Filipinos have difficulty understanding speaking Americans also because these Americans tend to "slur" when they speak. "I'm an American" often sounds like "I'munAmerican." "Wait! Hold up!" sounds a lot like "Wait! Hol dup!" I don't know the exact corelation between the "roundness" of the American mediaperson accent and this tendency to conjoin words, or even if there is such a corelation. But the result of this, is that the English sounds more pleasant. The price we pay though, is our continually asking them to slow their rate of speech.

Below are some commonly mispronounced words...

bowl -Whether you mean the eating utensil or the act of hitting ten pins with a heavy wooden ball, the "ow" in bowl is pronounced as "oh", not as "ow" in "owl." It's BOHL, not BAUL.

brush -pronounce it as written-- "BRUSH". Not BRaSSS.

ceremony -it's pronounced SERremowny and not seREm'ni. Our government officials and teachers keep making this mistake, and I've tripped over this one more than once. (Thanks for correcting me, Ian!)

democracy -it's d'MOCKr'sy. The "O" sound is the same as in HAWK. Many's the time I've heard diMUkrasi to my great pain.

hamburger -is not "hamboorjer." Read it as is with an extended "a" sound: hamburger.

is -it's voiced as if it had a z. It's iz.

pizza -is always PEETza and not PITcha, despite the Parokya ni Edgar song.

please -it's PLEEEZ. It's not PLISS or, as is popular in SM's public address systems, PLEY-AHS.

primary -is two words said as one word: PRY + MARY, not PRY + MARIE.

speak -it's speeek, not isPIK. Extend your vowels here, else those round-eyed barabarians will never understand you!

teeth -remember that it's always TEETH. It's not TIT, TEET or TISS.

vowels are not bowels, even if fire and pyre are closely related. Mind your v, f and p.

Z -is zee, not zey, for the love of Pete! If you must use another pronunciation, use "Zed." (But I think this applies to Europe and Japan. Can anyone please confirm this?)


(to be concluded)

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