Monday, March 24, 2008

English Psychosis

The March 15 Las Vegas rematch of Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao and Juan Manuel “Dinamita” Marquez for the Super Featherweight Championship of the World turned out to be every bit as “Super” as it was hyped up to be. Two evenly-matched gladiators fought toe-to-toe for 12 rounds, fighting with all the power and heart they could muster. In the end, though both were bloodied but unbowed, Pacquiao won a split-decision by one razor-thin point.

In the post-fight press conference, Pacquiao commented on the fight in English, without using an interpreter: “The first knockdown, I was very happy," he said. "I think I controlled the fight already. In the next rounds, I had a bad cut on my eye and I didn’t see his punches. It was hard to punch back to him.”

With a Spanish interpreter, Marquez said: “Yes, I thought I won this fight and I still think I won this fight. Maybe the judges were thinking I was the challenger, but I connected with the most powerful punches and the most accurate punches.”

In previous press interviews where the Pacman spoke, always in English without an interpreter, he would often find himself grammatically challenged (though he is getting better) and his fight assessments somehow appeared simple-minded as though the English words that would articulate his actual insights were just beyond his reach. In contrast, whenever the Mexican fighters spoke, always with interpreters, they seemed to exhibit more depth in their analysis.

I always wondered why the Pacman didn’t just speak in Tagalog or Cebuano and have an interpreter translate his words into English so that he could also appear to be as articulate and intelligent as his Mexican opponents. Was it pride?

That same question popped up at the 2008 Bb. Pilipinas beauty pageant that was held recently at the Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City on March 9. Janina San Miguel, a 17 year old freshman student at the University of the East, made it to the finals after winning awards for Best in Swimsuit and Best in Long Gown. But then came the interview:

One of the judges, Vivian Tan, asked her “what role did your family play to you as candidate to Binibining Pilipinas?” Janina’s answer, on youtube, has already drawn more than two million hits (combining all versions). Here it is:

“Well, my family’s role for me is so important b’coz there was the wa- they’re, they was the one who’s… very… hahahaha… Oh I’m so sorry, ahhmm… My pamily… My family… Oh my god.. I’m… Ok, I’m so sorry… I… I told you that I’m so confident… Eto, ahhmm, Wait… hahahaha, ahmmm, Sorry guys because this was really my first pageant ever b’coz I’m only 17 years old and hahaha I, I did not expect that I came from, I came from one of the tuff ten. Hmmm, so… but I said that my family is the most important persons in my life. Thank you.”

In the youtube video, the audience guffaws were as audible as the looks of consternation and bemusement by the judges. Despite her gaffe, however, Janina won the contest and will represent the Philippines in the Miss World competition that will be held in the Ukraine.

But overnight, dozens and dozens of Filipino blogs commented on Janina’s selection with most making fun of Janina’s accent and poor grammar. Many questioned how she could possibly hope to win the world title when she can’t speak English properly.

If these blog commentators ever watched any of those international beauty pageants, they would note that interpreters are regularly used so that the non-English speaking contestants are able to articulate their answers with ease and not be limited by their unfamiliarity with English.

Why couldn’t the question to Janina have been posed to her in Tagalog and her answer delivered in Tagalog and then translated into English for the benefit of US Ambassador Kristie Kenney who was one of the judges? There must be a reason for why the contest that used to be “Miss Philippines” is now “Binibing Pilipinas”.

The online web portal,, observed that “the use of English is not an issue for some contestants who can speak it fluently. There are a few young girls however, who did not have the luxury of attending an expensive private school where English is taught, or who do not belong to that social strata of Philippine society where proficiency in English is the norm.”

Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist Ramon Tulfo reprimanded the people ridiculing Janina. “Give the young girl a break!”, he wrote. “If she speaks ungrammatical English, blame it on the country’s educational system…You expect Janina to speak fluent English when our former president, Joseph “Erap” Estrada, speaks carabao English? C’mon, guys, you expect too much from a 17-year-old girl!” attributed the problem to our “national psychosis with regards to the English language”: “Tune in to most radio stations in Metro Manila and you'll hear Filipino DJ's straining to sound like Americans; sit-in on corporate meetings in boardrooms along Ayala Avenue and you will notice that greater deference is given to those who can say what they have to say in English. Say the same thing in Tagalog and it somehow carries a lot less weight or importance.”

“While proficiency in a foreign language is commendable, especially in this era of globalization," noted further, "the value of a foreign language should not be gained by denigrating our national language. Tagalog or Pilipino should be given the respect it deserves and be allowed to co-exist alongside all other languages...only then will we begin to appreciate and respect who we really are as a people.”

Psychosis is a mental state often described as involving a "loss of contact with reality." People suffering from it are said to have delusional beliefs. So what is our delusional belief about speaking English?

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