Marcha ng Patay

Sabihin na lang natin na hindi ko paborito ang subject na English noong ako’y nag-aaral pa. Hindi rin naman ako lumaki sa isang tahanan ng mga Inglisera. No spokening dollar in our house. Hindi naman sa nosebleed ako pag-Inglisan na, but English is not my strong suit. (Uy English ‘yon ah!).

First year high school nang sumali ako sa Cadet Officer Candidate Course(COCC), dahil gusto kong magkaroon ng ranggo bilang estudyanteng kadete. Isang hapon, habang ako’y nag-rereport sa isang commanding officer, buong lakas ng boses na sinabi kong “Sir, I want to be in the marching corps, sir!”

Biglang nagtawanan ‘yung mga nakaranig. Lalo na yung mga estudyante ng higher years. May isang grupo pa nga ng mga 4th year na halos gumulong sa lupa at maihi-ihi sa katatawa nang marinig nila ang sagot ko. Halos matunaw ako sa hiya.

Putris, malay ko ba na ang bigkas sa corps ay kor at hindi korps! Marching corpse? Pinagmarcha na ang patay!

Buti pa ang Tagalog, ang salitang aking kinamulatan, ay madaling basahin at bigkasin. Bawat letra ay iisa lang ang bigkas. Ang a ang laging a, ang e ay laging e, ang ay laging o. Hindi pabago-bago. Ang gago ay laging gago. Hindi geygo, o geygow, o gahjo.

Sa English, ang dami-daming paraan ng pagbigkas at pagbasa sa letra o salita. Ang a ay pwedeng ah, as in apple (apol), o pwedeng maging ey as in apron (eypron), o eh, as in hat (het). Nakaka-geygow talaga.

Minsan may mga letra na hindi binibigkas, o kaya nama’y iba ang pagbasa. Tulad ng salitang colonel. Kung ang bigkas mo dito ay kolonel, ay nagkakamali ka. Ang bigkas daw dito ay kernel. Tinamaan ng magaling, nasaan ang letrang R sa colonel? Isa pang example, ang salitang cache, ang bigkas ay hindi ka-tche o kaya ay ka-shey. Ang tamang bigkas raw ay kash.

May iba pang salita na kahit parehong spelling, pero iba ang pagbasa depende sa ibig sabihin. Tulad ng lead (to go in front), and bigkas ay lid.  Pero ang lead (metal) ang bigkas ay led. Ang bass (low, deep sound) ang bigkas ay beys. Pero ang bass (type of fish) ang bigkas ay bas. Sinong hindi mage-geygow?

Hindi ko akalain na darating pala ang araw na titira ako sa lupa na ang salita ay Ingles. Noong isang araw ay kausap ko ang kaibigan kong Englishman. Akin siyang pabirong sinisisi sa wika na kanilang inimbento na nagpapahirap sa ating mga Pilipino. Hindi niya tuluyang inako ang sisi. Sabi niya hindi raw mga Englishmen (British) o kahit mga Amerikano ang may kasalanan. Sisihin daw natin ang mga Pranses (French), dahil karamihan ng salitang mahirap bigkasin ay hugot sa salitang French.

Totoo nga naman dahil ang salitang corps, colonel at cache na aking nabanggit ay French word ang pinagmulan. Pero may mas mahihirap pang salitang galing sa kanila. Tulad ng coup d’etat. Pero kahit mahirap itong basahin, dahil sa daming coup d’etat na nangyari sa ating bansa, ay sanay tayong mga Pilipino na bigkasin ito, ku-de-tah. Isa pang salita, ang hors d’oeuvre na ibig sabihin ay appetizer. Kung ang basa mo diyan ay horse de over ay baka akalain nilang karera ang usapan. Ang bigkas daw diyan ay or-derv.  Anak ng tokwa, panghimagas na lang pinahihirap pa.

Pero dahil gusto ko ng French fries, French toast, at French kiss, ay mapapatawad ko ang mga Pranses.

Meron ding naman tayong mga pinahiram na mga salita na ngayon ay bahagi na ng salitang Ingles. Tulad ng boondock, mula sa ating salitang bundok. O kaya ay kilig, balikbayan at barkada na nasa Oxford English dictionary na. Pero siguro kapag binasa ng Kano ang barkada ito ay bahr-key-duh.

Nung nasa first year college naman, sa aming English literature class, ay pinatayo ako at malakas na pinabasa ng aming libro. Tungkol sa mythology ‘yung subject. Aking binasa: At the beginning there is only Chaos.

Naghagalpakan ang buong klase, kahit hindi naman ako nagpapatawa. Hindi ko naman ginagaya si Jimmy Santos mag-Ingles. Pati ang aming guro ay namula sa kakapigil ng kanyang tawa. Bigkas ko kasi sa chaos ay tchaos. Tangenge talaga! Kung hindi mo rin alam ang bigkas diyan, ito ay keyos. Na-geygow na naman ako.

Subalit kahit na nakasama ako sa parada ng mga tanga, at sumali sa marching corpse, pero nang mag-marcha na kami noong high school graduation, ay tumanggap naman ako ng mga award na Excellence in Math at Excellence in Science. Wala nga lang Excellence in English. At kahit pa chaotic (tchayotik) ang aking Ingles noong college, pero noong graduation na ay sinabitan naman ng medalya dahil nakatapos nang may honor na “cum latik.”

Sa ating buhay, huwag sana nating husgahan ang mga “bobo” sa English. Hindi lang ang pagsasalita ng Ingles ang basehan ng kaalaman at talino ng isang tao. At huwag din naman nating tawanan kung balu-baluktot mag-Tagalog ang isang tao. Maaaring Bisaya, o Ilokano, o iba pang katutubong wika ang kinamulatan nila, at ibig sabihin nito ay higit sa isa, o dalawa, o tatlong wika ang alam nila. Kaya’t lamang pa rin sila.

Diretso o bulol man ang iyong Ingles, ay ayos lang. Buti pa, maghalo-halo na lang tayo sa Chow-King. Or should I say Kaw-King?

(*Isinulat para sa buwan ng wika)

 

Do You Speak English?

The following article was published in Manila Standard Today in their section Diaspora.

As a nation, we pride ourselves as the third largest English-speaking nation, though some will refute this claim. As I tell my American friends, that if they visit the Philippines,  they don’t have to worry of not being understood, as most Filipinos speak English. I also tell my friends they will never get lost – if they do, it’s their own fault. For example, there was this American tourist who asked a local: “How long does it take to Meykabeybi (Macabebe)?” The pinoy replied, with a confused look, “About nine months”.That’s an awfully far place, answered the American more confused than ever.

call-center-agents

Filipinos speaking English in a call center

As a Filipino transplant to the US, I thought that I had an advantage over migrants from  other countries, as l already know how to speak English, even if English is not our native tongue. I learned very early in life, “A is for epol, B is for banana Q.” But when I got here, I learned that English is perhaps, the language that is most diversely spoken; and English may not always be English, the way I know it.

When I started my Medicine Residency Program in New Jersey, I worked with medical graduates from Russia, Romania, Guyana, India, Israel, Greece, Burma, Nigeria, Vietnam, and of course Americans and fellow Filipinos. Can you imagine how differently we spoke the same English, but with different dictions and accents? I felt some of my peers talked funny, but then again, they could have also thought I talked funny with my Carabao English. Sure enough it took us some time to understand each other clearly, but we got along alright – at least we pronounced each other’s names correctly.

When I moved to New York to pursue my subspecialty, not only were the resident doctors diverse, but the patient ethnicity became very diverse too. In fact, the zip code 11373, where the hospital where I did my training was located, was even featured in the National Geographic a few years back, as the most ethnically diverse neighborhood in the world. In one of the studies we conducted about tuberculosis in our institution, we have counted more than 70 different nationalities in our study population.

Queens, New York

Now imagine trying to understand all those different ethnic groups speaking English in their different rendition of it. It took me a while to get used to these differences. And some patients we took care of, don’t even speak English at all! That’s when we resort to gross sign language, if we can’t find an interpreter. (I feel for the veterinarians who have to interpret the arfs and meows of their patients.) Good thing pain and suffering is a universal language that you can read in their faces even without them uttering a word.

It is not just the immigrants though, that speak English in different ways. People from different regions of the US have distinctive ways of speaking the language as well, like the British and the Australians. I remember I had an American co-resident, and she hailed from Tennessee. She has a beautiful southern accent, but I have difficulty understanding her, even though I know it is perfect English. She would greet me with “Hey ya’ll!”, and I would look at her with a puzzled look, having no idea what she said. Maybe she thought I don’t speak English, so eventually she just did not talk to me.

English also uses so many idiomatic expressions that I did not learn in my English 101 in college, while in the Philippines. One day when I was an intern, I was rounding with my senior resident who was a true-blue American. He instructed me to defer any further treatments on one of our patients, adding that and we’ would just “play it by ear.”  Do I do what now with my ear? Perhaps he saw my quizzical look, so he explained it to me in plain English.

Then there is the version of street talk and slang. I painfully remember during my first few months in the US. I can carry a conversation when I’m at work, and with the more formal and medical talk. But I struggled to understand and converse with people when I’m in the streets, especially when I’m riding the train and the subway. “Wucha gottem dawg?” Did he just call me dog? It was just a different world of English altogether. But that’s okay; I don’t want to be speaking to strangers in the subway anyway.

New York subway

Now that I’m living in the Midwest, I am finding that while the English here may not be as distinctive as the Southern drawl or the New Yorker accent, it has its peculiarities. If you are keen enough, you can determine the specific region where a person came from based on his English phonology.

A friend of mine, who grew up here in Des Moines once drove to Missouri and got lost. He stopped at a gasoline station and asked for direction. The man whom he approached, who was perhaps was a native of Missouri (pronounced ‘Misoora’ by some locals), gave him detailed direction. The only problem was, my friend did not understand a word due to the man’s heavy accent. My friend though courteously smiled and nodded as if he understood the man perfectly. Needless to say, my friend remained lost for much longer.

The story of my friend got me thinking: if these two Americans, both born and raised here, with English as their native language, cannot understand each other, how the heck do they expect me to understand them? But I am learning to understand all the diversities of this language day by day. I know my English is not perfect, but whose is?

Do I speak English? “Op corrs I doh.”