English and Tagalog in Philippine literature: a study of literary bilingualism

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Abstract

Abstract: Attacks on Philippine literature in English have come from left-wing intellectuals, who see the English language as a tool of American neo-colonialism, and literary historians, who see the 80-year-old literature as insignificant in the context of five centuries of Philippine writing in various vernacular languages. Despite these attacks, Filipino creative writers have continued to write in the English language, even during the last 20 years when the nationalist campaign against English was at its height. Ironically, even those who strongly advocate the sole use of Tagalog (or Tagalog-based Pilipino) and, therefore, the rejection of a foreign language, as a medium of creative expression have written extensively in English. Several major Filipino writers today write in both English and Tagalog. Some write in both English and other vernacular languages. These bilingual writers belong to a long line of Filipinos who wrote in both their first and their second languages. Because of the large number of individual literary pieces that can be said to shed light on the phenomenon of bilingualism in creative writing, it is not possible at this time to do a comprehensive survey of writing done by bilingual or multilingual writers. It is more manageable to focus on the poetry of representative writers. Three modern Filipino writers who have published books of poetry in both English and Tagalog can be taken as representative: Cirilo F. Bautista, Edgar B. Maranan and Epifanio San Juan, Jr. Established methods of literary criticism reveal that Filipino writers use English for two main reasons: to capture certain realities not within the lexical capabilities of Tagalog, and to exploit the musical qualities of the foreign language. On the other hand, they use Tagalog primarily to capture nationalist realities. In broad terms, it may be said that English is used primarily to enhance form and Tagalog to enhance content. Because of the international character of English, poetry in English tends to import not only the words of the language, but also literary trends identified with the language. In a sense, then, poetry in English is more ‘Western’ than poetry in Tagalog. On the other hand, because of the ability of Tagalog to express nuances of meaning, especially in the areas of Filipino philosophy, psychology and sociology, poetry in Tagalog tends to be more homologous to Philippine society.

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