Firth McEachern - Diversity Shock, Part 23
- The other day I had the following conversation. It is a remake of a conversation I've had at least 100 times in my 8 months here. The man, about thirty, was wearing a nice pair of jeans, a clean white collared shirt, new looking sneakers, and sunglasses around his neck. His clothes, along with the fact that we were in the City's main badminton club, told me he was up-and-coming: at least middle to upper class. This meant I could predict most of his opinions regarding language. I also predicted he would sprinkle his Ilokano with Tagalog like the well-oiled social climber he was. He overheard me talk Ilokano to the badminton club caretaker, and said,
"Marunong ka bang Ilokano?"
"Wen. Basit laeng." I responded.
"Ang galing mo ng Ilokano!" he exclaimed.
"Agay-ayamka ti badminton?" I asked him if he was going to play.
"Hindi. I'm just waiting for my friend." He clearly understood my Ilokano, so it had suddenly become a battle of stubbornness. Who was willing to adapt to the other's language first? I decided to pull one of my standard tactics: challenge his Ilokano ability to bring him out of the closet as a pretender.
"Saanmo ammo nga agsao ti Ilokano?" I asked in a fake sorry look.
"Ammok, siempre! Taga'toy ak." He said in an authentic accent.
Ha, just as I thought. He's actually Ilokano, and for some reason, like so many others with nice jeans, pressed shirts, and sunglasses, finds the need to flaunt his Tagalog and English. "How do you know Ilokano?" he proceeded to ask.
"Katrabtrabaoak ken karkarubak nangisoro kanyak." I answered dutifully.
"Wow, you speak better Ilokano than my 6 yr old son!" He said light-heartedly. It was supposed to be a compliment, but it was actually the most disappointing thing he could have said.
"I've only been here for 8 months yet I speak better than your son, who lives in an Ilokano province and whose parents are Ilokano?! That's unfortunate. I suppose it's because you use Tagalog at home."
"Because Tagalog is
" the National Language." I finished for him.
"It's also what they use in school, so it's necessary for him to learn." He added.
"True. What language did your mother use when you were young?" I inquired further.
"Ilokano of course!" He said incredulously.
"And what languages do you know now?"
"Ilokano, Tagalog, English."
"So even though your mother spoke to you in Ilokano, you still know Tagalog and English. And why is that?" I asked.
"Because Tagalog and English we learn in school."
"But even still, I would think that if she spoke to you in Ilokano you wouldn't be as good as you are in Tagalog and English," I said searchingly, knowing full well it was possible. I wanted him to arrive at the conclusion himself.
"Well, Tagalog and English are also on TV, movies, radio, you know. It's not too hard."
"Exactly. So I ask my first question again. Why do you speak Tagalog to your son if such a thing was clearly not necessary for you?"
"Uhh " he paused, followed by an awkward smile.
"So you're son speaks 2 languages, and you know 3 and a bit. If you spoke to your son in Ilokano, he would also be guaranteed to know three languages. It might take him a couple more years, but eventually he would be as smart as you. What is better, knowing 2 languages or 3?"
"Three of course."
"Sorry for being so persistent on this, but then why do you speak Tagalog with your son? It just doesn't make sense to change a perfectly good system employed by your mother if all it accomplishes is your child knowing less, not more. I'm just curious. And confused."
"Nowadays professionals speak more Tagalog," he said.
"I don't think that the language one chooses to speak in the home has anything to do with how professional you are. It's a private choice," I argued. "You might speak incredibly fluent, educated, poetic Ilokano, or horribly rudimentary Tagalog, and visa versa. How professional you are depends on how you speak, not what you speak. Secondly," I continued, "Let's pretend for a moment that I agreed with you. Let's say that Tagalog is more professional than Ilokano, and knowing Tagalog was a sign of professionalism."
"Ok, go on."
"Is someone who knows English, Tagalog, AND Ilokano less professional than someone who knows just English and Tagalog?" I asked.
"If you spoke Ilokano to your son you could have raised the first kind of person. But you didn't, and he is the second kind of person. So I ask for a last time. Why do you purposefully choose to speak Tagalog at home?"
A sheepish silence, followed by, "Mistake ko."
Firth McEachern - Diversity Shock, Part 22