Who's Afraid of Philippine English?

Manila Bulletin, May 11, 2008 | Go to article overview

Who's Afraid of Philippine English?


Another way of looking at these varieties is to group countries into those countries where English is spoken as a first language (UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand), those countries where English is spoken as a second or official language (e.g., Singapore, Malaysia, India, Hong Kong, the Philippines), and those countries where English is spoken as a foreign language (e.g., Japan, Thailand, Korea, China). We need to mention here that these distinctions are becoming blurred because in countries like India, Singapore and even the Philippines, children are beginning to speak English as a first language. However, the old categorization is still generally helpful.

If the English in Thailand, Japan, and China does not fall under varieties of English, the question then becomes: What makes a variety of English? Susan Butler, publisher of the Macquarie Dictionary (the national dictionary of Australia), proposed five criteria which can be summarized in five words/phrases, and I give them below together with comments on how we fulfill the criteria:

1. Accent - We have a recognizable pattern of English pronunciation handed down across generations.

2. Vocabulary - We have developed and are developing English words and phrases which are unique to our variety to describe features of our social and cultural life.

3. History - Our colonial history under the Americans, including the educational system they introduced, has produced and influenced the English variety that we speak.

4. Creative writing - We are proud of our creative writers whose fiction, poetry, essays, dramas, and literary criticism in English rank among the best in the world. and

5. Reference works - Our linguists and language educators are in the process of producing dictionaries, grammars, and style manuals of Philippine English.

What are some of the phonological features of Philippine English (henceforth, PE)? Perhaps here we can distinguish between the highly-educated and not-sohighly-educated PE speakers. First, even our best speakers typically do not produce a puff of air when pronouncing the initial sound in pet, take, cab; in the linguist's jargon, we do not aspirate our initial p, t, k. To do so would sound too Americanized, too affected. Second, even our best speakers do not reduce unaccented vowels but give each syllable the full value; thus, e-co-no-my, not e-conmy, pa-ral-lel, not parl-lel. Because we give each syllable its full value (as we do in our Philippine languages), PE is said to have syllable-timed rhythm rather than the stresstimed rhythm of American English or British English. Asian Englishes in general have syllable-timed rhythm, and this may be the reason why several studies have shown that Asians understand each other's English much better than they understand the English of native speakers.

In the not-so-highly-educated PE pronunciation, the consonants t and th, d and dh, p and f, b and v, have the same pronunciation; thus, tree and three, fate and faith, day and they, pour and four, bat and vat are pronounced the same way. As for the vowels, sometimes there is no lengthening or tensing of certain vowels so that i and iy, and o and ow are pronounced the same way, resulting in the same pronunciation for ship and sheep, bought and boat. And of course we know the way many Filipinos pronounce the first vowel of apple.

In this borderless world, we have gotten used to different accents, if only because of our exposure to CNN - there we see and hear the internationalization of the pronunciation of English. What should our attitude be to our distinct way of pronouncing English? …

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