Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Filipino English

I have several topics that I wanted to post about, but I think that this one is needed as a sort of introduction to the wonderful world that is the English of the Philippines.

At least once a semester I find myself stopping my lesson in order to have a conversation with my students about the English of the Philippines. This especially happens during my favorite lesson of the year, when we practice sounding like Americans. I teach this lesson because my city has many call centers that have attractive salaries that my students long for. Before delving into sounding like an American I like to preface the discussion by assuring my students that I consider their form of English on the same level that I would treat British English or Australian English.

When I studied in Singapore there was much debate about Singlish and its validity as a respected form of communication. The government of Singapore had put up signs around the city encouraging residents to "Speak Good English". It is much the same here, where many Filipinos assume that their English is not good enough to interact with a native speaker.

While the English of the Philippines is not as "pidgin-ized" as Singlish, it does take some time to adapt to some of different word choices. One of the biggest things to get used to is that Filipino English on the whole is very literal and very exact. Because of the heavy use of dictionaries, many words are locked into a single meaning and usage that does not allow for many linguistic nuances.

The other thing that effects English is the nature of Filipino vowels and this is something that is true in Hiligaynon, but I'm totally sure if it true of other dialects. In Hiligaynon the vowels I and E are interchangeable as are O and U. The vowels are also only one sound that is of a consistent length. In English though, we have long and short vowels.

The most devastating effect of this can be seen in the word "beaches". Because the vowel sound of long E is not usual in dialect it is often replaced by a short E/I type sound. This changes the word to something like "biches" which is pronounced something like "bitches". So after a vacation my students asked me where I had been and I told them where and then they said, "Oh sir that place has very beautiful bitches." Obviously I was taken aback by this and alerted them to that dangerous misunderstanding.

I'll finish this post with a list of some of my favorite "Filipinisms"
1. Avail- I think the only time I would have used this word in America is if something "was to no avail". Here, you avail when you take advantage of something, like a sale. Signs all over Bacolod encourage customers to "avail of promo rates!"
2. Transfer- During training I had a really bad student who always needed to be moved to a new seat because he annoyed his neighbors so much. But here you don't ask someone to move seats you ask them to transfer. You also don't move houses, because that would imply that the house moves too. Instead you transfer to a new house.
3. Be the one- In general the passive voice is really popular in the Philippines, which is probably an incite into the culture in and of itself. Instead of saying "I'll do X" you would say "I will be the one to do X".
4. A while- Rather than asking someone to wait a moment, or a minute, or even just a second Filipinos will often say, "For a while". This underscores the difference in how Filipinos and Americans view time.
5. The CR- There are so many words for the bathroom around the world, but CR is probably one of my favorite. CR stands for Comfort Room. A bathroom would be a room only for bathing and a restroom would be for resting. Obviously when you use the CR you get comfortable.
6. Ref- Ref is short for refrigerator.
7. Air Con- Shorter than air conditioning, but longer that A/C.

I could probably keep going with more things, but those are the ones that I personally like. Its time to stop writing now because my episode of LOST just finished downloading! Yay!

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