Should language evolve without rules?

Language matters

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Why are we so meticulous with our English and not with our own language?

Some of us who love language—especially English, and that includes me—

worshipped at the feet of William Safire when he was living and writing (he passed on in 2009).

Others lament that there are no “Grammar Nazis” for Filipino. They observe the shoddy and inept usage of the language in media and elsewhere and long for someone to point out and correct the errors.

On the opposite side, one reader irately advised, in capital letters, to “ignore her (meaning me) and let her stew in her ivory tower.”

“Let the language evolve from usage,” the reader continued, “be it invaded by Cebuano, Ilocano, or jejemon… even gayspeak. The idea is to make language inclusive. Language Nazis like Kilates are the very reason why we are a people divided by language.”

As I said, I love lively conversations. But that does not mean I admire the Nazis, even if the other reader meant it as a compliment.

Also, I have no idea what an ivory tower looks like from the inside. I know what damp cement feels like, actually, though I use the little room air-conditioner extremely sparingly, being allergic to bloated electric bills.

And, incidentally, I am a he, and full-bloodedly so. Though I have a beer paunch that shows like bad grammar.

Of course I do not pretend to be a William Safire. I did not like his boss, Richard Nixon, and apart from that, he, Safire, was not just a “Nazi” but a true gadfly in the best sense of the word.

On Facebook, a reader sent me a link to an article on Grammar Pedantry Syndrome (GPS). It was a form of OCD, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, the article said. You know, like washing the hands or making faces frequently.

Another reader demurred and said it was not a “disorder.” It meant “having a good education.” (His comment, not mine.)

The GPS article was complete with a flag or logo that showed an inverted letter G that looked like a German swastika.

G, P and S are also the initials for global positioning system, a navigation aid so you wont get lost in the urban jungle. I’d like language articles to be useful that way.

Incidentally, the swastika, before it was appropriated by the Nazis, was and still is a symbol of good luck for many Eastern religions. It represents shakti, the sacred sign for auspiciousness.

But we need more than luck to help the Filipino language along in its evolution. Anything goes may be good for conversation. But for written language, some rules have to be followed. Or formulated.

Many say that language should be left alone. Filipino is still evolving, so there should be no rules.

It is like saying the traffic is still evolving, so there should be no rules. We prefer mayhem on the streets. Or we bribe our way around.

Another question: Why the “extra concern” for language when there are so many problems like poverty?

Well, specifically for the Komisyon ng Wikang Filipino (KWF), the job is in the name of the game. Wika. It is not “extra.”

We are now in the middle of Buwan ng Wika. It should be auspicious for the national language. It should not be the month of ghosts, as the Chinese and some of us believe.

We have one Tuesday left with the Learning section of this newspaper. In our sixth and last article, we go back to bad examples, of which we seem to have become experts.

To go back to our first question. Why are we obsessed with good English and not with good Filipino? Because we look down on our own language? No one would admit that.

As Safire said: “Is sloppiness in speech caused by ignorance or apathy? I don’t know and I don’t care.”

Marne Kilates is an award-winning poet and translator from Filipino into English. He has won the Palanca and the National Book Awards for his poetry and translation. In 2008 he was given the SEA Write Award by the Thai royalty.

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