These thoughts came to me yesterday whilst talking with the doorman at the Globelines Business centre in Makati. I was asking about telephone directories and as he answered my enquiry in English I could see him translating in his head from Tagalog. It is a process I am very familiar with as I take my faltering steps in my adventure with this islands home grown language.
Across the archipelago there a several main indigenous languages and I suspect more dialects than you can poke a stick at. Here on the island of Luzon it is Tagalog, in Cebu it's Cebuano which has more in common with Visayes and the Mindanao region than with Luzon. The official national language is Pilipino, however I have rarely heard it spoken. English is the language of government and the judicial system.
English is also the language of the moneyed elite. As a professor from the University of the Philippines, when arrested by the police for his part in the demonstrations during February’s Sate of Emergency, is reported as reminding himself to speak in English with his captors. The implication being he would receive kinder treatment in their hands if they thought he was well connected and the best way to get that impression across was to avoid Tagalog.
But for the average Filipino, like the Globelines doorman, English is very much a second language. How this plays out in the burgeoning call center industry servicing the US market is an interesting question. Being a phone jockey isn’t the employment that attracts the finest minds.
Until I have learned to think in Tagalong my mastery of the language will be far from complete and I venture that the opposite is true.