Language matters

Confused use of Filipino in media perpetuates errors

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(Editor’s Note: In celebration of the coming Buwan ng Wikang Pambansa and in partnership with the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino, we are running this series on the correct use of the Filipino language in hopes that it makes us better speakers and writers of our national language.)

(First of a series)

Language matters in our daily lives, whether we like it or not.

It could make us lose our way in the streets—we could suddenly find ourselves in Caloocan when we wanted to go to Baclaran, for example—and all it would take is to read the signs wrong at the LRT or read the wrong signs on  buses and jeepneys.

Or all it would take is one slip in grammar—or the “correct” usage of words—especially in the media, and our world would sound and look confused and topsy-turvy, not only because reporters didn’t get their facts right but because they didn’t get their words and sentences right.

The media—broadcast or print—are the biggest, most widespread and readily recognizable “users” of language while the masses—here used to mean everyone—are obviously the greatest “consumers” of language. Anything erroneously said or heard in media is multiplied several times over precisely because of its massive, nationwide reach.

As used in the media, there should be a distinction, for example, between the words kagampan, or a woman’s full-term pregnancy, and kaganapan, fulfillment. But worse, many of our speakers in media mistakenly use kaganapan for events, proceedings or incidents, which are, simply, pangyayari.

Another case is that our radio and TV broadcasts are swimming in kung saan, which to many ears is the audio equivalent of the foul-smelling debris coming out of the clogged esteros every time it rains. If we may give an example of the correct usage of the phrase, here’s one: “Hindi natin alam kung saang lupalop pinulot ng ating broadcasters ang kakatuwa nilang gamit ng kung saan.”

Daily lingo

As you can see from the examples, we’re not even talking about English, our “other” language over which we pride ourselves so much that we think we might be the best provider of call center agents in Asia.

That may be true, but we’re talking about how we use “Filipino,” the language we use daily among ourselves. Even in this much-maligned lingua franca or common language that facilitates communication from Tumauini to Tawi-Tawi, we frequently get lost.

Which makes us wonder what sort of pride it is that when we encounter a “difficult” word in English, we immediately run to the nearest dictionary to find its meaning and yet when we meet a similar word in Filipino, we simply dismiss it as unnecessarily “malalim.”

“Malalim,” in fact, might simply be a misnomer for “accurate.” Sometimes the author chooses just the precise word that best describes or signifies an idea. And the reader (or writer) should not be so lazy as to reject outright a little mental exercise. Thinking actually helps.

Or, we take so much care in improving our English and neglect our Filipino because “we know it already” (apart from other reasons, such as the supposed “superiority” of English), that’s why we are as ignorant of Filipino as Americans are of their own language.

Language, especially written language, whether we are native speakers or not, needs to be learned and requires some effort to use with some basic competence, for the sake of simple clarity and comprehension.

Absurd use

To go back to our example of kaganapan, instead of pangyayari—that, in fact, is one case of unnecessary pagpapalalim. Kaganapan, it would seem, sounds more “important” than pangyayari and our media users of the language think it makes their reports sound more momentous, urgent or loaded with that dubious journalistic value called panggulat or sensationalism.

And so kaganapan, without anyone protesting, has entered the Filipino lingua franca. Surely those who overhear the word in the latest newscast may be prone to think that some pregnant woman is always involved in some street mishap.

This example is just an absurd use of language, arising from simple ignorance or carelessness, especially among writers who, as the prime—and professional—users of language, should know better.

While we’re at it, this writer who professes a modicum of respect for language, both Filipino and English (since we are supposed to be bilingual speakers), would like to take a little more of your reading time to point out grave but avoidable mistakes in grammar and usage in subsequent installments of this series.

We’re left with one example hanging in midair, what we call the notorious kung saan. We’ll start next week with kung saan but leave you now with an example of usage that is not the way our broadcasters use the phrase: “Kung saan tayo huminto, doon tayo magsisimula.”

We’ll pick up where we left off.

Marne Kilates is an award-winning poet and translator from Filipino into English.

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